CCI still shows few real changes

About a year ago, the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee released a report with findings and suggestions for improving student life. The 36-page document targeted six key areas for change, with specific recommendations ranging from disbanding selective living sections to raising admissions standards. A year later and after numerous meetings with students and another two administrative reports, however, few policy changes have resulted from the controversial document. And a look back into the University's archives shows a history of similar reports over the decades, raising questions about whether any progress has been made on several recurring issues of campus life. "Many if not all of the recommendations made in the CCI have probably been made before," said Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, Trinity '76 and Grad '78, who has held her position for 27 years. "Some of them were made to a greater extreme with the CCI [report], but there's a fairly significant relationship or commonality to past reports." What sets the CCI report apart? In the 1992 Founder's Day Speech, Reynolds Price, Trinity '55 and a James B. Duke professor of English, described the lack of intellectualism he perceived among students and encouraged an overhaul of policies and practices, including the elimination of greek life. Price's speech incited an intent search into Duke's campus culture that culminated in "Work Hard, Play Hard," a comprehensive report written by former dean of the Chapel William Willimon in 1993. Seven years later, Willimon penned "Old Duke, New Duke," which echoes a number of the same themes from his earlier report, especially alcohol prevalence and student-faculty interaction. The first Willimon report describes the student apathy Price cited in his speech, and suggests improvement in residential life, greek life and alcohol policy. Last year's CCI report addresses similar themes and also characterizes Duke's social scene as more destructive than constructive to its community. "The [Steering] Committee came to better understand problems that exist-ranging from simple acts of uncivil speech and intolerance to what some have called a 'culture of excess'-and it worked to identify points of progress that could help Duke achieve its institutional aspirations," the report reads. But Wasiolek said the CCI report's much more comprehensive nature sets it apart from past documents on campus culture. "The other [reports] were more singularly focused. I can't recall one that tried to bring all of those [campus issues] together and spoke specifically to race and to gender," she said. Provost Peter Lange, who wrote the September 2007 Interim Report on Undergraduate Education as a follow-up to the CCI, said past reports focused more on the negative elements of campus life, whereas current discussions highlight strengths and outline ways for improvement. "Rather than just talking about getting rid of something, we talk about enhancing options and alternatives," he said. Although the themes of these reports remain similar throughout the years, Wasiolek said the environment they originate from changes over time. "The process may be very repetitive and similar, but the people involved in it and the culture that's being examined are very different," she said. 'Creative dissatisfaction' Wasiolek said issues that are pervasive in higher level education are generally re-evaluated as part of the natural process of a university's self-analysis. University Archivist Tim Pyatt, Trinity '81, said Duke's relative youth and sense of "creative dissatisfaction" encourage it to push for continual improvement. He noted that studies of campus culture and life have been produced almost every decade, and sometimes more frequently, since the University's inception. "The University's culture is one that doesn't rest on our laurels," said Tom Harkins, associate university archivist for research services. Dean of Undergraduate Education Steve Nowicki, who himself authored "Uniting Old and New," a report released this week outlining plans for a revamped campus, noted that Duke students seem to be more critical of their university than other students at other colleges. "I think Duke students are probably a little too cynical because they haven't been listened to in recent history," he said. "I'd like us to be more positively self-critical-not to complain about things, but talk about how can we change together." Making future change The two new reports issued in the past year were influenced by several findings of the CCI report and the discussions that followed. Nowicki's report provides concrete recommendations for addressing space issues while envisioning the changes to Central Campus. He said, however, that future proposals will aim to address the other issues highlighted in the CCI report. But some students have noted that the top-down efforts to examine student life and the slow pace of institutional change are reasons to question the efficacy of campus culture reports. Lange and Nowicki said students must engage in the discussions that follow such reports in order for the policies to be well-informed and successful. "I just think that you can't change things from orders on high if the students don't embrace it [or] don't come up with it," Nowicki said.


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