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Keohane addresses Academic Council

At Thursday's University faculty meeting, President Nan Keohane cast an eye to the future and noted three critical issues that the University must address in coming years--rising costs, challenges in undergraduate education and threats to academic freedom.

The speech, an annual State of the University report to the faculty, was Keohane's last before she steps down as president in June 2004. She offered the forward-looking theme as a "companion piece" to her Founders' Day address, which examined how the University has progressed in the 10 years since she became president.

"The ground is moving. This is a fluid enterprise. If we want to stay at the top of our game, we need to think creatively, and not just sit tight in the Gothic Wonderland," she said.

Considering her audience, Keohane made frequent reference to the faculty and some of the external and internal challenges it would face. She called upon faculty members to "reconceptualize the enterprise" through cross-institutional collaboration, engage the oft-disregarded intellectual enthusiasm of undergraduates and ensure an environment where controversial speech is confronted with more speech, not silence or repression.

Keohane struck an ominous tone in discussing inexorably rising costs, addressing both tuition and spending. She warned that continually improving admissions statistics may be lulling some into a false sense of security about how high tuition can be raised, pointing to the favorable effect Duke's generous financial aid has on the quality of entering classes.

"Financial aid will not save us forever from the consequences of rising costs," she said. "We cannot just increase our costs indefinitely."

Spending must be kept reasonable, she said, and options that may work in business--seemingly efficient measures like increasing class sizes or forcing professors to teach more classes--are not be appropriate for an institution of higher learning. Instead, Keohane proposed a "ruthless analysis" of the range of services available at the University and suggested reducing the scope of Duke's offerings, filling the void through cross-institutional collaboration.

"To tackle the problem of rising costs in higher education without major damage to our basic character, I think we're going to have to reconceptualize the enterprise," Keohane said. "Close collaboration with other institutions, both physically and through virtual linkages, will allow us to offer full ranges of programs for our students and collegial ties for faculty members, without having to produce everything on our own campus. It will mean accepting some modest inconvenience in travel time, or learning new technological skills, and over time it will mean reducing the scope of what we offer in some areas as we decide where Duke's competitive advantages really lie."

For undergraduate education, she said freshmen should be stimulated in their first few months at the University to re-enforce their initial high expectations about intellectual life at Duke. She said surveys showed students wanted individualized learning, strong advising and the opportunity to research with faculty. To encourage the robust development of undergraduates' intellectual selves, she suggested more personal encounters with faculty members, intergenerational scholarship with graduate students, faculty forums and discussions--led by faculty members or graduate students--after major speeches.

Recognizing both that modern young adults have different learning preferences than their middle-aged faculty counterparts and that many professors are less than extraordinary behind a microphone, Keohane also suggested the prospect of a Duke with fewer lectures and more undergraduate time spent in seminars or digital presentations.

On the subject of academic freedom--hotly discussed in recent years since the commencement of the U.S. war on terrorism--Keohane's core message was that freedom has boundaries, which should be cautiously erected and carefully observed, but that the University does not have an obligation to suppress controversial speech on its campus. Instead, she said, it has an obligation to allow open dialogue--not hesitating to bring a speaker because of contentious views, explaining the value of free speech to outsiders and permitting students to voice strongly held views in the classroom, even if said views make others uncomfortable.

"Somebody will always provide the counterargument to a speaker who puts forward a controversial position," Keohane said. "Not allowing the speech in the first place is a very different proposition."

IN OTHER NEWS: At the University faculty meeting, the faculty approved a change to the University by-laws allowing regular rank, non-tenure track faculty who are eligible to vote in Academic Council elections and who are in at least their third continuous year as a Duke faculty member to serve on Academic Council. Previously, only faculty members with titles of professor, associate professor or assistant professor, or with a unique tenured title associated with a named chair, could serve on the council.

The regular meeting of Academic Council followed the University faculty meeting, and only one item of new business was on the agenda: a resolution of support for Provost Peter Lange's new diversity plan. The resolution was not voted on, however, because a presentation by Dr. Sandy Williams, dean of the medical school, revealed that the medical and nursing school's joint 11-point response to the diversity plan was not given to the general body of Academic Council before the meeting because of an apparent miscommunication between Williams and Chair of Academic Council Dr. Nancy Allen.

Several members of the council said they felt it was better to delay a vote until the response--which Williams said was essentially highly supportive of the Provost's plan--could be considered. The faculty nonetheless approved of the plan "in spirit" through a show of hands, allowing Lange to begin his work.

After the president's speech, Allen gave Keohane a T-shirt on behalf of Academic Council that showed a picture of a book-brandishing Keohane and the words "California Welcomes the Ruminator," referring to Keohane's upcoming sabbatical in Northern California. According to the shirt, which garnered big laughs from the faculty and administrators in attendance, Keohane's time off will give the political philosopher-cum-University president an opportunity "to study Schwarzenegger's political theories."

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