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K-ville discussion

Behind the scenes of a recent discussion to shorten the tenting period in Krzyzewskiville may be a tacit administrative disapproval of the practice - K-ville and athletics in general have become subtle flashpoints in the gradual, ongoing push to make the undergraduate experience more intellectual.

Some senior administrators, in a brainstorming session at a retreat last summer, listed the social scene - in particular, tenting, bonfires and fraternity parties - among challenges and obstacles for the University and among considerations for further discussion and reflection. Administrators have privately noted that the tent city could be a disaster-in-waiting, in the form of a potential incident involving alcohol abuse, sexual assault or, given the recent cold winter, hypothermia.

Proponents say that K-ville and Duke's strong athletic tradition enhances the Duke experience because it balances studying and provides genuine school spirit. Yet other community members who emphasize the possibility of Duke enhancing its reputation intellectually object to K-ville as a blight on a school that has too long been defined by basketball and not by what they believe are its superior academic credentials.

"Well, it's one of those traditions that I really don't know exists anywhere else," said Janet Dickerson, vice president for campus life at Princeton University and Larry Moneta's predecessor as Duke's vice president for student affairs. "It's not necessarily a logical thing, but delightful and fun for the students who choose to participate.... I have to say, it's a peculiar institution to Duke. Most people just can't believe that students do that."

Recently, Moneta and several students have considered plans to shorten K-ville after this year's particularly long session spanned seven weeks - mostly due to the way the basketball schedule fell. Duke Student Government Head Line Monitor Jeremy Morgan is now discussing possible solutions with a group of line monitors and plans to hold a K-ville "town hall meeting" early in April to solicit student opinion.

Morgan hoped he and the newly appointed head line monitor for next year could arrive on a solution this spring. Moneta had suggested as one option a spirit competition or a kickoff day for K-ville.

"My basic take on it is that Larry Moneta is right to think about making it more limited in terms of its long-term planning," said William Chafe, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences and also vice provost for undergraduate education. Chafe has said in the past that the tent city can be detrimental to students' academic lives.

Chafe is part of an ongoing task force examining undergraduate admissions, including how it recruits students and how it presents Duke to prospective students. Last year, that task force changed the admissions viewbook to emphasize the intellectual and academic opportunities at Duke.

"I don't think there's an intrinsic contradiction between K-ville and a student body that embodies intellectual engagement - there's no contradiction there," said Christoph Guttentag, director of undergraduate admissions. "You clearly can have both, because to a large degree we do have both."

Although administrators said they did not want to de-emphasize traditions like men's basketball and K-ville, this year's viewbook does not feature those aspects nearly as much - a K-ville spread has been replaced with a conversation with James B. Duke Professor of English Reynolds Price, Trinity '55.

Among the top 20 universities, as judged by the latest U.S. News and World Report rankings, only Stanford University and the University of Notre Dame come close to emphasizing athletics as much as Duke does - and neither Notre Dame nor Stanford features a two-month-long waiting line for basketball games.

Guttentag said the school spirit of K-ville makes Duke unique among its peer schools, and that any changes to K-ville should not come at the loss of that spirit.

"When you look at what people actually do while they're participating in K-ville, it often embodies some of what's best about Duke-having a real commitment to academics and really being able to do multiple things well," he said. "Whether you can do that with a six-week K-ville is something for other minds to decide."

Guttentag added that he and other officials are still trying to figure out if Duke's emphasis on sporting events is a detriment to some prospective students looking for a different, possibly more intellectual undergraduate experience.

"Duke's a long way from the University of Chicago," Dickerson said, "but the work that has been done in the 1990s has been an exemplary effort to make sure students have, when students leave Duke, received a first-rate education."

Sue Wasiolek, dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs, echoed Moneta's call for moderation earlier this spring. Wasiolek was an administrator at Duke when the first impromptu K-ville set up shop in 1986 and when DSG's predecessor organization first began monitoring lines for entry to games in 1984.

Wasiolek said that studying in a tent - even with the wireless Internet access added recently so students can use laptops there - is probably not good for academics, but that all students make choices about what experience they have, balancing studies and other activities.

"If studying in a tent for three or four weeks in February [showed] a correlation, Duke wouldn't have built a new residence hall. It would have built a campground," she said.

Guttentag said that, whatever happens to K-ville, the discussion over its proper role is a worthwhile one.

"Nobody wants to see the spirit that gets embodied in K-ville lost," he said. "By the same token, that doesn't mean that everything in its current incarnation is perfect.... Regardless of whether change occurs or not, it's important to have the conversations."

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