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DKU gets closer to approval

A long-awaited approval for Duke Kunshan University might be in sight.

The Educational Bureau for Jiangsu Province, where DKU is located, accepted Duke’s proposal for the campus Dec. 27. The proposal is now under review by the Chinese Ministry of Education, who must approve the campus before Duke can start recruiting students for the new school, scheduled to open Spring 2013. After meeting with various officials in China last week, President Richard Brodhead said he is confident that the MOE approval process will be expedited.

During his five-day trip, Brodhead met with Vice Minister of Education Hao Ping, who assured him that the proposal will be approved in a matter of weeks, even though the process typically lasts about six months. This outlook, however, is a deviation from the norm. Experience and research has shown that developments typically take longer than expected in China, Brodhead said.

“It happens much more slowly than you think it’s going to,” he said. “It’s not about writing the contract, it’s about building relationships that build the trust.”

The proposal to the Jiangsu government, for example, was submitted in June, and the process took six months. The administration originally expected the approval by November but soon realized the process would take longer, Provost Peter Lange said.

“[The approval] happened at the time we were expecting, when we adjusted our expectations,” Lange said.

DKU’s MOE approval will happen faster than usual largely because of the MOE’s vocal support and eagerness to move forward, Brodhead said.

“Hao was encouraging us to start planning for the announcements,” he said, noting that Hao called the university a source of Chinese national pride.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public affairs and government relations, said that although Chinese officials have indicated the MOE review will happen quickly, he is unable to speculate about an approval date.

There are ongoing discussions in both Durham and China about various aspects of DKU, such as human resources, accounting and branding. Schoenfeld added that it is difficult to prepare for the official opening of DKU until there is a definitive timetable for approval.

Lange also said it is possible there will be a window between DKU’s MOE approval and when Duke can begin recruitment to the university.

A supportive partner

Brodhead, who departed for China Jan. 5, had been on standby to travel to Kunshan as soon as Jiangsu Province made its decision. During his visit, Brodhead met for the first time with Liu Jingnan, former president of Wuhan University, DKU’s academic partner. Liu will now serve as chancellor of DKU, a position that Brodhead said is largely ceremonial. Liu was well-informed and enthusiastic about Wuhan’s supporting role in the partnership, noting that most of the administrative work will be conducted by Duke.

“A very important point is [Wuhan] hasn’t brought an agenda of their own, their interest is in helping to create an outstanding example of Western-style education,” Brodhead said. “I returned very grateful for Wuhan’s attitude—that it’s their wish that Duke put on this venture.”

Schoenfeld said many Chinese universities have chancellors who act as representatives for the school on various national councils and committees, though they do not have a hand in daily university operations.

Brodhead also had a routine meeting with officials at the U.S. embassy in Beijing to update ambassadors on DKU’s progress. He also met with Duke administrators already in China. Several administrators were or are still in China working on various projects concerning DKU—including Laura Brinn, director of global communications; Nora Bynum, associate vice provost for the Office of Global Strategy and Programs and managing director for DKU; and Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president for administration. Brinn, Bynum and Cavanaugh were not available for comment.

Construction delays

Brodhead, who last visited DKU in June, aid there has been tremendous development on the campus’ construction in the last seven months. There are, however, still issues regarding the differences between construction in China and the United States. Brodhead said he discussed these issues, including construction standards and oversight, with Kunshan officials.

Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said construction has progressed as usual. As of Wednesday morning, Trask said he had not spoken with Brodhead since his return, but noted that he converses regularly with project managers in China.

Of DKU’s six buildings, one continues to be troublesome, Trask said. Workers have broken ground on the sixth building—a student research center casually known as the incubator—but it has yet to be decided what type of facilities the building will require.

“Five [buildings] appear to be growing as expected,” Trask said.

Trask said it remains unclear whether the sixth building will be complete when the first students arrive.

He added that decisions about the necessary facilities in the student research center largely depend on the Duke Global Health Institute, which has proposed two programs for DKU that might require lab space.

Academic conversations

Academic Council is not expected to vote on DGHI’s proposed Master of Science in Global Health and undergraduate programs until March, said Council Chair Susan Lozier, professor of physical oceanography.

Lozier added that various faculty committees, such as the Global Priorities Committee and the China Faculty Council, have been developing a more streamlined process for approving global academic programs. The China Faculty Council also circulated an email Wednesday encouraging professors to propose ideas for additional China programs. Lozier said these steps and productive conversations about Duke’s Chinese ventures at Academic Council meetings are indicative of improved communication between faculty and administrators concerning DKU.

“There has been a very robust debate internally, and I expect there will continue to be,” Schoenfeld said. “As the programs continue to develop, as the level of understanding and knowledge about the project continues to grow, as we have more concrete things we can point to as opposed to abstractions, those kinds of debates will become less intense.”

Lange noted that several more programs for DKU are being considered, but he declined to comment further.

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