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Five surefire ways to improve the Duke student experience

In the spirit of QuadEx, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about how the Duke student experience could be improved. Having spent four years as an undergraduate, one gap year hearing undergraduates complain and one year as a medical student, I’ll offer a few suggestions for the administration to consider:

Station a permanent firefighter in Few

I don’t know what the deal with this place is, but it seems like it’s always catching on fire. Does HRL somehow assess for pyromaniac tendencies and place the highest-scoring students in Few? Does the dorm harbor even more insects than most to crawl into the smoke detectors and set them off? Beats me, but what I do know is that fire trucks pulled up to Few so often when I reported for The Chronicle as an undergrad, it was a game of nose-goes to figure out who’d have to trudge over there and see what was going on. The number of times those fire trucks had to drive over probably set Duke’s carbon-neutrality goal back by one year if you factor those emissions in. And a fire in 2017 even cost Duke more than $160,000! The answer to this problem is clear: stationing a permanent firefighter in Few, which would also allow Duke to…

Have bench burnings every night

Bench burnings are really the opium of the people around campus. The opportunity to set things on fire really brings students out of the woodwork and gives them a collective purpose transcending academics—imagine the camaraderie of gathering in the quad every night around 9 p.m. to start a fire and throw random things into it. If the last two away victories have made anything clear, it’s that 1.) students want to burn benches, permit or no, and 2.) Duke no longer has an administrator with Dean Sue’s clout among the student body to go stand on a bench and stop students from setting it aflame. Also, with a permanent firefighter on standby, students can go hog wild knowing there’s at least one trained, qualified professional ready to step in if things get out of hand.

If the University needs any more reason to institute nightly bonfires, there’s always the chance the U.S. News and World Report will incorporate “number of items burned on campus” into next year’s rankings, which could be just what Duke needs to pull away from its bizarre four-way tie with Hopkins, Northwestern and CalTech. 

Make the end slices of pumpkin bread cheaper than the middle ones

Perhaps you’ve been skeptical of my first two suggestions, but I think this is one we can all get behind. Many times as an undergrad and med student, I’ve asked myself why the sweet breads at Vondy and Cafe are priced the same whether you get an end slice or a middle slice. I’ve usually kept silent on the issue because it’s embarrassing to be an adult and have an opinion on which slice of bread you get, but at the risk of being attacked by the rabid “back-in-my-day” commenters on The Chronicle’s Facebook page, I’ll stand my ground. To me, the end of a loaf of bread is like car exhaust, a necessary evil. I will definitely eat it but won’t particularly enjoy the experience. However, I acknowledge that there are people out there, believe it or not, who prefer eating the end pieces of loaves. My proposal of lowering the price on end pieces should benefit both parties—those preferential to middle slices won’t be stuck with an end slice, and those who enjoy the ends will be delighted to get a discount. Too many times have we ordered a piece of bread and been stuck paying the same price for two very different products. The time for change is now.

Turn the C1 into a double-decker bus

If people love a bus with one decker, they’ll go wild for a bus with two of them. Picture stepping onto the C1 on a warm spring day, but instead of being crammed in between someone who hasn’t showered in a week and another person having a loud, personal conversation on the phone, you can ascend to the top of the bus and take a seat in the fresh air. Issues of bus congestion and insufficient room would be solved as carrying capacities could nearly double. True, Duke’s current bus fleet is composed largely of vehicles manufactured by Novabus, which doesn’t offer a double-decker model, but if Parking and Transportation went out of their comfort zone to get electric buses from Proterra, there’s no reason they can’t get some double-decker buses too. Plus, some of the dilapidated Orion buses I still see clunking around campus would be great fuel for the nightly bench burnings.

More task forces 

We’ve saved the best for last. When you want to synergize stakeholders’ ideas into a streamlined strategic framework, who you gonna call? Task forces! The Board of Trustees convenes a few task forces each year to tackle important issues and make recommendations to the University’s senior leadership. For example, last year’s task force dedicated to planning Duke’s Centennial celebration concluded, in part, that the celebration must be “creative” and “involve multimedia technology.” Wow! The executive report for the Climate Change and Sustainability task force concluded that Duke must seek to “connect authentically” with communities to “create more durable social and economic solutions.” It’s clear we need more of these moving statements and concrete action plans to push the University forward, which is why I recommend creating as many task forces as possible. Fortunately, the task forces themselves are doing a decent job at procreating, given that most reports recommend forming even more committees. I’ve come to realize that task forces are like rabbits—you put two of them in a room for long enough, and soon enough there are 10. 

Nathan Luzum is a first-year student in the Medical School. His column usually runs on alternate Thursdays.


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