Duke Kunshan University has been a project mired in obscurity from the very beginning. However, as faculty became more forceful in voicing their concerns, the academic development of DKU became transparent. But this transparency in academic structure has left another aspect of the project in the shadows—discussion of the physical development of the campus.
As today’s Chronicle reports, the timeline on completing construction of the DKU campus has been pushed back yet again, this time to summer of next year. This delay is the result of a lack of consistent oversight of the DKU construction project. Furthermore, there is a delay in bringing students and faculty to the campus.
That there have been issues with construction on the ground is hardly surprising. In fact, it is emblematic of the types of problems that have plagued the DKU project since its initial announcement.
As editorials have outlined over the past few years, there has been a lack of confidence in the project for quite some time. When Shanghai Jiao Tong University pulled out of the project in 2010, there was concern that DKU would struggle without such a high-profile partner. With the announcement of a partnership with Wuhan University in early 2011, concerns over Wuhan’s background, Duke’s monetary investment and academic freedom became thunderous. The lack of public information about the campus and the increasing speed of progress and approval on the venture lead to a general sense of apprehension regarding DKU’s success.
Fast forward to today and it seems that there is still much to be concerned about. In 2009, administrators gave an initial target launch date of Fall 2011—DKU is now three years behind schedule. Now that the timeline on construction is being pushed back yet again, the campus finds itself in limbo. Before there can be students and professors on campus there must first be buildings. This delay only serves to intensify worries over the prosperity of DKU once it opens—how do we now that things won’t become even more difficult once the campus is operational?
The continual setbacks of DKU are indicative of the issues with signing on to such a massive project without a clear plan in place. When Duke chose to build a campus in China, it placed itself within a cultural sphere that it was not familiar with. How Duke would navigate issues of academic freedom and government relations have continually been a problem. The construction difficulties only magnify this lack of foresight—when Duke allowed the city of Kunshan to fund and oversee the initial phase of construction, it gave up its ability to influence the process.
Although these problems can certainly be attributed to growing pains, their recurrence is very disturbing. Duke could have easily dealt with potential obstacles by giving itself a larger time frame at the beginning. That the opening of the campus and the construction of buildings have been constantly pushed back only causes stakeholders to lose confidence in the project. With so much invested, it is imperative that DKU succeed.
Duke Kunshan University has the potential to further Duke’s status globally. But the good press generated by the venture will mean nothing if the campus fails.