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Baby steps

The DSG senate recently passed a constitutional amendment submitted by sophomore Joe Fore and senior Chase Johnson that addresses “Academic Expectations and Responsibilities.” It will be presented to students as a referendum during the Executive elections on March 31. We should consider this legislation carefully, as it represents an opportunity to define the type of community we wish to build.

The amendment, if passed, would address several aspects of campus life. More a statement of principles than a concrete set of policies, it asserts the value and necessity of intellectual discourse and scholarly achievement.

Moreover, it describes the type of climate necessary for these things to take place. I think students will find that it is precisely what we need at this stage of our development.

After myriad portrayals of campus life by Tom Wolfe and others as definingly “hook-up” obsessed, there is a sense of disillusionment regarding even the most prestigious universities.

It seems that perhaps they are not the scholarly bastions we once assumed. Duke, about which national headlines seem to always involve basketball or baby oil, faces an especially difficult identity crisis.

As we often reassure ourselves, the Duke undergraduate community is one of the most talented and intelligent in the country.

But in order for this outstanding group to fully realize its potential, we need to foster the type of climate described in Fore’s amendment—one “where the intellectual experience permeates daily campus life.”

The legislation attempts to find a balance between students’ own responsibilities and the expectations they can reasonably have regarding their academic experience.

For example, it unambiguously upholds the Community Standard as an ethical guide but requires instructors to make clear precisely what behavior is and is not acceptable in each particular course.

Other provisions aim to guarantee vital components of an undergraduate education. Academic advising is addressed in the legislation, which highlights the need for “advice from someone in [an advisee’s] chosen field of study, or, for undeclared students, from someone well-versed in a breadth of academic options, based on the student’s interests.”

Whether such advising is presently available must be determined and addressed, but the importance of this inquiry is established by the amendment in question.

The overall vision presented is of an atmosphere where students of diverse talents, interests and goals find unity in their common devotion to learning. More than just a group of individuals seeking easy admittance to Wall Street or medical school, Duke would be a community of scholars who are largely responsible for their own education.

We cannot expect the simple passage of the amendment to have any immediate effects of its own. But as a statement of direction, it will serve as a guide to future legislation that will shape the Duke experience.

Because it will be presented for the student body’s approval, the DSG amendment has the potential to be truly significant.

Rather than having our rights and responsibilities dictated from above, we will be able to declare for ourselves the type of climate in which we want to study. This is why, before voting for the amendment, students should familiarize themselves with its vision and make sure that it is in line with theirs.

If the amendment is passed, it will only be a small step towards realizing the goals it sets forth. Elegant, smart policymaking is the next step—a fact that DSG is surely aware of.

But this does not diminish the significance of a statement by the Duke student body that it is serious about building a Duke Community—one based on scholarship, integrity and respect.

David Kleban is a Trinity sophomore. His column appears every other Tuesday.

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