Gone are the days of keg stands on the quad. Nowadays, house parties off East Campus reign supreme. Gone are the days of fraternity sections’ undemocratic dominance of prime real estate on West Campus. All sophomores now take up residence in linked quads. Gone are the days of Duke’s reputation as a provincial institution. There’s now more truth to the Harvard of the South T-shirts. Under Nan’s tenure, Duke has become a world-class university for research and learning, and arguably the two undergraduate colleges have benefited most from this dramatic transformation.
Some fellow students have skeptically intimated—on these pages and elsewhere—that Duke is trying to gain admission to the Ivy League. Duke has become more selective; the newest administrators, most notably our president, hail from Ivy League backgrounds; and Duke now ranks higher than half of the Ivy League schools. Whoever might suspect that Duke is changing course from its “glorious,” Southern, greek-dominated past sure needs to learn to read between the lines. There’s a conspiracy somewhere in the ranks, and until Duke wedges its way into the Harvard-Princeton-Yale triumvirate, the conspirators will not rest.
It’s time for the student dissenters to step aside. It’s 2004, not 1984; the future glory of this school will not hinge upon the number of greek options during rush period or the variety of luxury cars parked in the Blue Zone but rather upon its intellectual dynamism and top-notch education.
To assist the designers of what I term the Duke of New, I offer the following bold suggestions to launch this plan in full force:
Ban development admits. Duke should work to bring the number of development admits as close to zero as possible and not mask them with excuses like “Well, he’s great in art,” or “She has a great personality.” The embarrassing article in the Wall Street Journal in 2003 outlining Duke’s horrendous affirmative action policies for the affluent is reason enough for Duke to become a leader in sound college admissions practices.
Ban alumni admits. While rewarding loyalty may be a good policy for the University, rewarding favors to undeserving relatives of alumni does nothing to enhance the competitiveness of admissions or establish the outstanding student body Duke wants to brag about every May.
Ban the greek system. The dominance of greek life will continue to wane in the coming years, and it’s time to kill it off at one fell swoop. While it may be true that greek members have higher GPAs on average, the greek system does little to add to the intellectual life on campus, and any attempt to do so is met with snickering from its members. The exclusionary and stratifying nature of the greek system works at cross-purposes with the University’s goal of creating an intellectually dynamic and engaged student body.
Attract and retain top-notch faculty. Duke seems to be battling a perpetual war to retain its many excellent faculty members from fleeing to more attractive positions. Duke must reexamine its tenure policies, adjust salaries and benefits in alignment with peer institutions’ packages and follow up on the information gained from the new surveys of outgoing faculty members. It’s time for more professors to join the “Duke Reads” posters. Reynolds Price cannot be Duke’s only “star” professor in the Duke of New.
Dismantle Duke’s provincial and WASPy reputation. It’s troubling that the Black Student Alliance must organize a separate recruitment weekend for admitted students. Duke must acknowledge that the hegemony of campus life intimidates many prospective applicants who visit campus or talk to current students. Duke enjoys emphasizing the student body’s statistical diversity, but it must also highlight the diversity of lifestyles and choices that students make in creating social circles that are not always visible to prospective students.
Although many students may bemoan the transformation of the last decade, the University is clearly on a path to revitalize the intellectual life of the undergraduate student body. Our time is limited at Duke, and the designers of the Duke of New think in terms of decades, not semesters. Ultimately, we all benefit as Duke’s reputation as a powerhouse continues to materialize. Jumping on the Duke of New bandwagon will be a lot less painful than attempting to revive the Duke of Old.
Christopher Scoville is a Trinity senior.