Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, addressed Duke Student Government about the Duke brand at the group’s meeting Wednesday night.
Schoenfeld acknowledged the impact of recent incidents on the University’s image, but noted that Duke simply must redirect its focus to maintain its reputation of excellence.
“What I can say with some reasonable certainty is student conduct will always have some impact on reputation,” Schoenfeld said. “But, it’s background noise. We need to focus on academic quality.”
Vice President for Academic Affairs Kaveh Danesh, a junior, asked how student conduct issues, such as those faced by the University last Fall, can be dismissed given the impact of the lacrosse scandal.
Schoenfeld said that few people were initially introduced to the University through the lacrosse case. Among those not familiar with Duke before the case, the University’s reputation was damaged, but for those more familiar with Duke, the lacrosse case did not dramatically change their high opinions of the University.
“In the next two or three weeks, it will be five years since [the lacrosse case] happened,” he said. “I think of it as a radioactive half-life because the impact continues to decline. Memories [of] those kinds of things tend to be pretty short.”
Schoenfeld added that the intense scrutiny of Duke’s image by the student body can lead students to make broad and often incorrect conclusions about the public’s opinion of the University.
“We tend to focus a laser light on the things about Duke, and we assume that the whole world is as focused as we are,” Schoenfeld said. “[Still,] because of our visibility, it is true that our successes [as well as] our controversies and failures will be magnified.”
He also said that in order of importance, the things that have the greatest influence on the University’s reputation are academic quality, athletics and medicine. He spoke in particular about the role of the basketball team.
“In your neighborhood... you might know 20 people,” Schoenfeld said. “You will have no idea where 19 people went to college, but you will know the Duke person. The Duke person is always wearing their basketball stuff.”
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In other business:
Sophomore Ari Ruffer, a senator for Durham and regional affairs, asked the executive board why they thought 49.94 percent of students—the largest voter turnout in recent history—voted in the Young Trustee election Tuesday.
Executive Vice President Pete Schork, a junior, attributed the heightened voter turnout to an increase in student understanding about the election process and recent election bylaw changes.
The Senate also unanimously approved three new student groups: To Write Love On Her Arms, the Alexander Hamilton Society and the Paradigm Shift Forum.
Freshman Patrick Oathout, an academic affairs senator, proposed a statute to better advertise to students that classrooms are available for use after-hours. The statute was approved unanimously and is a response to student feedback expressing a desire for additional study space.
The Senate also unanimously approved a statute that will require the DSG Rules Committee to post a schedule detailing when it will certain measures for discussion. Senior Joe Catapano, an academic affairs senator, proposed the statute.