As chair of the Academic Council, my expected role at this
meeting is to report on the activities of the Council for the previous year and
on plans for the ensuing year, which to my mind is a bit like listening to your
in-laws describe their previous trip to Disney World and then having to listen
to their plans for an upcoming cruise to Alaska. So, I looked for an out and
On October 18, 1962, nearly 50 years ago, Duke faculty
members assembled in 208 Flowers for the first meeting of the Academic Council.
This coming October, the Council will formally celebrate this milestone, but
for now, I would like to use this upcoming anniversary as an opportunity to
gain some perspective on where we are as a Council, and as a faculty, 50 years
down the road.
To give students in my oceanography classes some perspective
on where we are in the long line of inquiry about the natural world, I cite
questions asked by Adelard of Bath, a naturalist in the early 12th century
during the reign of Henry the First.
Among 76 questions in a treatise on nature, Adelard asked:
Why are the waters of the sea salty?
How do the oceans not increase from the flux of the rivers?
Whence comes the ebb and flow of the tides?
Nine hundred years later, we have answered these questions,
yet others remain puzzling: For example,
Why is joy the cause of weeping?
And do beasts have souls?
Mimicking Adelard's line of inquiry, I read the minutes from
the 1962 Council meetings to ascertain the progress of Duke faculty over these
past five decades. Alas, I found the questions asked then are not all that
different from the ones we struggle with today.
Questions pondered in 1962 include:
How do faculty salaries not increase in proportion to the
rise in tuition?
Whence comes the ebb and flow of parking spots, but only the
flood of fees?
Why is basketball the cause of weeping?
And finally, the most puzzling of all questions asked by
faculty then and now:
Do administrators have souls?
Alas, all unanswered still.
On the more serious side (and veering away from territory
where my tenure is in jeopardy), those minutes indeed reveal that the issues
discussed by the 1962 Council bear a remarkable similarity to issues we discuss
today: construction of new student housing, an addition to the library, by-law
changes, faculty salary raises, and fundraising were all discussed during that
Yet, the converse is not true: many of the issues we discuss
today would have been unfamiliar in 1962.
During those Council meetings there was no mention of global
education or global programs, no mention of federal funding, no mention of
institutes, centers or interdisciplinarity. No mention of DKU. Additionally, many of the faces in this room would have also
been unfamiliar. And not because we have few septuagenarians in this room.
Rather, I think it is a surprise to no one that our faculty today is
tremendously more diverse by any measure than the 1962 Duke faculty.
All of us surely applaud this expanding reach of the faculty
and our increasing diversity.
Yet, our expanding reach means we are increasingly pulled in
directions unfamiliar 50 years ago and our diversity in race, ethnicity,
gender, sexual orientation and religion, surely confronts each of us with
beliefs and points of view unfamiliar not only to the faculty of 1962, but to
many of us today.
Is it any surprise then that this campus, filled with
faculty pursuing independent and ambitious research goals here and abroad,
filled with faculty free to express personal and professional beliefs, is also
filled with tension?
We can find tension in the usual places:
- Between departments and institutes
- Between our Durham-based ambitions and our global ambitions
- Between athletics and academics
- Between your expectations of your time and work and the
University's expectations of the same.
- Between your ideas and mine.
If our expanding global reach doesn't provide sufficient
centrifugal force to pull us apart, these frictional forces on campus would
seemingly finish us off. And yet, we are decidedly un-flung.
More than strolling across the same campus, rooting for the
same teams, or teaching the same perpetually young students, we are pulled
together by a belief that there is immeasurable value in these tensions and
unbounded value in our reach. But belief in the value of these assets is not enough.
An excerpt from the University's Statement of Ethical
"The actions of each member [of the University
community] have an impact upon the culture of tolerance, inclusion and respect
for which we strive as a community. All members of the University community are
expected to respect the rights and dignity of others regardless of their
differences or points of view."
To counteract the centrifugal forces pulling us apart and
the frictional forces impeding cohesion, we must not simply bear in mind the
need to respect the rights of our fellow faculty members, we must in fact
advocate for them. As well, we must not simply tolerate the interests and
ambitions of our fellow faculty members, we must advocate for them.
