Within weeks of his inauguration, former University president J. Deryl Hart established the position of the provost and appointed to it political science professor R. Taylor Cole. Cole, who had taught at Duke since 1935, said that the perspective with which he would preside as provost is “forward leaning,” that the University would be guaranteed a “bright future” under his leadership. Many would hold the position of provost after Cole resigned nine years later, but none would effectively guarantee the University a “bright future” to the extent that Provost Peter Lange has.
When former president Nan Keohane appointed Lange to the provostship in 1999, she knew she was making the right choice. “He’s a leader,” Keohane said of Lange, “but he’s also a ‘people person,’ and those who have worked with him most closely recently are most enthusiastic about the prospect of continuing to do so.”
Lange, who had before served as a faculty member, vice provost for academic and international affairs, chair of the political science department and chair of the Trinity College curriculum review committee, undoubtedly had the experience necessary for the job. Judith Ruderman, then vice provost for academic services, likely agreed with the president’s appointment. “What I’m confident about from his experience in this office and his experience in general,” Ruderman opined, “is that Peter will change the way things get done around here.” Sure enough, Ruderman was right.
“Our first job,” Lange explained after his appointment, “must be to establish a clear set of academic priorities.” As provost, Lange sought to establish these priorities through the introduction of two five-year strategic plans, “Building on Excellence” in 2001, and “Making a Difference” in 2006. Outlined in these plans was a particular emphasis on interdisciplinarity, civic engagement and internationalism, among other long-term themes.
Lange’s thorough and consistent strategies eventually resulted in the establishment of the University’s signature interdisciplinary centers and institutes, including, but not limited to, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, the Global Health Institute and the Social Science Research Institute. As if that was not enough, initiatives such as the Focus program and Bass Connections, initially designed to provide students with opportunities for interdisciplinary research within themes such as Global Health and Education and Human Development, are continuing to develop under Lange’s leadership.
Thus, it ought not to register a surprise that many, including President Brodhead, have lauded Lange for his emphasis on interdisciplinarity. “The deans at Duke work together in a way that they don’t work together at any other university I can name,” Brodhead recently opined. “That doesn’t happen by accident. It’s been the result of endless work by the Provost to make people realize that the parts work best when they’re parts of a whole.”
Interdisciplinarity was not the only priority Lange would fulfill during his tenure. Within recent years, the Provost has helped ensure that the University would become renowned for its persistent focus on civic engagement. Duke Engage, the Office of Service Learning and the Center for Civic Engagement, all byproducts of Lange’s strategic plans, have enabled thousands of students to serve local, national and international communities.
Lange has also laid the groundwork for the University to increase its engagement with the international community through the implementation of study abroad programs and immersions and physical campus expansions. Initiatives such as DukeImmerse, the establishment of the Office of Global Strategy and Programs and the University’s ongoing ventures in Kunshan are partly the result of Lange’s emphasis on such international engagement.
Most importantly, Lange was one of the most instrumental administrators during the Campaign for Duke, which ended in 2003, the Financial Aid Initiative, which ended in 2008, and the ongoing Duke Forward campaign, all three of which have helped improve the University’s infrastructure, affordability, diversity and ability to continually implement novel initiatives and hire and retain exceptional faculty members.
Though issues regarding academic freedom at Duke Kunshan University and ongoing efforts to increase the University’s role in online education have garnered him some criticism, Lange has unquestionably left his successor big shoes to fill. Unlike any of the provosts who had preceded him, Lange has made an impact where it matters most: the students and the faculty.
Now, after 15 years, Lange is resigning from his position, as the longest serving provost in the University’s history, with the knowledge that all of his goals have been fulfilled. Michael Schoenfeld, vice provost for government affairs and public relations, summarized the impact of Lange’s tenure rather well. “Duke is what it is today because of the work of a lot of people,” he explained.
“But at the top of that list is Peter Lange.”
Mousa Alshanteer is a Trinity sophomore and the editorial page managing editor. His regular column is part of the weekly Editor’s Note feature. This is his final column of the semester. Send Mousa a message on Twitter @MousaAlshanteer.