Brodhead: The International Dimensions of Duke's Ambitions

Speaking to faculty, president describes goals for international initiatives

Colleagues, I have come to value the custom of the President's Address observed on this day. I am here with you virtually every month to discuss emerging issues and answer questions. But this is a chance to step back and consider deeper challenges for the university. In recent years I've spoken on financial aid, the evolution of a more collaborative, post-disciplinary model of research and education, and the role of the faculty in a university such as Duke. Today I want to talk about the international dimension of Duke's ambitions.

In 2006, I went on a two-week trip to Asia, my first overseas trip as your president. My aim was to raise Duke's profile, reach out to prospective students and alums, and promote collaborations with our higher education colleagues. While I was in Taipei, I toured the Koo Foundation Sun-Yat Sen Cancer Center, founded by our own Dr. Andrew Huang, a professor of medicine. As I roamed the halls of this remarkable facility, I heard something coming out of a conference room that would not be startling in Durham but was incredibly so in Taiwan: a rich North Carolina accent. By complete chance, I learned, my presence in this place ten thousand miles from home coincided with that of a representative of Duke's School of Nursing, who was in Taiwan to outline the concept of the nurse practitioner -- a role that doesn't exist in Taiwan's health care system but that was being envisioned there with Duke assistance.

This was more than a pleasant surprise. It was a reminder that all of our work in a great modern research university has both a local and a potentially global horizon. And it underlined that when Duke faculty appear in international settings, they are engaged in work of fundamental value: carrying knowledge across boundaries and using knowledge to solve human problems, in collaboration with partners from other lands.

I know of many such partnerships and I'm grateful to all who have taken the initiative to pioneer them. But Duke's international efforts to date have been somewhat opportunistic in character, and almost exclusively unit-based. So far so good. But we are nearing a time when the university's internationalization will need to become more concerted and more strategic. This raises deep questions: what is it Duke should be trying to accomplish in the international domain, and why? If we have a finite number of steps we could take, what steps would carry us toward the most important goals?

The values that are making the global dimension of our work ever more important are fairly easy to name. There are at least four. The single highest necessity for a great university is to attract and retain the highest level of talent in its faculty and students. Talent pools were once regional in character, then national. Now they are global, and will become more so. We need to project our institutional identity as compellingly as we can to draw the world's best and most creative minds.

Second, wherever our students come from, we owe them the chance to immerse themselves in the world's cultures and learn how to work with people from widely diverse origins. A person who can't navigate outside his native mindset won't be equipped to understand the major challenges of the contemporary world or to realize her potential as a contributor to that world. So the globalization imperative has an educational side as well.

Third, Duke needs to be out in the world so we can carry the fruits of our research and teaching to the places that need our expertise and that need our help to build their own pools of trained talent. All of the deepest challenges we face in economic development, in environment, in security, in health arise across borders and must be solved across borders. We must be international to be part of that solution.

Fourth, Duke needs to be out in the world not only to serve, but also to learn. No country now has a monopoly on interesting researchers in any field: we need transnational networks to keep us at the cutting edge. Further, many emerging developments of huge consequence to the global future are more visible in other parts of the world than in our own. We need to be where things are happening so we can grasp new realities and engage the new questions they pose.

Duke has already made important progress on the internationalization front. Duke now has as large a number of federally funded international area studies centers as any American private university. We have strengthened the international character of Duke by increasing the number of international students on campus. Among our undergraduates, about 7 percent are international students; among our graduate students, fully a third are international. In addition to our heavily-enrolled study abroad programs, we have inventive new programs to connect undergraduates to the larger world.

Last winter I spoke to you about one of our newest initiatives, DukeEngage. As you recall, this program provides any interested undergraduate the funding and faculty support for a summer- or semester-long immersive service experience. This past summer, through our pilot program, more than 80 students participated in sites around the world, including, Kenya, Yemen, India and Ukraine in addition to Durham and New Orleans. In Muhuru Bay, Kenya, our students are helping to build a girl's school in an area without higher education for women. In Ukraine, senior Sarah Wallace did research under the auspices of Duke's Institute for Genome Sciences and Research on the health effects of radiation exposure in Chernobyl. DukeEngage has shaped up, even in its infancy, as a way to strengthen relations between students and faculty mentors, to give students a sense of the real-world value of academic training, and to enable them to engage a foreign culture through service and research. I recently dropped by a meeting of the student group Engineers Without Borders and saw the same things. With six or eight faculty members listening intently, these students explained how they had engineered a sustainable source of clean water in a village in Uganda, with transformative effects on their sense of self.

Such inventive programs can be found across this campus. The School of Nursing is working just this month with the Pan American Health Organization to plan a conference on managing cardiovascular disease in an aging population in the Caribbean. Since 2000, the Divinity School has had a partnership with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa through which almost 200 students, faculty and staff have participated in field education, pilgrimages and other opportunities. The Duke Marine Lab has created what director Cindy Van Dover calls Beaufort Signature courses, offering first-hand conservation experience in such places as Panama and Trinidad.

At the faculty level, Duke has signed over 300 agreements involving international exchanges of various sorts. The great majority involve research collaborations between small groups of faculty here with research partners elsewhere. But some have a broader character. The School of Law has for many years had an agreement with the University of Geneva to promote both faculty and student exchanges; I met the Dean of the Law School at Tsinghua University first in Beijing, then a few months later at Duke, where he was visiting to lecture and teach. The Duke Center for International Development in the Sanford Institute has an agreement with the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs in Beijing to train several dozen mid-level public officials twice a year. A parallel program brought future civic leaders from India to the Duke campus for public policy training a few months back.

