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Duke Arts and Sciences Council votes down for-credit online courses

After more than an hour of debate Thursday afternoon, the Arts and Sciences Council voted against a motion to adopt online courses for credit.

The final tally was 14 council members voting to approve for-credit online courses and 16 against it, with two abstentions. Prior to the final outcome there was a motion to table the vote, which ultimately did not past with 10 members voting for the motion and 16 against it, with one abstention. If the motion had passed, Duke would have entered into online education company 2U’s Semester Online consortium as a three-year pilot project. An “opt-in/opt-out” clause would have given each academic department the ability to decide whether or not it wished to participate in the program.

Before the vote, faculty members—including non-council members who had decided to attend the meeting—were invited to state their opinion. Two microphones were placed at the front of the room, one for those who supported the motion and the other for those who were against it. Each speaker had two minutes to make their statement, and speakers alternated sides.

Many professors described mixed feelings toward the proposal. Though some faculty members spoke about the merits and drawbacks of online education itself, many arguments pertained to Duke’s choice of platform and on communication between the administration and the faculty regarding the matter.

“It’s a disaster,” said professor of physics Steffan Bass, a member of the Executive Committee of Arts and Sciences Council, who spoke in favor of adopting the proposal. “It was not voted down because online education is a bad thing. It was voted down on the basis of very political arguments.”

Rebecca Stein, director of undergraduate and graduate studies for cultural anthropology, noted that the process in which the proposal was moved to the Arts and Science council was problematic.

Faculty members also raised concern about the premise of online courses.

"Offshoring and outsourcing the curricula is by definition neoliberal in its outlook and attack," said Carol Apollonio, professor of the practice of Slavic and Eurasian studies. "It fundamentally involves dehumanization."

Faculty members who had been against the proposal said the vote pointed to the power of faculty.

“It makes me hopeful about greater faculty governance,” said Wahneema Lubiano, associate professor of African and African American studies.

Correction: a previous version of this article said 16 members voted in favor of for-credit courses and 14 voted against it. It also referred to Carol Apollonio as director of the practice of Slavic and Eurasian studies. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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