Strategic Plan Framework Seeks Greater Innovation in Graduate Education

Kornbluth, Lozier release framework for strategic planning in Academic Council meeting

Susan Lozier

Susan Lozier, chair of the strategic plan steering committee, says the new strategic plan will focus less on new initiatives and more on "community and connections." Photo by Megan Mendenhall/Duke Photography.

Duke’s next strategic plan will focus on four themes related to building a collaborative community of scholars and making connections in teaching, research and engagement both at Duke and globally.

On Thursday, Provost Sally Kornbluth and Strategic Plan Steering Committee Chair Susan Lozier updated the Academic Council on the framework document that will guide development of the university’s first strategic plan since “Making a Difference” in 2006. 

“At our many discussions, we got the same message over and over again,” Kornbluth told the faculty. “Duke in last decade has introduced so many new programs, new centers, new initiatives. What this plan needs isn’t a whole slew of new programs, but a focus on how we build a community of students and faculty to take advantage of all of these things that have taken place.”

From Duke Engage to Bass Connections, a flurry of programs have reshaped undergraduate education, offering undergraduate students greater opportunity to engage in research, explore large social challenges and learn collaboratively.

In an interview last week, Lozier said one theme of the plan would be to make these innovations “central to the core of a Duke education so that intellectual engagement outside of the classroom is a normative experience for every undergraduate.”

At the same time, Lozier said, more attention should now be focused on enhancing the graduate and professional student experience. “Many of these programs haven’t been available to our graduate students.” She said Duke should look to “flatten the barriers” between undergraduate and graduate students.

“Our graduate education hasn’t kept pace with the changing job markets and expectations for grad students,” Lozier said. “We want to apply some of the innovations we’ve tried at the undergraduate level to graduate education.”

With increasing numbers of Ph.D.s are going into non-academic careers, Lozier said Duke should cultivate initiatives that provide collaborative learning, civic engagement and other skills to better prepare graduate students for a range of career opportunities.

“We want grad students to be attracted to Duke for the opportunity to be involved with a community of scholars. Grad students are very critical for our undergraduate program and for our faculty. It’s hard to imagine being a top notch university with out top notch grad students.”

The framework presented by Kornbluth and Lozier came out of months of faculty conversations. Details of how to achieve the four themes will come out of another year of more focused discussions and approvals from numerous faculty committees including the Academic Council. Lozier said she expects to have a final plan ready for approval by the trustees in early 2017.

The framework set out three other themes:

* Develop a Diverse, Inclusive Duke Community

One lesson from a decade of interdisciplinary and international initiatives is that diversity underpins excellence, Lozier said. More than counting faculty numbers, Lozier said it’s clear that “we can’t have this intellectual community if we just hear from the same voices.”

She noted the many strides Duke has made in improving student diversity while pointing to the faculty report earlier this year that noted limited success on the faculty front. Lozier said the framework supports and builds on the recommendations of that diversity report.


Address Challenges that Cross Boundaries and Borders 

The framing document also pointed out that Duke’s international programs have to date had little connection with its local engagement in Durham and the region.  Lozier said the university has to do both, but in moving forward the university has an opportunity to link international research on large societal challenges with research on those same challenges here in Durham and in the United States.

Lozier noted that much of Duke’s global initiatives have been place based, with focuses on Brazil, Africa and China, for example. “But we recognize that communities across the globe have similar challenges, and we want to supplement place based research with some issue based research that scales across borders and boundaries.  We can work from our research strengths, figure out where we can make a difference and connect the global and the local.”


Support the Excellence of the Faculty

Every previous strategic plan has had a focus on faculty excellence, and the framework document lays out plans for continued investment in technologies and facilities to support faculty as the central pillar of Duke’s intellectual community.

The framework does suggest two small shifts that fit the document’s overall theme of connectivity and community.

“For one, we’re thinking about the three main missions of the university: teaching, research and engagement,” Lozier said. “The three are already connected, but moving forward, our general goal is to have greater overlap. Teaching isn’t just about information delivery; we want it to involve research more. And we want that research to have a strong engagement component.”

The framework also stated faculty reward system should reflect changes in Duke’s teaching and research. Answering a question at the Academic Council Thursday, Kornbluth said she doesn’t expect “dramatic shifts” in Duke’s tenure policy.

“But tenure has always been in continual evolution,” Kornbluth said. “We have to take into account changes in higher education as to what we think constitutes excellence.  Departments are always identifying what they consider excellence. Their answers may not be homogenous, but we want tenure to reflect them. We are doing so many kinds of experiments we have to reward people for what they see as excellence in experimentation.”