The Academic Council discussed University construction priorities and Duke Kunshan University during its first meeting of the academic year Thursday.

Faculty members questioned Don Taylor, chair of the University Priorities Committee and associate professor of public policy, and President Richard Brodhead about the direction of the University's construction plans after Taylor discussed the committee’s work and the distribution of University revenue in a presentation to the Council. Provost Sally Kornbluth and Jim Dobbins, associate vice provost for DKU and director of the DKU Program Office, also presented a proposed approval process for DKU undergraduate degrees to the Council during an executive session that was closed to individuals who were not faculty members. This was the first meeting of the Academic Council since Nan Jokerst, J. A. Jones Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, became chair of the Council.

“There are eight [construction] projects going on here, and none of them are related to academics,” said Warren Grill, professor of biomedical engineering. "We really need to think hard about our priorities. I feel that we are adrift now.”

Grill asked Taylor during the meeting whether the current construction projects related to athletics, student life and parking indicated that the University was not adequately focused on the core research and academic mission of the University.

Grill added that a number of buildings have maintenance issues and have trouble supporting research. 

“You could go to the Physics building and see people who have water pouring into their research laboratories from a leaking roof,” Grill explained. “You could go into the Pratt School in Hudson Hall and see faculty research labs where the HVAC is so inadequate that they can’t conduct research. I’m sure the same is true in other buildings.”

Brodhead responded that the recently renovated Rubenstein Library is an academic building and also argued that common spaces such as West Union contribute to the academic environment of the University.

Patrick Halpin, associate professor of marine geospatial ecology and director of the Geospatial Ecology Program, echoed Grill’s concerns, but noted that buildings currently under construction do play an important role in the University.

“The faculty all agree that it’s great to be building buildings that [are related to] services and things like that. It’s just that making sure the portfolio is balanced is the real issue there,” he noted.

With regard to the closed executive session for the discussion about DKU undergraduate degrees, Jokerst declined to comment about why the discussion was held during an executive session. Kornbluth also declined to comment, beyond saying that, “we wanted to have a confidential conversation with just the faculty.”

In other business:

Jokerst announced the appointment of four new members to the Executive Committee of the Academic Council, which handles business on a weekly basis.

The Council elected four new members to the Faculty Hearing Committee, which hears complaints from faculty that cannot be addressed through other channels regarding violations of academic freedom and harassment.

Jokerst proposed changes to the Faculty Handbook regarding the process for approving name changes to academic units.