Academic Council discusses end of Reggie Scholarship, approves new committee on academic freedom

<p>The Languages Building on Abele Quad.</p>

The Languages Building on Abele Quad.

Academic Council discussed recent feedback from students and faculty members over the discontinuation of the Reginaldo Howard Memorial Scholarship Program, approved a new committee dedicated to reviewing academic freedom and free expression at Duke and heard a proposal for degree changes in the School of Nursing at its Thursday meeting. 

Reggie Scholarship discussion

The Reggie Scholarship previously covered full tuition, room and board for up to five Black undergraduates each year. The decision to end the program was made “in light of changes to the legal landscape related to race-based considerations in higher education,” according to an email summarizing the decision to Reggie Scholars and alums.

The scholarship will be replaced by the Reginaldo Howard Leadership Program, an initiative open to all undergraduate students regardless of race that will “not include a competitive selection process.” Funding previously allocated to the Reggie Scholarship will now contribute to the leadership program and need-based financial aid, per the email. 

Candis Watts Smith, vice provost for undergraduate education, said that the new program aims to elevate Black students’ experiences by “providing funding for things like internal research, strengthening community ties and developing scholarly programming that highlights Black excellence.” 

Several faculty members raised concerns about the end of the scholarship. 

“I'm bothered that we as an institution do not feel that we can maintain a merit-based scholarship for Black students in particular,” Professor of Medicine Camille Frazier-Mills said.

“This is something that differentiates because not all Black students require funding,” she continued. “This is something that distinguishes them, and it becomes something that they put on their CV as they’re building their portfolio.”

In response to concerns, Smith pointed out that the Reggie Scholarship was largely need-blind, meaning the financial assistance the scholarship provides may not be necessary for recipients to attend Duke. Smith said that the transition to a leadership program can help “intentionally lower barriers and increase access for Black students.” 

“We have limited resources right now,” one faculty member said. “And right now, too many of the resources that should be going into need-based aid broadly are being poured into merit-based aid, not just in the Reggie program [but also] in others.”

A few scholarships from the discontinued program required demonstration of financial need in addition to merit, per the Reginaldo Howard Scholars’ website.

President Vincent Price highlighted how many merit programs were created when Duke was competing for high-quality students. He says Duke is now a “very different place” that attracts a “different applicant pool.” 

“What’s behind [the new program] is deployment of the resources we have in a way that maximizes the quality and diversity of our student body,” Price said. 

New academic freedom and free expression committee

The council unanimously approved the establishment of a committee focused on examining academic freedom and responsibility, free expression, and constructive engagement. 

The committee will review and examine the “institutional structures, policies, practices and programs” of the University and peer institutions that deal with “free, open, respectful and responsible scholarly inquiry, teaching and service.”

It will also seek opportunities to “affirm, deepen and expand Duke’s commitment to academic freedom and responsibility, free expression and belonging, and constructive engagement in a pluralistic community,” including making recommendations for changes if appropriate.

“Clearly this is a hugely important committee because these issues go to the heart of the academic enterprise with regards to teaching, research and service,” one faculty member said.

The Council anticipates beginning with a 14-person steering committee that will draw members from each of Duke’s schools. They will then establish various working groups as needed “to get feedback from … all stakeholders in the Duke community.”

The committee is set to begin work this spring and will issue a report to the Council, Provost Alec Gallimore and Price during the 2024-25 academic year.

The committee’s establishment comes in light of recent challenges to the concept of free expression on campuses across the country, including tensions related to the Israel-Hamas war. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s 2024 Free Speech Rankings currently ranks Duke at 124 out of 248 colleges surveyed.

Duke has also recently made changes to its policies surrounding expression on campus amidst protests related to the Israel-Hamas war. In January, the University updated sections of its Community Standard that addressed how students can express themselves on campus. In March, the Office for Institutional Equity updated its Policy on Prohibited Discrimination, Harassment and Related Misconduct to include a definition of Islamophobia.

School of Nursing proposes degree changes

The Council also heard a proposal for a master of nursing degree to replace the current accelerated bachelor of science in nursing, to come into effect in fall 2025.

Barbara Turner, Elizabeth P. Hanes professor of nursing, pointed to a trend of fully qualified candidates declining their admissions offers to the School of Nursing. Turner says that most of those candidates are attending nursing schools that offer a master’s degree instead.

Jacquelyn McMillian-Bohler, assistant clinical professor in the School of Nursing, also raised the concern of steadily decreasing rates of “practice readiness” in nursing graduates, a measure of how nurses meet basic expectations and skills necessary for the workplace. From 2005 to 2021, the percentage of pre-license nursing graduates who exhibited such “basic expectations” decreased from 35% in 2005, to 28% in 2012 and 9% in 2021. 

Instead of making updates to the existing curriculum, McMilian-Bohler hopes the School will take the opportunity to “reimagine” a new, more rigorous one. 

The new master of nursing degree will focus on health equity, social determinants, nursing informatics and systems-thinking specific to clinical reasoning and awareness of connections within a healthcare setting. There will also be a standalone course for mental and behavioral health. Additionally, the proposal includes a specialty track that will be available for students interested in elevating their elective courses. 

According to Stephanie Gedzyk-Nieman, assistant clinical professor in the School of Nursing, 94% of faculty approved of the proposal, and the School is now working on developing a transition plan, syllabi and courses.

In other business

The Faculty Hearing Committee (FHC), which reviews specified types of adverse employment actions such as denials of promotions and raises, discussed plans for internal reform. Specific guidelines of FHC are found in Appendix F of Duke’s Faculty Handbook.

Larry Zelenak, Pamela B. Gann distinguished professor of law, said the rules of the Faculty Handbook are “rather archaeological.” 

Between February and early April, the committee drafted its proposed revisions. So far, the committee has revised its rules to conform with federal Title IX regulations and simplify post-FHC determination procedures.

The committee is reviewing suggested revisions from the Office of the Provost and anticipates producing acceptable changes by May to finalize for the Council’s consideration. 


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