The impending culmination of the academic year has sparked no response from Duke’s many task forces, which have failed to produce any tangible results during this year. Created by the administration to combat persistent campus issues and acute incidents of strife, these committees and task forces were charged with the issuance of revealing reports and powerful recommendations. However, just as student activists this year have highlighted, the status quo reveals a disappointing truth about these task forces. They become opaque soon after their creation, going dormant in the eyes of students. Because the task forces are granted the authority to contribute to suggest fundamental changes to the University, they must be held to the utmost level of accountability for which public documentation of goals, times and accomplishments is imperative.
Most notably, in response to student concerns from the community forums in November, the administration launched the Task Force on Bias and Hate Issues which spoke to the Academic Council in February and issued a survey to roughly one-third of students in late March. Briefings and polling aside, the task force fell short of its original goal to release recommendations to President Brodhead by mid-April. The group’s infrequently-updated website and lack of timelines or information from the various working groups contributes to a sense of opacity and inefficacy. The task force was meant to facilitate Duke’s movement forward from the racial turmoil of last semester, but in spite of the persistence of hate and discrimination on campus, seems to have lost momentum.
Allowing the task force to move into a new academic year with no scrutiny might lead it to the same fate of other seemingly-ineffective committees on campus. For example, the student-led IFC Task Force was initially tasked to spend the 2015-16 year investigating the role Greek life plays in sexual assault on campus through collaboration with the Director of Title IX Compliance and Student Conduct representatives. At the end of the year, it was to state clear conclusions of its study, but to date, the student body has been unaware of any of the promised results.
Just a few weeks ago, President Brodhead’s email committed Duke to four promises in response to the Allen Building protest, which included that the initiative would be led by a “steering committee appointed by the president” whose recommendations would be “made available to the Duke community.” However, if this group mimics the same lack of accountability expressed by others before it, its creation will be futile. The dearth of visibility among task forces after their conception, has lead to a reasonable uncertainty in their ability to deliver final products.
We urge the administration to increase the transparency of its task forces. The creation of central websites with full documentation, clear timelines and expected problems would show a public commitment to change by the University. Deadlines for publishing results, policies and recommendations would hold these groups to strict timelines and bolster public support for their missions. Currently, students and faculty remain on the peripheries of these important discussions. However, the expertise of the faculty is imperative to bridge the gap between the academic and non-academic aspects of the University. Opening channels of communication between students, faculty and these task forces would build trust that these groups rest on more than empty promises. Ultimately, the onus lies with the task forces themselves to reaffirm their commitment to working towards long-term, meaningful change to campus.
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