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Susan Lozier: "This Council Could Serve as the Antidote to the Centrifugal Forces Pulling Us Apart"

Academic Council Chair Susan Lozier calls for continued conversations about the role of faculty at Duke. Photo: Duke University Photography
Academic Council Chair Susan Lozier calls for continued conversations about the role of faculty at Duke. Photo: Duke University Photography

Before we move to our next agenda item, I have a few words to mark the close of my term. I thought they would be most appropriately delivered at the conclusion of our Council Conversations because the theme of these remarks centers on the faculty voice.

When I started my term as chair, two short years ago, I imagined my primary role to be "the voice of the faculty." I have to admit that I was a little taken with that thought, but mostly I found the thought daunting and now, I know it was naive.

In fact, when a reporter called that first September to ask what Duke faculty thought about DKU, I hesitated and then asked, "How long do you have? This could take a while."

There is hardly one faculty voice on most any issue. Would we expect it any other way? Would we want it any other way? As I have said before behind this same podium, in a diverse and intellectually vigorous environment, there are inevitably differences of opinion on a host of issues.

As it turns out, I had more of a background for this position than I ever suspected, because, you see, I have had a lifetime of experience with differences of opinion:  I have four sisters.  Years ago when my mother tired of five voices simultaneously explaining their side of a story, she would tell us, "Enough! I know the truth is somewhere here in the middle", which being the middle daughter, I took as her way of signaling me as the truth-sayer. I wasn't then, and I am not now, but I have been largely in the midst of faculty issues,

in the midst of faculty opinions, and very much in the midst of the faculty, these past two years.  As a result I have some thoughts on faculty governance and on faculty issues that I would like to share with you today.

First, despite our differences of opinion, there is one thing upon which we all agree:  That faculty should have a voice.

But do all faculty have a voice?

Last month, at the height of the vigorous debate in Arts and Sciences around the proposal for Semester Online, faculty in favor of the proposal were incredulous that faculty opposed to the proposal said they felt rushed into making a decision. Seemingly, information had been available for months.

A trusted colleague helped explain this situation: It is not so much that people have not been informed, he said, but rather that they have not had an opportunity for their voice to be heard.

And so here is the simple truth of what I have learned these past two years: That the role of the Academic Council chair, or for that matter the role of any chair of a faculty governing body, is not so much to be the voice of the faculty, but rather to allow faculty to give voice to their concerns, their objections, their concurrence, their ideas.

Indeed this is the role of this Council.  The University is not a democracy.  The matters on which we vote are few; the matters on which we want a voice are many, as are the matters on which our voice is essential.

As I mentioned in my remarks last March, 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.

So that we can each give voice.

And so I am suggesting today that our conversations continue.  What started as a 50th anniversary celebration, where we take time out from business as usual to explore faculty views on a host of issues, could turn into standard practice.  Today, when so much information is available all of the time, the one thing in short supply on this campus might just be conversation. When there are over 3,000 Duke faculty members pulled in all directions, this Council could serve as the collection point for faculty voices. This Council could serve as the antidote to the centrifugal forces pulling us apart.

My suggestions for conversations moving forward include:

faculty conversation

Warren Grill, Tom Nechyba and Shengtan Tang dicuss the changing structure of the university during a council meeting in January.  Photo by Duke University Photography

First, a conversation on how we govern ourselves

Many of the deliberations during the first year of the Academic Council focused on setting the rules for this governing body.  Those rules, 50 years later, still stand, largely intact. During our Council Conversations this past year we have focused on how the structure of the University, teaching and learning and the professoriate have changed here at Duke over these past 50 years, but we have not asked whether all of those changes should impact how we govern ourselves.

For example:

1.  As the structure of the University evolves, should too our governance structure? The divisions by which representatives are elected are the same now as in 1962.  Three divisions come from Arts and Sciences, two from the School of Medicine and all other Schools provide one division each.  This past spring a faculty member asked whether the University's institutes should be represented on this Council and before too long this Council will face the question of whether faculty at DKU will or will not find representation in this body.

2. 50 years ago, non-tenure track faculty were allotted at most one seat in ten for representation on this Council.  Today, non-tenure track faculty account for 27% of our faculty here at Duke. Are we representational with such a limit?

3.  In our by-laws, ECAC is designated as the committee on committees, meaning that all committee members, whether those committees advise the President, the Provost, or the Board of Trustees, are nominated, or in some cases, appointed by the eight members of ECAC.  Is this practice sufficiently inclusive or does it create structural and/or cultural impediments to inclusion? Does it adequately bring enough players to the plate, different voices to the table?

4.  During this past election cycle, less than 5% of our colleagues opted to stand for election, only 25% of the faculty voted, and two divisions did not fill their open seats. I must admit that in the solitude of my office, these numbers are discouraging. Yet, each month, when we gather here, when the optimists, the choir, the Eagle scouts, are gathered, it is hard not to be encouraged. As clearly evidenced by the statements of the past chairs, we have accomplished much. And I am extraordinarily proud of the work of this Council during the past two years. But in this conversation on faculty governance, we need to ask ourselves this hard question: is this service valued by our colleagues? Is this Council valued by our colleagues?

5.  All of which leads me to my final point on this subject: a conversation on how we govern ourselves needs to include a discussion of our collective ownership of governance.

Faculty governance will not work unless all faculty have faith that it does.  It does not work just when the vote goes your way; it is not broken when the vote goes the other way. It works if there is ample opportunity for deliberation, if all voices are heard, and if there is a fair vote when and where a vote is warranted.

