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Retirement tops full Academic Council meeting

Academic Council got back to business after celebrating its 40th anniversary last month, packing Thursday's meeting with presentations on retirement, black faculty development and athletics.

Professor of Sociology Angela O'Rand presented the long-awaited report of the Provost's Committee on Retirement Policy, which concluded that the University should continue to approach retirement negotiations on a case-by-case basis, rather than develop a formally structured and uniformly applied plan.

"Retirement policies cannot be made in a vacuum," O'Rand said. "To establish some kind of universal retirement plan for the University quickly became a nonsensical option from the point of view of the committee. We're small enough and varied enough that you really need that kind of sensitivity at the top, and that kind of heavy hand doesn't really work."

Both O'Rand and Provost Peter Lange expressed some concern about the baby boom generation approaching retirement age.

"Longer-term," Lange said, "we may have some issues that may require us to pursue some more aggressive retirement policies."

The report also recommended subsidizing faculty financial planning. O'Rand said she and Vice President for Human Resources Clint Davidson began meeting with financial services firm TIAA-CREF to consider setting up a series of planning workshops.

But Lange said subsidizing retirement planning seemed to be an unwise allocation of resources.

He also offered a tempered response to the committee's suggestions for possible emeritus benefits that included an administrative staff member for emeritus faculty, fixed-period nonrenewable research accounts, Duke identification cards and computer accounts and high-speed Internet connections. Lange said most of the requests would not be workable given limited resources.

Following the unanimous approval of the retirement report, the council turned its attention to Lange for his annual progress report on black faculty development.

He presented the anticipated news that the Black Faculty Strategic Initiative had reached its goal one year ahead of schedule. The BFSI, which began in 1993, aimed to double the number of black faculty members in University schools--excluding the School of Medicine and, until recently, the School of Nursing--from 44 to 88.

The total percentage of black faculty currently rests at 3.7 percent, which somewhat obscures variation among schools. The Divinity School is tops for black faculty, where black faculty occupy 15.2 percent of all positions. The Nicholas School of the Environment, by contrast, has not hired a single black faculty member since the BFSI went into effect.

"The Nicholas School, I have to admit, stands out as not having much success," Lange said.

He also expressed concern about the declining number of black students matriculating into University doctorate programs. Total enrollment jumped in 2002, however, after dropping last year to its lowest point since 1994.

While Lange said he was pleased with the BFSI's premature achievement, he stressed that efforts must be maintained.

"An effort which would flag on the side of mentoring or on the side of recruiting would probably cause a downturn in a relatively short period of time," he said, adding that the next step was to tackle diversity at a broader level.

The meeting's final report was a policy statement on intercollegiate athletics that advocates sustaining the commitment to athletics. The report's significance stems from the fact that it is the first formal revision of former President Terry Sanford's 18-year-old guidelines for the athletics department.

"The larger intent is that we do studies like this on a more frequent basis, and not wait another 20 years," said Athletic Council Chair and biology professor Kathleen Smith, who presented the report.

The Academic Council will debate the measure in greater depth at its Dec. 5 meeting, and, if approved, the policy statement will appear before the Board of Trustees later in the month.

President Nan Keohane said that last year, the Trustees gave their informal support to continuing the University's athletic commitment.

"I basically asked [the Trustees] in a secret straw poll how they felt about increasing Duke's involvement, decreasing Duke's involvement or keeping it constant," Keohane said. "They feel it's important if we're going to do athletics at Duke, we should do it well, in a number of ways."

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