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Celebrating faculty governance

Over the last several decades, the Academic Council has participated in many of Duke's defining events, spanning the University's growth into a first-tier research institution. Along the way, the governing body of the University's faculty has evolved to become a powerful force shaping all areas of life at Duke.

This week, the often-understated council will find itself in the spotlight as it celebrates its 40th year of existence.

The council's role has expanded over the years, but its goal remains as it was at its inceptionâ??primarily as an advisory organization. Its recommendations on major developments in University policy are often heeded by the Board of Trustees.

"The council is not a legislature, and does not decide very many things directly," former Academic Council chair Donald Fluke wrote in an e-mail. "It attempts to take considered positions on matters the administration is considering, and to focus and present the faculty point of view persuasively."

Tumultuous Beginnings

The early years of the Academic Council were marked by controversial discussions, student unrest and historic decisions. The council was forged in 1962 in an atmosphere of upheaval, particularly a 1960 governance crisis in which University President Arthur Edens resigned and Vice President in the Division of Education Paul Gross was removed from office. Many faculty members believed they could not adequately discuss governance in the previous faculty governing body, the University Council, because it was largely a vehicle of the administration.

The new body emphasized the faculty and initially consisted of 48 elected members, with only the president and one or two administrators serving as ex officio members.

The seven-year-old council encountered a severe test when black students staged an Allen Building takeover in February 1969 and issued a series of ultimatums during a 10-hour standoff with administrators and police.

At an impromptu meeting of about 1,000 students and faculty members in Page Auditorium, Professor of History Thomas Rainey earned a standing ovation when he said the cause for the takeover was not the racist attitudes of the "grits and rednecks" but the faculty, who "sold out and gave [University President Douglas] Knight a blank check to bring the pigs down on us."

The faculty responded by passing a resolution supporting the president and the Trustees, though the debate was heated. About 40 faculty members walked out on the meeting when a motion to delay any ultimatum against the students failed.

In another political debate of the era, the Vietnam War, the Academic Council adjourned in disorder for the only time in its history after a 1970 debate about terminating the Duke ROTC program was disrupted by protesters. Despite the incident, the program remained on campus.

The Christie Report

After years of administrative dominance, the role of the faculty in University decision-making was codified in an April 1972 report by the Committee to Study the Nature and Role of the Academic Council, chaired by James B. Duke Professor of Law George Christie.

The Christie Report, as it was known, specified that anyone considered to be a "faculty representative" to a University committee must have been nominated by the Executive Committee of the Academic Council. This mandate aimed to end a long-standing patternâ??administrators chaired committees and appointed a few faculty members of their own choosing.

The report also established the Christie Rule, which changed the power balance at the University by requiring an inviolable role for faculty consultation.

"Except in emergencies, all major decisions and plans of the administration that significantly affect academic affairs should be submitted to the Academic Council for an expression of views prior to implementation," the Christie Committee wrote. "The views expressed by the Academic Council should be transmitted, along with the administration's proposals, to the Board of Trustees."

New Developments, New Debates

Discussions in the Academic Council have changed the course, for better or worse, of a number of expansion projects across the University.

Perhaps the most rancorous debate in the council's history began when representatives of former U.S. President Richard Nixon, Law '37, entered into discussions with Duke President Terry Sanford in July 1981 about providing a home for the Nixon Presidential Library.

The Academic Council, which had not been consulted in accordance with the Christie Rule, threatened to call an emergency summer meeting before Sanford persuaded Nixon representatives to allow the decision-making process to play out fully. Strong faculty opinion against a proposed 110,000 square-foot museum eventually led the council to vote 35-34 against continued negotiations, and the project was eventually scrapped.

Construction of Duke Hospital North, which opened in 1980, also spurred a contentious battle. Throughout the late 1970s, debate raged in the council as to whether the hospital was worth the considerable financial commitment.

"As I recall, the entire assets of the University, including the Duke Forest, had to go on the table as collateral," wrote Fluke, a professor emeritus of zoology.

In addition to the hospital, several expansion projects later earned the backing of the council, including the Levine Science Research Center.

The Modern Era

The Academic Council has moved into this millennium exhibiting a commitment to an assortment of issues, including fundraising, diverse representation and the more routine issues that comprise the bulk of the council's business.

A harassment policy was discussed and endorsed by the Academic Council in April 1993 after widespread debate the previous fall when a draft of the policy had referred only to sexual harassment. President Nan Keohane signed off on the policy in November of that year and it went into effect Jan. 1, 1994.

Sometimes, by chance or design, council meetings have led to unexpectedly widespread implications. For example, in the early 1990s, a parade of deans came into a series of meetings to explain why their schools' budgets should not be cut. The immediate result of this, Fluke said, was the University's current capital campaign, now approaching its $2 billion goal.

"In 40 years the council has generated a tremendous stream of low-profile stuff, the view of the faculty on the detailed ordinary business of the University," Fluke wrote.

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