Academic Council Discusses Three Master's Degree Proposals

Proposals include DKU medical ethics degree and new Duke programs in science and ethics and visualization

The Academic Council Thursday began reviewing a long list of new degree programs reflecting some of the most recent and promising faculty initiatives in interdisciplinary scholarship.

As at least six, and maybe more, degree programs will receive faculty review this semester, an unusually high number, and the council will hold an extra meeting in December to allow for consideration of all of them.

The council started with presentations on proposed master's degrees in bioethics and science policy, historical and cultural visualization and medical physics.  The latter is the third degree to be considered by the faculty for Duke Kunshan University (DKU).

Presented by Duke professors Jim Dobbins and Fang-Fang Yin, the DKU medical physics degree would build upon the university's strong master's and Ph.D. programs in Durham and help meet a growing demand for medical professionals in China and other Asian countries, Dobbins said.

Medical physics is an interdisciplinary field that is the basis for specialties such as radiology, radiation oncology and nuclear medicine.  The proposal recommends a two year, 40-credit-hour program beginning with 15 students, and adding an additional 15 students in each of the first three years.  In year four and five, 18-20 students would be added.

Students would spend the first year at DKU in classes, spend the summer at Duke and return in the spring for research and courses at DKU. 

As with all DKU programs, the instructors would be either Duke faculty members or DKU-affiliated faculty who would be hired under a process beginning with the Duke hiring unit and requiring approval a committee of faculty from Duke, DKU and Wuhan University, Duke's partner in the DKU venture.

"We believe this will be a good opportunity for Duke medical physics faculty," Dobbins said. "It will enrich their teaching and research experiences."

Council members focused many of the questions on the costs and the ability to pay the $44,000 tuition charged for the program.  "Healthy scholarships will get the price point right for the market," Dobbins said.  As evidence of the demand, he said about 20-30 percent of the medical physics students in the Duke Ph.D. program are already from China.

Dobbins said there are three medical physics programs in China and all carry lower tuition and costs. But, he added, there is greater demand for professionals in the field than these programs can fulfill and that the quality of the Duke program will drive Chinese interest.

"Informal discussions with students and others in the field tell us they think there's good demand in China," Dobbins said.

The proposal for a bioethics and science policy degree would meet a growing demand for trained professionals who can analyze complex problems at the intersection of science, technology and ethics.  The field came out of some of the darker moments of recent history, including the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Experts in the field are now playing prominent roles in developing fields, such as President Obama's Brain Research Through Advanced Innovative Technologies initiative.

In these new initiatives, "We can ask 'can we?' but unless we ask 'should we?' it will be difficult to advance," said law professor Nita Farahany, who presented the proposal.

Farahany said the program would draw from Duke's strong science and society offerings and that it would be competitive against the best programs in the field at peer institutions, including Penn and Columbia. Hospitals, academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies,  public health agencies, biotechnology companies,            law firms, governmental entities and other agencies are building the demand for specialists in this field, she said.

In response to faculty questions, Farahany said the program would collaborate with other university policy and ethical studies units, such as the Sanford School and the Kenan Institute, but that the graduate program would not overlap with any existing program. The Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy is taking the lead on the proposal.

The third degree proposed comes from a number of faculty in computer science, engineering, classical studies and art history who are using technology to recreate art and architecture from the past. The master's degree in historical and cultural visualization grows out of projects such as WIRED! and Visualizing Venice that allow scholars to reinterpret the past by, in one case, building 3-D computer visualizations of cities and art objects.

"Duke faculty have been enthusiastic about this research and just run with it," said art history professor Hans Van Miegroet. "And it's received a fantastic reaction from students." 

The proposed degree will be related to the new Media Arts & Science program.  It will build upon existing Duke courses and faculty members and involve a three semesters (plus a summer) program with 30 credit hours.  Van Miegroat said enrollment will begin with 10 students per year.

The three degree proposals will be voted upon at the council's November meeting.  All proposals have previously been vetted by faculty committees, including the Academic Programs Committee.

In the course of the council discussion, several faculty members asked if the large number of degree proposals underscored a trend that needed wider discussion.  Council chair Joshua Socolar agreed. 

"ECAC (The Executive Committee of the Academic Council) agrees we need to look at this," he said. "We felt, however, we can't hold up the discussion of these current proposals for that now, but we will address the topic of degree proposals in the future."