For example: We could and should advocate for educational
and research programs even if they are not of personal interest, even if they
might challenge our own programs and even if they have a reach and impact
beyond the walls of this Durham campus. Many colleagues have professional goals that
are only met as Durham fades in the rearview mirror.
We could and should make a strong collective argument for
the importance of the humanities in the 21st century and its promotion on this
campus. Whether you are an engineer, a physician, a political scientist, or
even an oceanographer: it's hard to imagine the contours of a campus without
the cultural landscape of the humanities.
And finally, we could and should relieve the black faculty
of the obligation to be the sole faculty advocates for the diversity of our
administration, faculty and student body. Indeed it is past time that we
relieve our black colleagues of this expectation, just as it is past time that
we look solely to the administration for an accounting of their efforts toward
diversity, rather than taking a hard look at our own efforts, and especially
our own commitment.
How do we advocate collectively? Small surprise here -- but
I firmly believe that the Academic Council is an important venue for this
An often-stressed role of this Council is in the shared
governance between the faculty and the administration. An important role to be
sure, but honestly to me, we have largely undervalued the role this Council
plays in pulling us together, not so that we can oppose or support the
administration on this or on that, but so that we can collectively understand
and advocate for each other.
Teaching, researching and mentoring make us Duke faculty
members. Collective advocacy makes us a Duke faculty. What can we do with such advocacy?
We could refine our Duke signature here and define it
1. Building on our roots and fueled by our ambitions, we
have within our reach the possibility of creating a campus community where
diversity is pulled rather than pushed, aired rather than squeezed and prized
more so than celebrated. We have within our reach the possibility of setting
the standard for how a campus community is a community for all.
2. Collective advocacy also allows us the possibility to
more clearly define and articulate our global signature. What is the face of
Duke abroad? What research strengths and pedagogical innovations can Duke
faculty bring to our global programs that will make those programs
distinctively Duke? While the administration has set a vision and a course for
our global reach in China, Duke faculty can play a large and creative role in
defining the signature of that reach. The work of the Global Priorities
Committee this past year, in large part directed toward developing faculty
ownership of global programs, is a great example of faculty working together to
advance our collective interests and ambitions.
Last year in his address at this annual meeting, Craig
Henriquez, then the Academic Council chair, noted that a simple request by
President Sanford in 1972 to the faculty for self-examination led to the
Christie Rules. By all accounts those rules resulted in a significant
strengthening of the role of faculty in the decision making of this University.
In his remarks, Professor Henriquez noted: "I think it is no coincidence
that Duke's rise in national prominence occurred after a restructuring of the
Academic Council to give a greater voice to the faculty in decision-making."
Perhaps in the coming years, our expanding global reach will
truly lead to international prominence. But today I would like to posit that
such prominence will only be possible if we find a counterbalance to the
centrifugal forces pulling us apart … and that counterbalance is our collective
How do we work on these collective efforts?
We can work on these collective efforts creatively. We can
reach further, engage more. We already have in place the Academic Council, with
representation of faculty across the entire campus, the Councils from the
individual Schools and the myriad of university committees where faculty
provide input on a myriad of issues. We have the structure in place. We need to
work more on our focus, take more initiative and engage more of our faculty
colleagues. In particular, we need to engage more fully the junior faculty. We
need their energy and their ideas and quite possibly we could use a dose of
their idealism. And they would do well to see our collective commitment.
And so on the occasion of this annual meeting of the
faculty, in this 50th year of the Council, my remarks are intended to reaffirm
our commitment to shared faculty governance, but mainly to remind us all that
working with each other is as important as working with the administration to
move this great university forward.
I will conclude with excerpts from a poem that I think
expresses both our individuality and our collective humanity. This poem was
written by Wisława Szymborska, a Polish poet and Nobel Laureate, who died just
last month. Her poem is titled: A Contribution to Statistics.
Out of a hundred people
those who always know better -- fifty two
doubting every step
--nearly all the rest,
glad to lend a hand
if it doesn't take too long
--as high as forty-nine,
because they can't be otherwise
--four, well maybe five,
Able to admire without envy
induced by fleeting youth
--sixty, give or take a few
Not to be taken lightly
--forty and four,
harmless singly, savage in crowds
--half at least,
wise after the fact
--just a couple more
than wise before it
--thirty-five, which is a lot,
worthy of compassion
--a hundred out of a hundred
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.