Dear members of the Duke community,
We are writing as the senior academic officials for the University, Arts & Sciences and the Pratt School of Engineering to address issues that were raised in an unpublished paper, authored by several Duke faculty members, which provided an analysis and interpretation of data from the Campus Life and Learning (CLL) project. While this is a new study, and independent from the CLL, it uses data that were gathered from Duke students between 2001 and 2007.
We’re also writing as teachers and educators who share a concern about students and majors in our university. We understand how the conclusions of the research paper can be interpreted in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes. At the same time, our goal of academic success for all should not inhibit research and discussion to clarify important issues of academic choice and achievement.
As a university committed to the liberal arts, we expect students to explore different areas of knowledge and we provide them with an array of opportunities to do so. Duke admits students with a broad and diverse mix of skills, interests, aspirations and backgrounds—individuals who can contribute to and enhance our learning community, and create the most exciting possible culture in the classroom and beyond. Once at Duke, we encourage students to follow their passions, pursue their interests and select majors they find challenging and fulfilling. Hence, each student at Duke is here because of what we believe he or she can take from, and contribute to, being at Duke and what each person can achieve after leaving Duke.
We also want to be clear that there is no “easy” major at Duke. The rigor of our curriculum and the diversity of requirements in each major ensure that every student will face academic challenges whether they concentrate on the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences or engineering. While methods of grading may differ depending on the nature of the material and the norms in the disciplines, all majors at Duke will stretch the minds and test the capabilities of all our students.
The CLL project was conceived in 1999 as Duke’s response to the publication of “The Shape of the River,” a landmark study of race in higher education that identified areas of concern for all colleges and universities. The CLL had two very specific goals: First, to enable Duke to better assure that all students succeed to their full potential. And second, to identify, and thereby help Duke and other institutions reduce barriers to achievement that might exist. A number of Duke faculty, administrators and students were involved in the CLL, which was funded by the Mellon Foundation and encompassed the entering classes of 2001 and 2002.
Gaining such a detailed portrait of the educational and social experiences of Duke students helped us make critical and necessary changes in a number of areas, from student life and housing to financial aid. Of particular note is the significant enhancement of our grant and loan programs in 2007, which made Duke’s financial aid packages competitive with our peer universities after years of lagging behind and which made it possible for all Duke students could take full advantage of our academic programs like study abroad and DukeEngage.
But some of the most important changes have been in the areas of science education and advising. As a result of what we learned through the CLL, Duke has undertaken a series of initiatives that benefit every student on campus. Some of these initiatives started many years ago, when the first results of the CLL were known, and thus are now a part of the fabric of the University. Others are new, or about to be launched, and continue to be assessed and adjusted as we learn more each year. They include:
• Reorganizing academic advising to provide all students with a more intense connection to mentors before and after major declaration, and instituting a detailed system to monitor academic progress and performance so problems could be identified and addressed as soon as they arise.
• Revamping the introductory chemistry courses to ensure that students can have a challenging and successful introduction to that subject, and thus continue to a higher level of study, regardless of their high school preparation.
• Restructuring the course sequence of chemistry and math so students could make a more seamless progression through the basic requirements of a pre-health program.
• Launching Science Advancement through Group Engagement (SAGE), a small-group learning program that utilizes lab-like study groups that are attached to regularly scheduled chemistry classes.
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• Creating the Cardea Fellows Program for students who are committed to the health care professions. The program emphasizes high-touch advising, team work and mentoring. Already 47 Duke students have participated in the program.
• Strengthening the Academic Resource Center with numerous outreach programs to ensure that students utilize these resources in an empowering, safe and stigma-free environment.
• Sponsoring in the Pratt School of Engineering what has become the largest minority National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program in the country.
• Continuing an ongoing initiative in which science, math and engineering faculty members have joined with academic advisors to examine how Duke students navigate the gateway science and math curricula and how to improve student learning outcomes.
We believe that these programs have already had, and will continue to have, a positive effect on the ability of all students to be successful at Duke.
Duke is a place of great passion and ambition—for ideas, for causes, for diversity and for a sense of community. We believe that everyone here is invested in the success of our students, and we invite you to bring your concerns and your solutions to us. These issues are important, and we share a collective commitment to finding new paths to action.
Peter Lange, Provost
Steve Nowicki, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education
Laurie Patton, Dean of Arts and Sciences
Tom Katsouleas, Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering
Lee Baker, Dean of Academic Affairs, Arts and Sciences and Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
Linda Franzoni, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Pratt School of Engineering