The Academic Council's Crystal Ball

Faculty to mark 50th anniversary with conversations looking toward university's future 

When the Academic Council held its first meeting in 1962, classrooms were places for a blackboard, chalk and 50 minutes of lecture; the curriculum was solely disciplinary; and the faculty and the student body were both all white.

Fifty years later, Duke looks very different both in terms of faculty and student composition and academic experiences, and more changes are likely ahead. Academic Council Chair Susan Lozier wants to use the council anniversary as an occasion to assess those changes and look ahead at where the university and faculty are going.

Lozier told faculty Thursday the council will hold three conversations this spring: One on changes in the structure of the university, another on teaching and learning and a third on the faculty itself.

In 2002, the Academic Council celebrated its 40th anniversary with a look back at its origins and the history of faculty governance.   This time around, Lozier said she wanted to acknowledge the changing faculty role at the university over time but also to look ahead and "consider not just the past 50 years, but how these changes will shape the university in the decades ahead."

"What are the expected roles of a faculty member now compared to 50 years ago?" Lozier asked.  "How is the university's teaching and research mission met with its current faculty 'portfolio'?   How might we expect the role of a faculty member to change in the years ahead in response to external changes such as federal funding restrictions and online course delivery?  How might we expect the faculty portfolio to change as the university expands its global and digital reach?"

The first conversation, on the structure of the university, will particularly explore the impact of interdisciplinary and international learning.

In the past 50 years, the number of departments has changed incrementally, Lozier said, but the creation of seven current signature university institutes, 78 centers, 45 programs and 14 other institutes across the schools represents a significant evolution in the university.  In 1962, Duke had no units outside of the department and school structure.

The explosion of interdisciplinary units has been driven by the tension between the "state of knowledge and the system in which learning and teaching actually take place," said Lozier, quoting educational philosopher Louis Menand.  The first conversation will raise questions coming out of this tension.

"How has the transition from a department-based institution to one where the research and teaching missions of the university are a shared responsibility among departments, institutes and centers impacted the university?" Lozier asked. "Where does this institutional diversification lead in the years ahead?  How does the addition of a global campus change the structure of the university and our understanding of a campus community?  In brief, how have and how will structural changes impact the role of a Duke faculty member?"

The second conversation will focus on changes in teaching and learning, from the impact technology has made in the classroom to the looming initiatives in online learning. One question before the faculty, she said, is "Do we need the classrooms?"

Last month, Lozier said, one faculty member "speculated that the 'industrialization'; model of college education, where students are constrained to the same space during the same four years, may soon be an outdated model.  In the not too distant future, students may come and go on their own schedules, at their own pace, sometimes gathering in virtual space, sometimes gathering in real space.  Students would be, in effect, unbounded by spatial and temporal constraints."

The final conversation will explore the faculty itself, which has undergone a five-fold increase since 1962, a heavier concentration of medical faculty, a doubling of the number of women faculty, the addition of non-white faculty members and significant specialization and even some division between research and teaching faculty.

Comparing the changes in faculty specialization to that of pitchers in baseball, Lozier said, "research universities emerged at the turn of the 20th century as a coalescence of first rate research and first rate teaching; a coalescence that was generally manifest individually, not just collectively.  And now?  What faculty pitch the whole game?  Do we want or need faculty to pitch the whole game?"

The dates and speakers at the conversations will be announced later, Lozier said.  One date that has been set is that Duke Trustee Chair Richard Wagoner will address the council at its Nov. 29 meeting.  Wagoner, who has attended meetings of the Executive Committee of the Academic Council each semester, will be the first sitting board chair in at least a quarter century to address the full council.