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Susan Lozier: Collective Advocacy for the University by the Faculty

Susan Lozier: Collective Advocacy for the University by the Faculty

As the Academic Council enters its 50th year, council chair talks about the role of faculty governance

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Editor's Note: The following address was delivered Thursday at the Annual Meeting of the University Faculty.  Suzan Lozier, professor in the Nicholas School of the Environment, is chair of the Academic Council.

Susan Lozier marks the 50th anniversary of the Academic Council. Photo by Les Todd/Duke University Photography.

Durham, NC - 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 found one.

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 first year.

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 Principles reads:

"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 advocacy.

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 abroad.

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 advocacy.

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,

always good
because they can't be otherwise
--four, well maybe five,

Able to admire without envy

suffering illusions
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,

and understanding

worthy of compassion

--a hundred out of a hundred
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

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