At the next level, individual schools have entered into large-scale partnerships to project Duke in the world. The Fuqua School and Duke Corporate Education have longstanding agreements with the London School of Economics and the Goethe-University Frankfurt Faculty of Economics and Business More recently, Duke positioned itself to become one of the first American business schools to have a significant presence in India through an agreement with the IIMA the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. Fuqua's new dean Blair Sheppard, who learned a thing or two about globalization as the founder of Duke Corporate Education, has plans to connect Fuqua with other new economies as well. He has been exploring agreements with the Faculty of Economics and Management at Tsinghua and the new Skolkovo Business School in Moscow, with the idea of making Duke the hub in a wheel that connects the world's main emerging economies. These agreements would include faculty exchanges, joint conferences and research collaborations, but a primary goal will be to give daytime MBA students the opportunity to learn first-hand about the workings of an emerging market.

Duke's largest international collaboration to date is the School of Medicine's partnership with the National University of Singapore to establish that country's first graduate school of medicine, a first in the region as well. As you know, the Singapore government and local foundations have contributed $310 million to the venture, which will involve scores of departments within our medical school, collaborative research and medical student exchanges. In addition to its important research dimensions, this project will give Duke's model of medical education, with its innovative combination of medical and research training, a position of high visibility in a strategic world region. More recently, Victor Dzau and his colleagues have returned from China, where they have been building partnerships with the Peking University Health Science Center. When the heads of the fourteen hospitals affiliated with Peking University came to my house for a reception last May, they were aglow with inspiration from a two week, virtually around the clock tutorial in the administration of complex health systems. I was proud that they had selected our colleagues at Duke to give them this education.

Deluged by my examples, you might by now be saying: It's amazing, I grant you! So isn't Duke already international enough? I would reply as follows. I take delight in the vision and activity Duke has displayed to date. I also recognize our obligation not just to keep adding to our list of programs, but to work with what we have to give it depth and substance. (In American universities, the list of showy memoranda of understanding with international partners is far longer than the list of substantive relationships that have followed.) I also recognize that Duke's international development entails tradeoffs with other, equally legitimate university goals, choices that need to be clearly envisioned and intelligently made. But I also believe there is important further work to do to take us to the next level of development as a global university.

One step is very obvious. I would never advocate central control and direction of Duke's international efforts: the interest, commitment and inventiveness of actual individuals is the absolute precondition for these programs' success. But we do need more centralized information about our ventures. We have programs exploring possible partnerships in countries (even in cities) where Duke already has an institutional presence that our new Duke ambassadors often know nothing about. Before we go forward, it would help to be able to know what's already going on.

Second, as our international activities become more numerous and complex, we need to build the infrastructure to support them. Every Duke presence around the globe brings us new contacts, new visibility, new educational opportunity but also new challenges of financial management, legal arrangement, and liability. It is inefficient at best, and dangerous at worst, for us to expect all our separate units to be able to manage these difficulties on their own. Going forward, they will require a higher level of institutional attention and a stronger system of institutional support.

There are other infrastructural issues as well. The way our local budgets are set up does not make it easy for different schools and departments to team up to envision new international ventures. I also wonder whether our faculty appointments system is structured to greatest advantage for an increasingly globalized intellectual world. At a dinner hosted by the provost this summer, the deans fell into speculation on the idea of an "international professor" a person who would spend significant time here with the understanding that they would regularly spend time elsewhere, building bridges with a Duke connection. Let me not fail to mention that to continue to attract top student talent, Duke must increase international student financial aid.

Third, and this is my main point, we need our international efforts to be more concerted and strategic. Most of our projects to date have arisen through entrepreneurial activity by separate units. This is the key source of institutional creativity, and it will remain so. But the time comes to ask if these often-vibrant parts could not add up to a more coherent whole, a concerted activity that would advance this whole institution's mission, with benefits for each part. More than institutional efficiency is at stake. This is a question of how we render the distinctive service this university could provide and how we make Duke known around the world.

Among America's great research universities, Duke is distinctive in the cross-disciplinary, cross-school collaboration that thrives here and in the urge to bring intellectual inquiry to bear on real-world problems. As Duke's strategic plan recognizes, these are not just endearing peculiarities. They are things the world will increasingly require from universities in an age of complex global challenges, and the school that best cultivates these strengths will be the one best equipped to meet the needs of coming times.

We on campus know this special identity, as do relevant audiences in this country. But Duke is not as well-known around the globe as we should wish it to be. And a consequence of the fact that we have tended to project ourselves internationally program by program or school by school is that we are not yet showing the world the Duke that makes Duke most remarkable. A strategic international Duke would be one that decided where in the world it is of highest institutional value for us to be active and presented our strengths not separately but together, as collaborative contributors in the work of complex problem-solving teams of Duke partners that could help partners in other countries form the communities of trained intelligence our world increasingly needs. When I hear that the Duke University Health System is working with the Peking University Health Science Center both on medical research and health care management, I see medicine and business converging in a global setting to meet challenges no single discipline could meet on its own. Now imagine the integration of these two fields with expertise in the environment, law and public policy, engineering and entrepreneurship, and spiritual welfare and family care, all bundled together in this package we put on offer along with the study of arts and sciences that undergirds them all. (We are attempting this very thing in our Global Health Institute.) That kind of "Duke abroad program" would give our challenge-ridden world the most valuable kind of help; it would also make Duke known in the most compelling possible way.

I recognize the difficulties that would have to be worked through to make this dream a reality. But we will be taking a lot of time and trouble on international ventures in coming years; and it matters whether these efforts are put to very good advantage or to the best possible advantage. At the least, we are at a stage where we need to discuss and make thoughtful choices about what Duke will do on the global stage. We can't do everything, so we need to do what most matters: what will do the most good and do us the most good. The provost and I will welcome your thoughts in this conversation.