At its meeting Thursday, the Arts and Sciences Council added the Thompson Writing Program to its represented departments and was introduced to the new Washington Duke Scholars program for first-generation, low-income students.

The council voted to allow the Thompson Writing Program to join after a discussion about faculty governance and independence. During the meeting, some faculty members raised concerns that since TWP does not have a major and has many non-tenure-track instructors, this could open up TWP to administration influence.

"The quasi-independence of the council to some large degree relies on having voting units whose faculty are able to govern themselves and are less vulnerable to administrative pressure,” said Frances Hasso, associate professor in the Women's Studies department and a representative of her department on the council.

J. Lorand Matory—Lawrence Richardson professor of cultural anthropology and director of the Center for African and African American Research—argued in favor of TWP, pointing out that all faculty benefit from certain other resources which can always be taken away by deans or influenced by the administration. 

Matory also saw other benefits in having TWP as a voting member on the council.

“The other elephant in the room is that many of our students are horrible writers,” Matory explained. “So I see a collective benefit for us in so far as this unit not only governs the faculty but it is the only venue in which people from diverse units can hear each others' perspectives and benefit from each others' knowledge on a consistent basis.”

The council also discussed the Washington Duke Scholars program, which will provide specialized programs and assistance for low-income, first-generation college students. Scholars will also receive a full financial-aid package that will focus on the success of the student, said Steve Nowicki, dean and vice provost for undergraduate education. 

Nowicki said that data from a pilot program has shown that when first generation, low-income students are provided with specialized advising from their academic advisors, their grade point averages increased by 0.5 points.

“It’s not that these students need remediation in any way, I want to really emphasize that,” Nowicki said. “The way I think about it is that there is a race to be run and everybody has the same finish line. It’s just that first-generation, low-income students are actually starting that race when they arrive a few paces behind.”

Nowicki added that first-generation students come to Duke with fewer cultural, social and academic advantages than other students have. Faculty members who themselves were first-generation students expressed their agreement with Nowicki.

“When I entered Duke, I was actually quite prepared to handle Duke intellectually," said Omid Safi, Trinity '92 and director of the Islamic Studies center, who was a first-generation student himself. "It was everything else that I felt like was kind of an uncharted territory. This whole culture of applying for grants and networking and all of that—it might as well have been gibberish to me.”

Safi said he figured out many aspects of student life at Duke through trial-and-error, and sees the benefit in creating a “more level playing field" for first-generation students. 

Nowicki also explained that sources of funding for the program remain largely unknown, as the idea for the program has only been in development for a few weeks. He said he was "quite confident," however, that the program would receive the support it requires, as it has already seen donations from alumni.

“We have already raised $150,000 without asking anyone for a dime,” he said.

In other business:

The Council approved a Human Rights certificate program without any opposition.

Valerie Ashby, dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, encouraged faculty to attend Friday's open forum in Page Auditorium at noon, following tensions nationally and at Duke.

“This is game-changing for me, for Trinity, and I think for fellow deans and for [Provost Sally Kornbluth] and for [President Richard Brodhead],” Ashby said. “It may be that people feel like we are having a conversation that is not going to continue, that things are not going to move forward. Hold on—that is not the case.”

She added that she understands students are frustrated that conversations have not appeared to lead to what they wanted, but that this is a priority of hers. Ashby explained that she and other administrators will be reaching out to faculty for future conversations and actions that have been in the works.

Gautam Hathi contributed reporting.