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Round peg in a quad hole

Two city planners sit in a cozy office one autumn morning, surrounded by maps and blueprints. They have shared this office for some 20 years, working as steady custodians of a burgeoning city.

Suddenly, City Planner #1 sits upright in his swivel chair and looks at City Planner #2 with a deranged half-grin. “You know how we have always had our city drawn into districts? I’ve got a better idea. Let’s take the city and split it into sevenths. Since there are no natural boundaries, let’s draw them along crazy lines that defy intuition. And let’s make people go to their Seventh Council for all government services and recreational activities. Except to make it more ominous, let’s call it programming.”

Then City Planner #1 cackles and peels off a rubber mask to reveal himself as Eddie Hull.

This fictional account dramatizes the real-life absurdity that is the so-called “quad model.” The model was in the works before Hull arrived at Duke in 2002, but he has been charged with further developing and implementing a strikingly radical facelift of West Campus life that seems inevitably at odds with both the unique structure of the campus and the nature of students at the University.

First, it helps to know what the quad model is. Student leaders are perhaps overly fond of claiming “no one has ever told me what the quad model is,” but the core idea is pretty simple: the quad is to become the unit of residential life on West Campus, replacing the fraternity house, selective house and independent house.

What has made greeks nervous is a presumed corollary that if quads are to replace houses, then fraternities and selective living groups will be squeezed out. While the administration has never formally elucidated this corollary, a simple exercise of logic would suggest that the greeks’ fears are justified.

Despite occasional placations from Hull and Larry Moneta, one of the driving forces behind the quad model was the widespread belief that fraternities were inexorably linked to underage drinking, misbehavior, non-diversity and a lower quality of life for non-affiliated students on West Campus.

In a question-and-answer session last March with fraternity members and other selective house residents, Hull started to show his cards. He said in the future, quad affiliation would be expected to trump all other affiliations—including fraternity and selective living group membership. He also axed annual review, the procedure by which fraternities were assessed on their contribution to the residential community, which many interpreted as an undermining of fraternitites’ status.

So if we are dropping selective living groups or subordinating them to the point that they are to become irrelevant, it is worth taking a hard look at the strangely misnamed units that are replacing them. What is a quad? On West Campus, the unfortunate answer is: nothing much.

Do you know where Kilgo ends and Crowell begins? Why Wannamaker is lumped in with Crowell, and why Keohane and Edens are considered “quads” at all? Simply put, it is unnatural to think of Duke’s labyrinthine Gothic wonderland in a system meant for classically arranged campuses.

The larger point is that Hull and other administrators have forgotten the old “Folkways” theory that you can’t legislate what is unnatural. Just as the quad model is architecturally misguided, its key precept of neutering fraternities and selective living groups in favor of wholesome quad-oriented programming is hopelessly naïve.

It is mind-boggling that Hull, who worked at the hard-partying Southern Methodist University and has a college-aged child of his own, would so underestimate the will of college students to have non-sanctioned, “bad” recreation. Sad though it may be, if Quad Councils do not accommodate underaged drinking, they will not be credible as programming bodies to a very large portion of students. And without credible and busy Quad Councils, Hull’s vision of quad unity will be a pipe dream.

No doubt, West Campus’s architecture and the necessarily wholesome nature of Residence Life and Housing Services initiatives are formidable obstacles for someone in Hull’s position. But I do not think that cramming a round peg down a quad hole is the right strategy. We need to take a serious step back—as we did in postponing contruction of the West Campus plaza—and find a more natural residential unit that does not depend on advanced geography skills and a sudden mass realization by Duke students that cooking competitions really are more fun than partying at a frat on a Saturday night.

Maybe we should go back to the house system. Maybe we should separate Wannamaker, Keohane and Edens out as units and call Main West a single unit. Maybe it will take some construction on West Campus. Maybe we should wait for the Central Campus renovation and use Main West for classes and services.

Whatever the administration’s ultimate course of action, its leaders would do well to consult Campus Council immediately on this subject. Call me crazy, but if you acknowledge that students will do as they please with or without RLHS approval, it is a good strategy to look honestly at their natural proclivities and find out which model best molds to them—not the other way around.


Andrew Collins is a Trinity senior and former University Editor of The Chronicle.


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