The Academic Council met Thursday to discuss updates to the Duke Kunshan University initiative, the proposal for a new Trinity-Pratt graduate program and the restoration of the council’s Student Affairs Committee.

The council unanimously approved the proposal for the new graduate program in materials science and engineering (MSE). The multidisciplinary program, sponsored by Provost Sally Kornbluth and the deans of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering, would offer master’s and doctoral degrees in MSE to graduate students.

Kornbluth and Jennifer Francis, vice provost for academic affairs, also gave updates on Duke Kunshan University, a joint venture between Duke University and the Wuhan University of China.

Kornbluth said the University is planning to create a full undergraduate liberal arts program at DKU, which would eventually confer Duke-DKU dual degrees to its students.

“The folks at DKU and at Duke have been furiously at work trying to do everything you need to make a university,” Kornbluth said. 

She added that the university plans to accept its first undergraduate class in Fall 2018 with an initial enrollment of 225 students, of whom 170 will be Chinese.

However, Francis said convincing Chinese students to apply has not been an easy task.

“Recruiting in China is incredibly complicated,” she added. 

Francis said that before any recruitment can take place, detailed admission plans—including how many students the university will accept from each province—must first be approved by China’s Ministry of Education.

Another factor complicating admissions is the "gaokao," the national entrance exam that all Chinese students must take to be accepted into universities, Francis explained. Because scores for the "gaokao" are released in June, there are no promises that a prospective DKU student will actually matriculate.

“There’s a lot of informal contracting back and forth with the students,” she said.

Francis also addressed the issue of faculty recruitment for DKU. She said that from the winnowed pool of 125 candidates, 64 were invited to the campus following Skype interviews. As of Thursday, 22 applicants—including six tenured professors—have accepted offers of employment.

Nan Jokerst, J. A. Jones Distinguished Advanced professor of electrical and computer engineering and former chair of the Academic Council, also raised concerns about granting secondary appointments and tenure to DKU faculty. But Kornbluth assured her that would not be a problem.

“We are not looking for DKU to be a backdoor into the Duke faculty,” Kornbluth said.

In other business

Besides the two major topics on the agenda, the council also discussed its new Student Affairs Committee, which was reconstituted this year after being dissolved in 2008.

Emily Klein, professor of earth sciences and former member of the academic council’s Executive Committee, said that students frequently requested to work with the committee on issues around campus, but that the committee did not have the resources to cooperate with the students.

“We just didn’t have the bandwidth to properly vet, engage and work on these issues,” Klein said.

Jokerst agreed, saying that Duke Student Government approached them with specific concerns, including alcohol consumption, sexual misconduct and matters involving social life on campus. 

The Academic Council members grew more tense toward the end of the meeting when Roxanne Springer, professor of physics, questioned the name of a FOCUS program event, as well as the terminology of “freshmen” to refer to first-year students.

Edna Andrews, professor of linguistics and cultural anthropology and director of the FOCUS program, said there has been a codified shift in University policy. Springer replied by asking to see where it was codified.

“I think we’re all trying to gender-neutralize our language,” Klein said.