The independent news organization of Duke University

The new era, one year in

The synchronized arrival of Richard Brodhead, a host of Ivy League ex-pats and several new buildings heralded a New Era for Duke. With the first year in the books, it’s time to take a look back at what was accomplished, what was surprising and what expectations might need to be reconsidered as the University presses—slowly, it turns out—into uncharted territory.

The new president made it clear from the outset that this year was going to be primarily used for learning about Duke and setting the tone for his relationship with administrators, faculty, staff and students. He did not come in with a sweeping agenda for the year, apparently preferring to wait for the next strategic plan. As much as Brodhead tries to distance himself from his former institution, his cautious stewardship more vividly evokes Yale’s staid tradition than the fast-moving, ever-changing Duke.

As Brodhead learns the ropes, Provost Peter Lange has moved with characteristic vigor to make his mark across the University. Perhaps emboldened by the departure of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education William Chafe, Lange has made several dramatic forays into undergraduate life. He put iPods in the hands of freshmen and publicly criticized the diversity of student representatives to Central Campus planning committees.

Lange’s authority seems to be expanding, and given Brodhead’s admitted learning curve, the Duke of tomorrow may be shaped quite tangibly by this ubersavvy political scientist.

Lange’s role as point man for the Central renovation promises to be among his most important long-term contributions. The decentralization of the planning committees and his charge for them to come up with ideas “regardless of cost” weakens the ability of the committees to come up with sustainable recommendations and allows Lange more leeway in picking and choosing elements that correspond with his vision. The development process is at a critical conceptual stage, and Lange’s response to the planning committees’ work this summer will largely shape the evolution of the project.

Among the now-completed construction projects, the Center for Interdisciplinary, Engineering and Applied Sciences (CIEMAS) looks like a standout addition. The building and adjacent quad are beautiful and will serve as a long-needed home for engineering students. Combined with the 200-student enrollment increase in the Pratt School of Engineering, the administration is clearly signaling a long-term commitment to engineering. But given that Pratt is far behind its more elite rivals, would such a commitment signal a preference for a broad, relatively shallow set of programs over a limited, deep collection that makes more use of resources at neighboring schools? Moreover, will Pratt be able to effectively build upon this moment of opportunity if heralded Dean Kristina Johnson departs for a college presidency?

The Nasher Museum of Art is also essentially constructed and set to open this fall. It is a grotesque structure, but will hopefully be an anchor for the new Central and will make Duke a more attractive location for art, artists, art students and arts money. An arts rebuilding plan is in place but success is far from assured; advocates must focus on ensuring a suitable performance space to supercede Page Auditorium and Branson Theater. And with all the talk about the “arts corridor,” few acknowledge that it’s stretched awfully thin and will not be conducive to community unless administrators make some quick and clear-eyed layout decisions.

Money is, now and always, the trump factor. For all Brodhead’s charm, genius and moral courage, there are some doubts about his prowess as a fundraiser compared to former President Nan Keohane—a master of the game. Is a Campaign for Duke II in the works? Can Brodhead learn to love pressing the flesh for cash? The answers will go a long way toward determining the feasibility of Brodhead’s financial aid reform plan, Duke’s prospects for growth and Brodhead’s legacy.

Year One was quieter than expected, but things are astir at the University. Keep an eye on next year’s strategic plan, look for signs of a new capital campaign and perhaps watch for some much-needed programmatic cutbacks. Above all, enjoy the pleasure of knowing and loving one of the most dynamic universities in the world. Duke’s New Era has yet to be fully defined, but certainly, we will not want to miss it.

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


Share and discuss “The new era, one year in” on social media.