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Academic Council debates renaming women's studies program, motion to investigate Trask allegations

<p>The Academic Council discussed renaming the women's studies program and the accusations against Executive Vice President Tallman Trask Thursday.&nbsp;</p>

The Academic Council discussed renaming the women's studies program and the accusations against Executive Vice President Tallman Trask Thursday. 

The Academic Council discussed renaming the women’s studies program and received a motion to further investigate accusations against Executive Vice President Tallman Trask during its weekly meeting Thursday.

Priscilla Wald—R. Florence Brinkley professor of English and program director of women's studies—spoke to the council about the proposal of the women’s studies program to change its name to gender, sexuality and feminist studies. Part of the reason for the proposed name change was the department's desire to further emphasize sexuality as a major area of study, Wald said. The new name would more accurately reflect the opportunities available in the program, she noted.

“There are intellectual, institutional, pedagogical and pragmatic reasons for our wishing to make this change,” Wald said.

Women's studies currently offers a major and a minor, which would both be updated to reflect the new name. Along with the name change, the department is proposing the addition of a minor in sexuality studies.

The women's studies program offered a certificate in the study of sexualities that ended in 2012. 

Susan Dunlap, adjunct assistant professor in the Divinity School, posed a question about the possibility of contention about the use of the word feminism.

“The word is so associated with the white feminist movement and at odds with the womanist movement,” Dunlap said. “I feel as though the word excludes some scholars and puts our department a bit behind the curve.”

The department had discussed this issue, Wald explained, and it came to the conclusion that widespread usage of the terminology has weakened its negative connotation.

Karla Holloway, James B. Duke professor of English, echoed Dunlap’s sentiment and asked how the new gender, sexuality and feminist studies program plans to represent intersectional feminism without any faculty of color currently in the department. Wald responded by saying the program plans to rectify this in an upcoming hire.

According to the submitted proposal, the department's steering committee—made up of its primary faculty members—unanimously supports the update. Before the final change is made, the proposal must also be approved by Keith Whitfield, vice provost for academic affairs, Provost Sally Kornbluth and eventually the Board of Trustees.

Addressing the council, Holloway then raised an inquiry about the allegations that Trask hit a female employee with his car, detailed in an article released in The Chronicle a month ago. Holloway acknowledged the importance of respect and fairness as institutional values and said the Academic Council has a duty to address the accusations and their implications.

“The campus community is perplexed as to what occurred and what cultures are being fostered,” she said. 

Holloway formally motioned for the Academic Council's representative on the Board of Trustees to ask the Board to initiate an independent review of the incidents detailed in The Chronicle articles. The council continued to discuss this motion in an executive session closed to the public. 

In other business:

The Franklin Humanities Institute’s request for the authority to hire regular-rank, non-tenure track faculty was discussed and voted on. The results were not released. 

The rest of the meeting was devoted to a comprehensive discussion during a closed executive session about the future of Duke Kunshan University, particularly the possibility of it offering a full undergraduate degree, as it currently offers only a semester-long program. The Academic Council will vote on this prospect in Fall 2016.

Update: This article was updated with more specific information about Holloway's motion and request for an independent review of the incident involving Trask. It was also corrected to remove a partial quote about the council's power to explore the incident that was misattributed to Holloway. The Chronicle regrets the error.


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