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Chronquiry: Why doesn’t Duke have a full School of Education?

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James B. Duke had a clause in his endowment’s Indenture of Trust mandating that Duke University eventually include a “School for Training Teachers.” It hasn’t entirely gotten around to fulfilling that clause.

The University known today as Duke was once Normal College, which had the primary purpose of training teachers. Today, Duke’s academic offerings in the field of education are limited to its Program in Education, which was downsized from a full department in 1981. The program includes an undergraduate minor in education, a year-long Master of Arts in Teaching and two joint degrees with the Nicholas School of the Environment.

James B. Duke’s 1924 Indenture of Trust included his plans for what is now Duke, with a handful of specific requirements and provisions. 

“I advise that the courses at this institution be arranged, first, with special reference to the training of preachers, teachers, lawyers and physicians, because these are most in the public eye, and by precept and example can do most to uplift mankind,” Duke wrote.

The Indenture of Trust was among the documents that formally established the $40 million Duke Endowment, which James Duke founded to support certain universities, hospitals and the N.C. Methodist Church. Duke University has benefited greatly from the Duke Endowment, as it marked the beginning of Duke’s transition from the small, regionally-based Trinity College to the internationally known research institution that Duke is today. 

Trinity College founded its department of education in 1907, and according to Duke Archives, its training programs “enrolled many students.” It was only when Trinity College became Duke University in 1924 that it began establishing specific schools like the School of Religion, the Medical School and the Graduate School—but a school of education never made the cut. 

Duke is unusual in this respect, as many other top-tier institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern and Vanderbilt, feature official schools of education. 

However, the terminology Duke uses to name academic bodies is not completely clear-cut. According to Kathryn Kennedy, executive director for communications for the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, “most of the designations for academic units are historical,” based on decisions that were made when the units were created. 

It may be that Duke’s early department of education was so named because it was founded before the college became a university and began creating schools.

However, Duke’s department of education was eliminated in 1981 after the 1970s saw a decline in undergraduates wanting to pursue teaching certifications. It was replaced with the Program in Education that exists today. 

“At Duke, departments generally offer undergraduate majors and/or Ph.D. programs,” Kennedy said. “Programs often encompass more narrow educational offerings like a certificate or minor only.”

David Malone, director of undergraduate studies for Duke’s Program in Education, said that the decision to cut the department was part of Directions for Progress. 

“[Directions for Progress was] a strategic plan about ways to move the University forward in terms of its perception as a major research university nationally and internationally,” Malone said.

The education program initially offered elective courses as well as opportunities for students to become certified teachers. In 2008, though, after Program in Education faculty members had discussions with the Duke administration, the program began offering the education minor based primarily on student interest, Malone explained.

As one of the indicators of student interest, Malone cited the fact that for many years Teach for America was the highest single employer of Duke students immediately post-graduation.

The education minor at Duke has experienced general positive growth since it was started, averaging 32 students in each graduating class. Malone said that psychology is the most common major to pair with the minor.

Duke’s Program in Education offers students the chance to become licensed teachers through its Elementary and Secondary Teacher Preparation Programs. Students who earn their licenses through these programs automatically earn a Minor in Education. 

“[The Program in Education] probably has about 35 students per year who are earning teaching licenses,” Malone said.

At universities that offer full schools of education, students spend most of their four years taking education classes. Malone said that although these students may have more education-related resources available to them, they will not necessarily be able to bring the same unique liberal arts perspectives that a Duke student can bring to teaching jobs. 

Even for students not going into the education field, picking up a minor in the subject could turn out to be beneficial.

“If a student here at Duke is a public policy major interested specifically in educational policy, I think their combination with [the Program in Education] adds an important perspective,” said Chair of the Program Susan Wynn.

Wynn also recognized the advantages that come with the smaller size of a program, saying that many education students come back to visit whenever they get the chance. 

“Though program in education is a smaller unit at Duke, our faculty and staff offer lots of opportunities for one-to-one and small-group interactions with students. We are high-touch, high-impact,” Wynn said.

 Editor's note: This article is a product of a service run by The Chronicle called Chronquiry. A reader submitted a question, other readers voted on the question and The Chronicle got the answer. If you have a question you would like answered about anything related to Duke, click here or submit a question below:  


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