A candid conversation about DKU need not come at the expense of publicity and recruitment. Construction in Kunshan has already suffered numerous delays, and we recognize that a frenzied recruitment push may be the only way to prevent another setback. Another delay could also doom the project and tarnish Duke’s brand abroad, and the University’s full-scale public relations assault—which includes paying for Chinese journalists to travel to Durham—aims to protect this investment.
Administrators must balance their desire to see DKU succeed with their responsibility to students and faculty members at Duke though. The University has still failed to seriously address concerns about academic freedom at DKU, and administrators’ unwillingness to accompany the DKU publicity campaign with an open discussion about academic freedom in China signals a lack of respect for Duke’s stakeholders. Students and faculty deserve to know how Duke plans to protect its institutional values in a tightly controlled academic environment, and the platitudes packed into public relations materials do not contain the answer. At this point, Duke may only be interested in securing good press in China, but the best way to win community buy in at home is to communicate frankly and regularly about the project.
DKU will open whether we like it or not. Administrators should use this moment as an opportunity to include students and faculty members in conversations about how to protect Duke’s institutional values at DKU. Additionally, students and faculty members have a responsibility to both work with administrators and apply productive pressure to ensure that DKU’s programs come as close as possible to meeting Duke's standards of academic freedom.
Regardless of how administrators communicate about DKU, it is troubling that Duke Kunshan University paid for Chinese journalists to travel to Durham. Although we have no illusions about the independence of the Chinese press corps, any attempt to pay for favorable news coverage in China amounts to a tacit endorsement of the Chinese press system and undermines American journalistic ethics. According to the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, American journalists have an obligation to “refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment.” By allowing DKU to cover the travel expenses of Chinese reporters, Duke has signaled its willingness to breach American standards of journalistic ethics in order to secure publicity for DKU.
We understand that professional norms differ in China and that China is not a bastion of liberalism. If Duke is willing to play according to Chinese rules now though, what will stop us from playing with those rules when DKU finally opens?
Correction: This Editorial has been altered to reflect that Duke Kunshan University paid for the journalists trip to Durham. Not Duke University. The Chronicle regrets the error.