Four battle for academic affairs

Two candidates work on Duke Student Government committees, one leads Speak of the Devil and one serves on his dorm's house council. Despite their varied interests, these candidates share a passion for the improvement of academic life at Duke.

Christopher Chin, David Fiedler, Chase Johnson and Megan Smith are all vying for for DSG vice president of academic affairs, one of the organization's most important spots.

Chin, a sophomore, sees student support as crucial to effecting change with DSG.

"When you're sitting across the table from Provost [Peter] Lange or [Trinity] Dean [Robert] Thompson, how you really get things done is by having the students behind you," he said. By mobilizing the student body behind important issues, he hopes to build DSG's clout.

Fiedler hopes to change the University's policy on partial credit for labs. He argues that science students spend just as much time on outside classwork as humanities students and should be compensated for extra time spent in lab.

"When you look at ACES, my science class has a Monday, Wednesday, Friday lecture just like a humanities class, but I have a three hour lab and outside work for lecture too," said Fiedler, a freshman. In his opinion, giving partial credit to lab courses will compensate science students for extra time spent in class.

Johnson plans to focus on improving students' perception of DSG. The junior hopes to restore faith in DSG by changing University policy to benefit the students, whom he sees as "consumers of knowledge" who have been shortchanged.

"Nobody's really talking about academics," he said, adding that even when students are dissatisfied, there is little emphasis on making changes to academics.

Smith, also a freshman, wants to address academic freedom and political diversity within the University's faculty. Smith sees herself as an intermediary between organizations such as the Duke Conservative Union and the administration to address the problem of academic freedom.

"I support a committee of faculty, staff and students, because each has a perspective on how to follow through," Smith said. She hopes that the establishment of such a committee will help to work through problems of academic freedom at Duke.

Each candidate expressed enthusiasm for the upcoming election and saw the position as a way to make a change at the University.

As in previous years, the issue of course evaluations seems to be at the forefront of this year's election. Currently, course evaluations are available on ACES through an opt-in system in which they appear if a professor chooses to post them. If not, they remain unavailable for students' use.

"It defeats the purpose and their use should be addressed," said Chin, expressing a sentiment shared by all four candidates, who all prefer an opt-out system instead in which course evaluations would be posted unless a professor specifically requested them to be withheld.

Although the candidates agree on the use of course evaluations, they are quite divided over the issue of experience as crucial to a successful run as vice president of academic affairs.

In this year's election, both Chin and Smith have DSG experience, while Fiedler and Johnson do not.

"It's going to take a lot to get [the newcomers to DSG] to learn the workings and get things done. The only way you can learn the workings is to actually be on DSG," Smith said.

Fiedler and Johnson, however, said they have confidence in themselves and see their inexperience as a benefit rather than a setback because of the new ideas they hope to bring to the table.


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