Duke Campus Culture Initiative Recommends Changes in Curriculum, Housing, Other Areas to Enhance Undergraduate Experience

Proposed recommendations range from enhanced faculty ties with undergraduates to a clearer university policy on underage student drinking

Duke University can become a more "inclusive academic community" by making changes in its curriculum, housing system, alcohol policies and other key areas, according to a report released Tuesday by a committee charged by President Richard H. Brodhead to examine the campus culture.


 The Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee, which focused on undergraduate life, praised Duke for "its institutional courage not to shy away from tough issues" and proposed recommendations ranging from enhanced faculty ties with undergraduates to a clearer university policy on underage student drinking. Its report also calls for changes in areas such as dining and residential housing, including an end to the practice of assigning West Campus housing to selective living groups.


 "The important thing now is to have the conversation the Report is meant to launch," Brodhead said in a message responding to the report. "None of its recommendations is a ‘done deal.' Nor should any of its suggestions be off the table. This is a time for vigorous debate, which is a healthy thing in a university."


 Brodhead said he has asked Provost Peter Lange to "lead the process of considering the Report and the issues it raises. Working with others, he will orchestrate campus discussions and establish appropriate timetables for each set of issues. I have asked him to keep me informed and to deliver a full report by the middle of next term. At its meeting last weekend, the Board of Trustees discussed the Report and supported this approach to broadening the conversation, involving more students, as we resolve these issues."


 The full text of the committee's report and Brodhead's response are available online.


 The committee's findings focus on six areas: curriculum and experiential learning; faculty-student interaction; residential life, dining and social life; alcohol; athletics; and admissions. It was among five groups that Brodhead appointed in April 2006 in response to issues raised by the lacrosse party of March 13, 2006. Three other committees issued their reports by May 8, 2006. The Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee was given a longer deadline and has now completed its assignment. A presidential council continues to serve. (Details on the five groups and other information involving the lacrosse incident are available on a special Duke website.)


 Robert Thompson, vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of Trinity College, chaired the steering committee. Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, was vice-chair for the group, whose 24 members included faculty, administrators, undergraduate students, a graduate student and alumni.


 "Last spring's lacrosse event and its ensuing controversies evoked strong emotions and discussions about issues of race and gender, class and privilege, difference and respect, athletics and academics, and town and gown," the committee said. "These events publicly challenged Duke to closely re-examine itself to find more effective ways to enhance the sense of social responsibility and mutual respect among members of its community."


 Noting the university's "remarkable rise to prominence," the committee said "a diverse, inclusive, and engaged community that affirms difference is the social context necessary for the transformative educational experience that Duke intends to provide." It outlined a series of actions that it said would "engage difference more deeply and directly" and "foster greater development of personal responsibility and community accountability."


 At the academic level, the committee called for a sharper curricular focus on differences within the United States and an expansion of experiential learning opportunities, which Duke announced on Feb. 12 with its new DukeEngage program. The committee also urged measures to enhance faculty-student interaction, calling for "a new social contract between the University and the faculty" and renewed efforts to recruit women and minority faculty.


The Duke undergraduate experience is "grounded in the context of a residential experience," the committee said. Yet, particularly on West Campus, where students move in their sophomore year, "the privilege given to selective living groups, and to men in particular, affects campus culture disproportionately." The committee called for a new housing system that would limit the number of students who may request to live together. It also urged "significant improvements to residential, dining and social facilities," and a new dining services model that would promote a sense of community among students.

"There is nothing magic about the status quo system of housing assignment," Brodhead said in response. "It is only one logistical choice among many, and we should be willing to be imaginative. At the same time, Duke's selective housing system is quite varied, with a complex array of benefits and challenges. We must consider how to support all the strengths of our residential community as we review the assignment of housing."

On the alcohol front, the committee said drunkenness is more of a problem than drinking per se, leading to bad behaviors and health problems for individuals and to legal and reputational risks for the university. Social life at Duke is too often organized around drinking, according to the committee, and "the risk of another alcohol-related death in the Duke community is very real." Its report calls on Duke to "re-orient social life on campus to reduce the centrality of alcohol and enable more non-alcohol events and venues." It also recommends clearer university policies for dealing with alcohol, better prevention and treatment services and improved tracking and accountability.

The committee's review of athletics notes the outstanding record of Duke student-athletes in both competition and the classroom, but says "strong and persistent forces" nationally are making it ever harder to balance academics and athletics. The report recommends that Duke should decrease practice and travel time demands on its student-athletes and ensure they receive appropriate academic support. The committee also calls for stronger ties between athletic programs and other parts of the university, and for the admissions office to reduce the number of athletes admitted near the low end of Duke's academic standards.

Calling athletics a "proud Duke tradition," Brodhead said, "I look forward (as the Report does) to our strong continuing participation in Division I competition, and to striving jointly for athletic and academic achievement. Getting the balance right requires fine tuning and knowledgeable faculty advice to the administration and Trustees, who have final oversight of athletics policy."

The report's final set of recommendations, on admissions, includes increasing the role of faculty in the admissions process, emphasizing Duke's commitment to diversity in its recruitment materials and aggressively recruiting international students and high-achieving applicants from underrepresented groups.

Noting the many meetings it held with campus groups and individuals, the committee said some of its recommendations, such as expanding opportunities for student civic engagement, already are being implemented, while many others have significant policy or budgetary implications that require further review. In their cover letter, Thompson and Moneta said, "The Committee recognizes that this report is just one point in an ongoing conversation that must be sustained, and that the entire University community -- students, faculty, staff, and alumni -- must now engage in the discussion and the process of implementation through its regular and deliberative processes."

Brodhead sounded a similar theme in his response, saying, "The questions for this conversation are deeply important: how can we create a Duke where every student will get the richest development of his or her personal powers while contributing to and benefiting from the larger community? How can we strengthen the values of inclusion, respect and mutual engagement? How can we build on what's already excellent to make the best Duke we can imagine? Not everyone will agree on the details of every answer, but we need to recognize the value of the questions and have the courage to ask them."