Arts & Sciences Council heard from Dean of Trinity College Gary Bennett and considered a proposal for a new minor in journalism in its April meeting.
This was Bennett’s first time addressing the Council as dean; he assumed the role on Feb. 1. Professor of Physics Joshua Socolar, who is the chair of the council, moderated the discussion with Bennett.
“I think like most of us who've spent any time in this place, I think we all recognize this is a fantastic institution,” Bennett said. “Unmatched and untapped potential. Ceiling is very high, and we haven't come close to reaching that potential.”
Bennett said that he applied to be dean because he was excited at the prospect of creating the change that would help Duke reach its potential.
Socolar asked Bennett about his time serving as vice provost for undergraduate education, and his hopes for the “interface” between faculty and students, particularly from the viewpoint of faculty serving as mentors and colleagues to students, and not just “teachers in the classroom.”
Bennett pointed towards an inflection point in his own career — when he moved from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health back to Duke — as an example of how the University is able to foster relationships between faculty members and students.
“I moved back [to Duke] with some significant intentionality because I really wanted to not only accelerate my research, but I wanted to do my research in a different way,” Bennett said. “I wanted to do my research in ways that involved undergraduates and in a substantive way and that was something I had a hard time doing at my former institution.”
Student involvement in faculty-led scholarship beyond student-developed projects is one of the ways that Duke is currently “under-optimized,” according to Bennett. He said that this could look like students apprenticing with faculty members, traveling with them into the archives as they do their work or even just observing them. He added that types of involvement might be different across disciplines.
Bennett also said that there are already strong connections between students and faculty members already at Duke, and that he wants to focus on “finding ways to deepen the connections that we naturally create when we’re engaging with our students.”
As an example, Bennett said that recently, he and Trinity’s divisional deans have been walking into classes of newly-tenured faculty members unannounced to share with students that their professors have received tenure.
“We quickly tell them that we're here because their professor just got tenure. And we talk to the students about what tenure is and what it represents,” Bennett said. “And every single time we do this, the classrooms burst into applause. I mean, raucous, absolute applause … you hear a class absolutely explode in celebration of their faculty member, it's a really special thing.”
Trinity’s strategic priorities
Socolar asked Bennett about his plans to work with Duke’s next provost, Alec Gallimore, to develop strategic plans across Trinity’s three divisions: the arts and humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, noting that the next provost comes from an engineering background.
“Right now, I am doing my very best to pretend like I just got here and I'm trying to learn the job and learn Trinity and learn the team as though I were a newcomer,” Bennett said. “... We're talking with a team very actively as I'm starting to develop a more robust and coherent strategic vision which I hope to talk a lot more about in the fall.”
Bennett added that there are some “evergreen” guiding principles for Trinity, including recruitment and retention of scholars who are at the forefront of their fields.
“One of the great luxuries of my job is the ability to see colleagues whom we're recruiting,” Bennett said, describing the experience as “positively inspiring.”
Supporting scholars and students in the humanities is also a focus for Bennett. He said that he heard “loud and clear” from faculty that they are concerned about a lack of representation of humanities scholars among senior level leadership at the University, and that this is on his list of issues to discuss with Gallimore.
He noted that he has not yet met Gallimore but hopes to do so before he starts.
“It's important to me that the provost, any provost of Duke, understands that the humanities built the Duke that we experience, the intellectual powerhouse that is Duke was built by my colleagues in the humanities,” Bennett said.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Trinity’s leadership team has been meeting to discuss a “more coherent strategic vision” with respect to diversity, equity and inclusion, Bennett said. He added that Duke has done “very well” with the recruitment of faculty members from underrepresented backgrounds in the last five to 10 years, but the University needs to keep its foot on the “accelerator pedal” of faculty hiring.
Bennett also emphasized the need for building a more inclusive community at Duke.
“I have some concerns about the data that you see emerging from the campus culture survey that was done here about a year ago,” Bennett said. “Way too high rates of microaggressions for an organization like ours.”
He said that a lot of the change needed to fix this culture at Duke happens at a departmental level, but that people in the University’s administration are still accountable.
To facilitate improvements in graduate education, Bennett wants to make sure that faculty members feel supported in mentoring efforts, and that there is a common understanding across Trinity faculty as to what constitutes good mentoring.
“There are important considerations here related to how we are supporting students in their works as [teaching assistants] and [research assistants],” Bennett said. He added that Justin Wright, Trinity’s graduate dean and professor of biology, is taking the lead in that effort.
A new journalism minor
Ken Rogerson, professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy and director of the policy journalism and media studies certificate program, presented the proposal for a new minor in journalism, which would eventually replace the current certificate in policy, journalism and media studies, if approved.
The proposal has already passed the curriculum committee.
The impetus for the change is that certificates require that no more than half of the courses students take to fulfill certificate requirements originate within any one department or program.
The certificate in policy, journalism and media studies was already granted an exception to that rule in 2003 when it was established because “there were no journalism courses anywhere else,” Rogerson said. Currently, the certificate requires two “outside courses,” with six courses total.
“Students really were interested in the media studies and journalism component,” Rogerson said. “And students were taking plenty of courses anyway to satisfy a six course minor in that they were doing their two outside courses and then taking two or three more courses through the DeWitt Wallace Center.”
Faculty members were concerned with whether the shift to a minor would allow students majoring in public policy to double-count several of their courses between the new journalism minor and the public policy major, as courses offered in journalism are often cross-listed as public policy.
“Public policy ought to think seriously about making a rule that [you] can't overlap a certain number of courses, otherwise it's basically embedding a concentration in journalism and media within a public policy major,” said Christina Williams, professor of psychology and neuroscience.
Council members pointed out that the inequality studies minor offered in the history department has a similar structure to the proposed minor in journalism, because many inequality studies courses are drawn from history classes, and students can pursue both credentials. However, three electives from the inequality studies can count towards the major in history.
The journalism minor would replace the current certificate in policy, journalism and media studies after a three year phase-out period, during which the two would run concurrently, according to Rogerson. He added that during this phase-out period, students could choose to pursue either the certificate or the minor, but not both.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
Adway S. Wadekar is a Trinity junior and news editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.