When I step off this campus, I hear from different quarters a fair degree of admiration for our faculty governance here at Duke. There can always be improvement, but it seems to me, in the words of Joni Mitchell, "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone".

From my vantage point, all of us, and not just those of us in this room, serve the faculty and University well, if we take ownership of and pride in our faculty governance here at Duke.

A second suggested conversation is one on faculty diversity

My twenty years here at Duke have coincided almost exactly with the 10 years of the Black Faculty Strategic Initiative and then the following 10 years of the Faculty Diversity Initiative.

I have listened for many years to these reports to the Council and I must admit that I have grown a bit uncomfortable with the dynamic that has developed around the issue of faculty diversity.

As faculty we conduct the searches, we vote on whom to hire, we report the results of our searches to the Provost's office, and then every two years when the Provost reports back to us what we have reported, we wonder why we are not making greater gains.

With this dynamic, we distance ourselves from the challenge and the opportunity of more fully diversifying our campus.

The Faculty Diversity Initiative is at a ten-year mark, a decade of hard work by some, most notably Nancy Allen, Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Faculty Development, and Jackie Looney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Diversity, but has it really been a decade of hard work and reflection on the part of the faculty?

U.S. Senator William Cowan of Massachusetts, a 1991 Duke graduate, delivered the keynote address at an event commemorating 50 years of black undergraduate students at Duke on a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago in Page Auditorium.  Senator Cowan asked those of us assembled: 50 years after desegregating Duke, are we where we want to be? He answered his own question affirmatively.  He said that we are where we want to be because at Duke we can now have open and honest conversations around issues of race.

I want to believe Senator Cowan. And surely all of you do as well, but is it really true that we are having open and honest conversations about diversity when we discuss hiring at our faculty meetings? I'm not sure, but I do know that moving forward this University is best served by faculty conversations that will shape faculty diversity aspirations.  Those conversations could begin with questions such as these:

1.  Our past focus has been primarily on black and female faculty.  Moving forward, how do we define diversity?

2. Do we adequately understand the role that selection bias plays in our faculty hires? Do we accept that all of us carry cultural biases regardless of our race, ethnicity or gender?

3. Do we understand that we have a shared responsibility to expand our talent pool? Black faculty should not be the sole advocates for black faculty hires; women should not be the sole advocates for the hiring of female faculty.

4.  Do we understand why some units have been more successful than others at creating a more diverse faculty? What micro-cultures have been more conducive to diverse hiring? What leadership has been more effective?

5. Should those departments or schools, where lack of faculty diversity is blamed on the applicant pool for hires, be expected to help diversify the pool by creating a diverse graduate and/or professional student population?

6.  And finally, what is the end game? Is there one?

At the intersection of this 10-year mark for the Faculty Diversity Initiative, the 50-year mark for the de-segregation for our undergraduate body and the 50- year anniversary of this Council, it seems entirely appropriate for the Duke faculty, through a study group working with and through the Faculty Diversity Standing Committee, to formulate how the faculty want to approach the challenges and opportunities of creating a more diverse faculty.  To answer, in essence, "Where do we go from here?"

As I remarked to this Council when I last spoke on this issue: "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."

My third and last suggestion for a conversation is one that takes up the challenge given to us by the President in his annual address to the faculty in March when he said to those of us assembled here:

"You and I have work to do making Duke live up to our ambitions. But we also have work to do voicing a fuller vision of education to a culture where such voices are currently little heard. Nowadays, part of the work of educators is working to remind ourselves and others what, in the deep sense, education could really be. We have work to do."

We spent time during our March meeting focused on how education has evolved over these past fifty years, now we need to continue the conversation on what education can be here at Duke.

That conversation could begin with these two questions:

1.  This campus used to be the world to Duke students, but now Duke students are around the world, physically and virtually; and we can only imagine that this reach will extend in the years to come.  How do we best incorporate their global reach into their campus instruction? Into their Duke community?

2. The rapid pace of change in higher education, driven by factors such as technological innovations, new online platforms and global educational opportunities, presents us with a dilemma:  how do we evolve, yet preserve the best of a Duke education?  This question challenges us to ask and answer another: what is the best of a Duke education? And perhaps that conversation will be the most interesting of all.

These conversation topics are simply suggestions.  I am more interested in conveying the importance of this Council as a vehicle for conversations, as a collection point for faculty voices, than anything else.  I am more interested in what we can accomplish with that collection of voices.

You see, I believe that though we clearly fulfill our responsibility to engage meaningfully in the intellectual life of the university through our individual research pursuits and instructional endeavors, it is through faculty governance that we collectively fulfill the obligation of the faculty to impact the aspirational goals of the university.

It is easy to forget about aspirational goals and about the tremendous privilege we are afforded of educating the next generation at this university when we occupy our time in this room with one report after another, one presentation following the next.

Instead we need to take time now and then to talk about those aspirational goals, to give voice, to listen to the other voices, to converse.

With that thought I will conclude with the first poem that I shared with all of you in September of 2011. That poem is:

When I Heard the Learned Astronomer, by Walt Whitman

When I heard the learned astronomer,

When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,

When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them, When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture room,


How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,

‘Till rising and gliding out I wandered off by myself,

In the mystical moist night air, and from time to time, Looked up in perfect silence at the stars.


It has been a pleasure to serve you these past two years, a pleasure to listen to your voices, a pleasure to share this amazing night sky that is our university.

Thank you.