The independent news organization of Duke University

A confounding decision

The recent decision to institutionalize and expand Black Student Alliance Invitational funding is a flawed but understandable response to the ongoing debate regarding the recruitment weekend and minority issues on campus. We believe the timing and structure of this particular decision misreads both the real nature of the campus debate about BSAI and diversity.

The decision to increase BSAI’s funding is in response to demands by the Black Student Alliance in January, following outcry related to a study on race and academics by Duke professors.

From a public relations standpoint, this sets a troubling precedent. Rather than engaging in an inclusive dialogue and drawing input from across campus on a sensitive issue, the administration seemingly capitulated to a set of demands without really explaining why.

The structure of the decision is also troubling. In extending and expanding funding unconditionally, the University fails to address the two main drivers of the debate on the existence of BSAI: why the weekend exists, and what it actually achieves. More than anything, the process by which this occurred represents a missed opportunity. Discourse about BSAI is, understandably, steeped in emotional language. The arguments about BSAI rely on opinions that are intuited but not empirically proven­—counterfactual statements that just “seem” true—and are made on both practical and philosophical grounds.

We would have liked to see the administration use this moment to enhance rather than stifle debate.

We believe BSAI reflects legitimate and important needs—combating a legacy of institutional hurdles while highlighting aspects of cultural life unique to the University.

We also acknowledge that the existence of BSAI is not the primary vehicle for addressing issues of race relations on campus. Legitimate questions remain about the purpose and structure of BSAI that need to be addressed, like whether it promotes self-segregation and how accurately the weekend reflects life on campus.

The administration was right in securing BSAI weekend’s funding in the near term. Current discourse on BSAI is untenable, and the group’s desire for security from the, at times, prevaricating Brodhead administration is eminently reasonable.

However, expanding funding from $7,000 to $20,000 without explaining why the money currently allocated to BSAI weekend is insufficient is puzzling, at best. Considering the range of opinions on BSAI weekend, and the needs of other less prominent minority recruitment programs like Latino Student Recruitment Weekend, the scope of this expansion requires concrete justification.

A compromise should have been considered. The administration could have guaranteed funding for a set period of time—10 years, for example—during which the University thoroughly investigates how BSAI weekend’s continuance fits into diversity and race relations on campus.

If, after this set period, the administration finds BSAI to be an effective recruiting tool and a positive representation of the University, then funding should be extended. Contrarily, if BSAI itself fails to live up to its stated goals—or if campus conditions evolve to the point of making the weekend superfluous—then funding should be reevaluated. At the very least, the administration will be enhancing an important dialogue by providing context and facts—rather than unilaterally trying to end an important debate.