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The synchronized arrival of Richard Brodhead, a host of Ivy League ex-pats and several new buildings heralded a New Era for Duke. With the first year in the books, it’s time to take a look back at what was accomplished, what was surprising and what expectations might need to be reconsidered as the University presses—slowly, it turns out—into uncharted territory.
Closing time—the year is just about up, and final reflections are ubiquitous. Rather than TAL you how great my column and I are, I thought I’d open up my AC Book of Secrets and share some of the great, odd and not-so-great things I’ve discovered in four years at Duke.
Beware, Duke! An insidious new hazard may soon be foisting itself upon the University community. In an era when danger can be found in everything from shampoo to cell phones, we are now being told that “posted food facts may be harmful.” Yes, that’s nutrition facts we’re talking about.
Hate to admit it, but I’ve never been much of a Duke basketball fan. I started hating the Blue Devils around the time they met my Arkansas Razorbacks in the 1994 men’s championship game (and—ahem, Scotty Thurman—lost). Matriculating at Duke meant I had to lose the hate, and I did, but being a sports fan is serious business to me. I like to see the team do well, but can’t artificially manufacture that diehard love I have for the Hogs.
President Richard Brodhead wants to create an ownership society here at Duke. In his much-hyped “discussion” of undergraduate life last Tuesday, he presented an undeniably conservative vision of personal choice and entrepreneurship.
There sits today at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock a bright young scholar. She obtained her doctorate from Harvard and produced a well received dissertation. Her research at UALR has been stellar and her teaching has been inspiring. She’s happy enough at UALR but sometimes wonders what it would be like to teach at an Ivy League or comparable institution. So far, they aren’t calling.
There’s a lot of brilliance among Duke’s undergraduates. But you’d never know that from looking at our dominant culture. In my four years at Duke, I have been struck by the amiable mediocrity that pervades undergraduate public discourse and self-presentation. Where are the obnoxious standouts, who have the guts to visibly provoke us and question our community norms?
For the past few years, an unspoken sentiment has surfaced on the pages of The Chronicle, at the meetings of student government organizations and in countless conversations across campus. Let’s come right out and say it: Housing at Duke is a mess. This condition has little to do with the nature of housing, even less to do with the fantastic staff of Residence Life and Housing Services and a great deal to do with the leadership style of RLHS Dean Eddie Hull.
There is a lot of anger about wealth among Duke students. We tend to scorn the practice of admitting students based on legacy and financial donations. Some of our poorest financial aid students can get rueful when rich peers make personal finance gaffes. Rich students can be oblivious and insensitive to others’ constraints, and often get irritated when their less well-off friends can’t keep up with the price of social life.
Here’s a serious question: is there a “correct” set of political values?
Once in a very great while, senior administrators will backtrack on a bad decision or policy. Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta opted not to proceed with construction of his West Campus plaza this summer, an embarrassing retreat but the right decision nonetheless. Last year, former Arts and Sciences chief William Chafe quietly began the process of shrinking the faculty after a decade of growth. It now appears Director of Dining Services Jim Wulforst is sticking it to ARAMARK Corp. after years of poor results.
aThat Christoph Guttentag admits some zany kids into Duke this year. We have more than our quota of amiable high achievers and are sorely in need of some charismatic nutjobs to shake things up.
Open up your pocketbooks, Central Campus residents. Those crappy apartments won't come so cheap anymore.
Like many seniors, I was mildly disappointed with the announcement of Chilean President Ricardo Lagos as our commencement speaker. By most accounts he is a courageous, intelligent advocate for democracy. But both William Safire and Antonin Scalia are extremely compelling, possess more name recognition and would be more eagerly anticipated by students. Lagos is not a bad choice, but no one seems too revved up about him—and that’s too bad.
It’s a peculiar science, the study of what makes a good President. Some of our brightest, like Jimmy Carter, have struggled mightily when thrust into the highest office. Some of our least educated, like Harry Truman, have etched new definitions of heroism into our collective consciousness.
No matter what you think of Philip Kurian’s Oct. 18 column “The Jews,” he did not deserve this. Kurian has been inundated by hate mail. At least one established on-campus Jewish group has, horrifyingly, called for the revocation of his scholarship. His safety has been threatened.
When I first arrived at Duke in August 2001, I expected a strong showing from the latter half of the “work hard, play hard” maxim: beer, frat parties and boisterous basketball games. By contrast, I braced myself for academic disappointment after an incredibly rich classroom experience at Phillips Exeter Academy.
Something strange is happening at Duke. A few months into the New Era, and we seem to be mired in a malaise.
The Forgotten is three movies spliced together. The first is a by-the-numbers domestic drama. The second is a by-the-numbers action flick. The third is a sci-fi movie so bewildering and preposterous that you’ll wish you had those numbers back.
For many Americans, Sept. 11 was a belated wake-up call after years of hitting the snooze. Globalization came vividly and painfully upon us, proving that threats and opportunities could be imported as well as exported.