Duke Kunshan University has been met with skepticism and confusion since its conception. In the past, we have criticized University leaders for their lack of clarity and direction—and the announcement of further delays in the opening of campus as well as concerns surrounding academic freedom have only served to heighten apprehension. It is our hope that the recent appointment of key administrative officials to DKU—Liu Jingnan as chancellor and Mary Bullock as vice chancellor—will begin to clarify the muddled conversation surrounding the initiative.
The selection of Liu and Bullock to the posts of chancellor and executive vice chancellor, respectively, has the potential to steer the project in the right direction. The appointees bring a wealth of information about the Chinese education system to the DKU project. Liu holds several positions within key committees in China’s Ministry of Education and is the former president of Wuhan University, DKU’s academic partner. Bullock has a myriad of experience as a director for the Harvard-Yenching Institute and through her studies on comparative and collaborative education between Asia and America. The combination of intricate knowledge of Chinese higher education and an understanding of how American education models can be integrated into the Chinese system will be crucial to articulating a vision for DKU in its first years of operation.
However, DKU’s administrators must do more than craft a vision for the new institution—they must also be able to effectively communicate this vision to stakeholders in the project and the general public.
Campus conversations surrounding DKU have been cloudy at best, with far more questions than answers emerging as the project moves forward. Previously, DKU had no dedicated representative—no face to attached exclusively to the project, which seemed more and more like the Allen Building’s nebulous brainchild.
With Liu and Bullock at the helm, the University is taking full ownership of this project. Liu and Bullock must be prepared to clear the air with details, transparency and accountability. They should propose a concrete plan to preserve academic freedom, make a realistic statement about when DKU can possibly open and provide overall goals for DKU along with a plan for accomplishing them.
Liu and Bullock also have the chance to start a conversation about DKU and undergraduate education. Thus far, most attention has been directed toward the benefits DKU can bring to the Fuqua School of Business and the Duke Global Health Institute. We understand that the earliest planning stages were used to formulate business and health programs. But now that DKU has its own appointed leaders to think about the long run, undergraduate education should enter into the mix. Finding ways to include undergraduates in the DKU system—whether Chinese or American through existing avenues like Chinese study abroad or DukeEngage, or through the extension of other programs like DukeIntense or DukeImmerse—could increase buy-in among those in Durham.
Liu and Bullock are qualified choices to get DKU off the ground, but the task is not as simple as it sounds. While it’s comforting to see two competent leaders roped into the project, all the real work still lies ahead.