The times they are a-changin’ at Duke. The beginning of this academic year marks a time of monumental change at our university, change that will shape the core of the institution for years to come. Some changes are physical, like the West Union renovations, including the new multipurpose pavilion that has already broken ground. Some changes are social, like the inaugural house model, which will drastically transform residential communities. Some changes are overseas, like Duke Kunshan University, which was finally approved by China’s education ministry this summer. Finally, with the announcement of Duke’s multibillion dollar capital campaign, the biggest in the school’s history, there are big financial changes looming as well.
Never in recent memory has Duke undertaken so many colossal projects at once, all of which have huge implications for the university’s long-term future. Small policy changes in the present can have enormous repercussions for Duke students ten or twenty years from now.
However, despite the need for long-term vision, a short-term plan is also crucial. Duke administrators often mention the brevity of “institutional memory.” Administrators like reminding us that, since undergraduates spend only four years within Duke’s walls, ideas and opinions and recollections of university happenings also cycle through quickly. For instance, vice president for student affairs Larry Moneta suggested that last year’s failed Football Gameday experiment as a necessary deadweight loss in the effort to find a better Tailgate replacement. In four short years, no one would remember this disappointing experiment, nor Tailgate for that matter. In other words, given the rapid student turnover, long-term goals often trump short-term considerations.
This is a potentially dangerous philosophy. Four years goes by quickly indeed; we are not undergraduates at Duke for very long and deserve to have our student experience prioritized, even if our short stay at this university happens to fall during a time of incredible growth and upheaval. In this light, we hope that the administration protects the experience of current Duke students as it also tries to enhance the experience of future Duke students.
For example, in the midst of West Union Building renovations, the administration should listen to student organizations about concerns with their temporary locations. Even though the relocation will only last two years while West Union is under construction, the services that organizations like the LGBT Center and Mary Lou Williams Center are too important to be ignored, even in the short-term. The short-term dining needs of students must also be emphasized. In regards to the house model, these early years are actually the most vital, setting a precedent for how the residential system will operate in the future. The administration would be wise to again heed short-term interests—such as catering to juniors or on-campus seniors who may not initially feel house pride—to get the new system off to a good start.
Current Duke students are lucky to be attending the school at such an important moment in its history. We are truly witnessing a university in the making. However, it is not selfish to demand that our present needs still be considered amid all these changes. This year will be a momentous one for Duke, but it should also be a rich and enjoyable one for students in the here and now.
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