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​Growing (and embracing) our university

With its final meetings of the semester approaching, the Arts and Science Council is deliberating the new Trinity curriculum proposal in preparation for an upcoming vote. Over the past year, members of the faculty, administration and student body were consulted about this complete overhaul of the current Trinity curriculum. As the dean of academic affairs noted, such monumental changes in trajectory “do not happen often historically,” so we utilize this opportunity to reflect on Duke’s niche among peer institutions.

Since 2006, Duke’s Strategic Plan has guided our university with respect to “research, teaching, outreach, budgetary priorities and assessment.” The plan foregrounds central themes—including affordability and access, knowledge in the service of society and “centrality of the humanities and interpretative social sciences”—that influence decision-making by all facets of our University. Regarding affordability and access, yesterday, we discussed our discontent with unjustified annual tuition increases. In the past, we have addressed the multidimensional impact of our commitment to knowledge in the service of society. Today, we shift our attention to our emphasis on the nature of our academic commitments.

In 2002, the U.S News & World Report listed Duke as tied for fourth best university in the nation along with MIT, CalTech, Stanford and the University of Pennsylvania. While never quite as high on the rankings again, over the years, Duke has remained a top ten university, among many of the same peer institutions as in 2002. In the past, we have described the inadequacies of these ranking metrics, but we do recognize that the rankings place Duke into a consistent bracket of universities, naturally creating a peer-group used for inspiration and comparison. To prospective students Duke appears to pride itself in having uniquely preserved a liberal arts core within a larger, research-driven university setting. However, current and former students may describe their Duke experiences as having fallen short of that goal, and understandably so. While we pride ourselves in this distinction, perhaps, our commitment to the liberal arts stems more from a comparison to our peers, begging the question of whether Duke truly has a unique academic personality.

Duke has facets of a multitude of universities—some may argue Duke is just as pre-professional as some of our ivied peers—but given the diverse range of experiences on campus, Duke may find it exceedingly difficult to cultivate a “Duke experience.” We cannot emulate an entirely pre-professional, research-driven or small liberal arts institution without isolating and neglecting much of student body, so instead, we should continue to allow these various academic personalities to mix on our campus. As one student noted, “There is no one Duke student, it’s impossible to find a single archetype.” So as Duke transforms itself through its new curriculum proposals and strategic plans, we hope our University remembers that while many of us were accepted to a variety of schools, we did not choose a small liberal arts school, a technical research-driven institution, a solely pre-professional environment or any of our northern peers. We chose Duke.

Duke’s intellectual environment may be more nebulous than that of our peers, but as outlined in the new strategic plan, “A university is a crucible for ideas that can be examined, combined, pulled apart, tested, recombined and refined.” To truly cater to our diverse student body, we must embrace the wide array of experience on campus. Our upcoming new curriculum and strategic plan will mold and grow our University, as they should, but not at the cost of Duke itself.

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