We thank Bynum for addressing faculty members’ concerns. Her comments reflect the administration’s willingness to include community members in conversations about DKU, and we hope this marks the first in a series of open discussions about our Chinese venture.
Although we appreciate more candid dialogue, the administration’s assurances have neither completely assuaged our concerns nor addressed questions from all of DKU’s stakeholders. In response to inquiries about academic freedom, Bynum noted that a collection of Chinese and American universities, including Duke, have signed a document stating that the priorities of a research university include, among other things, the “responsible exercise of academic freedom” and the “tolerance … of competing views.” Statements do not always translate into practice, however, and we would like to know, in as much detail as possible, how Duke plans to protect academic freedom at DKU.
Bynum also noted that Mary Bullock—executive vice chancellor for DKU—plans to issue regular reports on academic freedom to the Provost, who will report to the Academic Council. In order to ensure that this oversight mechanism actually holds DKU accountable for its academic programs, the administration should articulate specific standards for academic freedom at DKU and outline the actions it will take if DKU fails to meet those standards. Given the Chinese government’s involvement in the project, the University may have difficulty setting enforceable standards for intellectual freedom. Attempting to do so would be valuable nonetheless. Moreover, if DKU finds itself unable to meet Duke’s standards of academic freedom, the University should commit to releasing detailed public statements explaining why DKU has failed to meet those standards.
Duke should also seek to include more students in discussions about DKU. The University can do this in a number of ways, but perhaps the most effective approach would be to host a series of forums in which students have opportunities to ask direct questions about the project. An open forum would replace unilateral communication with a two-way exchange of ideas and force administrators to trade meticulously crafted public relations statements for more thoughtful and organic responses to student concerns.
Although we welcome more information about DKU, we continue to have questions about the long-term sustainability of the project, the mechanisms in place to ensure that students are receiving an education worthy of a Duke degree, the campus culture and the possibility of complete academic freedom. It also remains unclear to what extent DKU will function as an independent entity. DKU is a partnership between Duke, Kunshan University and Wuhan, and Duke has “shared responsibility” for DKU’s operating costs for the first six years. But how much of DKU’s operating budget and discretionary funds come from Duke? To what degree is Duke responsible for what happens at DKU?
Although questions about the project remain, we are hopeful that the administration will continue working to communicate more substantively with community members.