Eight hundred and thirty five million dollars.

That is the cost of the 34 major construction projects Duke has completed or initiated since February 2001, when administrators signed off on the outgoing strategic plan, "Building on Excellence."

After four and a half years, the benefits of the building spree are coming to light.

From enhanced faculty recruitment to increased admissions selectivity, administrators say the buildings are reshaping not only Duke's physical appearance but also its academic and cultural landscapes.

 

Catching up

Top administrators call it "the CIEMAS effect."

"We couldn't recruit anyone before we built CIEMAS," Kristina Johnson, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering, said of the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences.

Before CIEMAS' construction, most engineering labs dated from World War II, and a shortage of space forced some faculty to move their offices miles away to a complex near South Square mall.

"Building on Excellence" set forth a series of goals for the University, chief among which were improving science and engineering facilities, recruiting top-tier faculty and promoting interdisciplinarity.

When the "Campaign for Duke"-a fundraising effort that netted more than $2.36 billion for the University-overshot its target by $860 million, the additional funds allowed University officials to address Duke's structural needs.

Shortly thereafter, the Board of Trustees signed off on CIEMAS.

Johnson said she struggled to attract faculty for the school before construction of CIEMAS began.

"We hired 48 faculty in the last five years, and 47 of those were after we broke ground on CIEMAS four years ago," Johnson said.

She added that CIEMAS also affected student recruitment, noting that Pratt's undergraduate yield jumped from 35 percent in 2004 to 40 percent this year. She said the quality of graduate student applicants has also increased.

The French Science Center, an $115.2-million facility scheduled to open in December 2006, is a similar draw for natural sciences faculty. George McLendon, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, said FSC has enabled Duke to recruit scientists who otherwise would not have come to the University.

Professor Warren Warren, a chemist who came to Duke this year from a tenured position at Princeton University, said he "never would have seriously considered" the move if it were not for the laboratory space McLendon promised him in FSC.

Administrators hope the newly opened $24.8-million Nasher Museum of Art will have also have a positive influence on the University's reputation and faculty and student recruitment.

The museum is useful to the visual arts and art history departments. It also serves as a cultural draw for the Duke and Durham communities. But professors in departments from chemistry to political science have lauded the investment.

"Until Nasher opened we couldn't really take a student to a world-class museum setting and say, 'Duke's about many, many things: It may be about Krzyzewskiville, but it is also about Nasher,'" McLendon said.

Carla Antonaccio, a new professor in the classical studies department, said she plans to incorporate Nasher's student gallery and collection of Mesoamerican ceramics into her classes.

Antonaccio previously served as the dean of arts and humanities at Wesleyan College. She said small schools like Wesleyan sometimes experience crises in confidence and pour money into luxurious student centers to attract applicants.

"People here will complain that campus life and the Bryan Center are bad, but they come here anyway because of the academics," Antonaccio said. "I feel that the institution has the resources and its priorities in line."

 

Buildings as bridges

Molly Gregas is the living embodiment of interdisciplinarity.

Gregas is a second-year graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and a certificate in structural biology and biophysics. While Gregas' Ph.D. will come from Pratt, her SBB certificate is the product of a collaboration between seven graduate and medical school departments.

"Duke actually does interdisciplinary research," Gregas said. "It's not something we're just talking about. It's institutionalized."

She cited CIEMAS as an example of Duke's commitment to intellectual cross-pollination.

Many others agree that Duke's campus layout and facilities aid in collaborations. Unlike most university hospitals, Duke University Medical Center is directly adjacent to the academic campus. "If you're at Harvard, the med school is way the hell away," McLendon said. "At Duke, all I have to do is walk across the quad, and I'm there."

The proximity of the medical center to West Campus was a key factor in the attraction of Warren and other scientists whose work crosses academic fields.

Dr. Peter Agre, a Nobel laureate and DUMC vice chancellor for science and technology, said he came to Duke because he hoped to get involved in issues that integrate science and public policy.

"It's a complete campus," Agre said, describing Duke's interdisciplinary bent. "The facilities will be very important for recruiting scientists."

 

The next Central focus

Dozens of groundbreakings and grand openings later, administrators are assembling a new strategic plan.

But both Provost Peter Lange and Executive Vice President Tallman Trask said campus construction will slow down.

"It's not good to feast or famine on new buildings," Trask said. "The physical planning will be much more modest than it has been over the last five years."

For the near future, the focal point of investment is the overhaul of Central Campus. Lange said the University is creating a 40- to 50-year framework for the development of the 278-acre campus, which today is largely undeveloped aside from the Nasher museum and a disconnected constellation of student apartments.

Lange and other administrators envision a Central Campus that is central in both the psychological and physical senses of the word. They imagine it as a home not just for upperclassmen in search of independent living but also as a potential site for the humanities and language departments that have not been the focii of strategic development in recent years.

There is a general sense among administrators and faculty that Duke has spent the last five years playing catch-up in science and engineering. Now the University plans to address the arts and humanities, which McLendon said were not prioritized in recent years.

Many administrators and faculty think a Nasher-anchored Central Campus is an opportunity to revitalize the humanities.

"There's a synergy there that might not be obvious," Lange said. "Might it make learning French and learning about French culture more interesting and dynamic if at the same time you're exposed to French paintings?"

Just as "Building on Excellence" integrated the natural sciences, medicine and engineering, administrators said future strategic plans will seek to interlace the arts and humanities.

"Facilities are not the most important part of that equation," McLendon said. "But it certainly is a part of it."