'Together Duke:' New Strategic Plan Focuses on Supporting 'Human Capital'

Over the past decade, Duke has launched significant new interdisciplinary programs and an array of construction and renovation efforts that have reshaped the campus and its academic offerings.

If faculty and trustees approve a new strategic plan next month, the university will spend the next decade focusing on initiatives that put more resources into supporting faculty, students and staff and getting the programs already on campus working together in new and more effective ways.

“This new strategic plan is an investment in human capital,” Provost Sally Kornbluth told faculty this past Thursday at the Academic Council. The university's "human capital" -- faculty, staff and students -- represent its core strengths, she said, and the plan seeks to ensure that new investments “capture the power of our community to address the fundamental” issues facing the world.

The new strategic plan, “Together Duke: Advancing Excellence Through Community,” is the university’s first since 2006’s “Making a Difference.” If endorsed by the Academic Council on May 11, the plan will be presented to the Board of Trustees for approval that month.

Described by strategic plan steering committee chair Professor Susan Lozier as “more of a road map than a contract,” the Together Duke plan does offer a blueprint for an initial investment of around $132 million in new money. The bulk of that will go to support faculty and construction of new science facilities.

Lozier said that while the university has initiated a number of innovative program over the past decade, the sciences have been somewhat left behind. “Part of the plan is investing more in the sciences while keeping up strengths across the board,” Lozier said. “We all know that we can’t be a great university without being great in the sciences.”

Investment in the sciences is one key aspect of one of three overarching themes of the plan: Inquiry and Discovery.  The other themes are listed as “The Duke Opportunity,” which expresses the university’s commitment to “provide all students a transformative educational experience,” and “Globally Engaged, Locally Grounded.”

The latter theme extends Duke international outreach but will focus less on specific locations than on large social, economic and environmental issues that are common to societies around the world. The aim is to find local approaches to these problems that, in some cases, will be useful elsewhere.

It means, Lozier said, “a move from the Africa Initiative, the China Initiative to a focus on theme-based challenges. Some examples might be population health or energy.  These kinds of issues have state and national dimensions, but we want to start engaging them locally, whether it is in Durham, Santiago or Beijing. We want two-way partnerships with local communities on these issues.”

Each of the three themes touches on four broad goals:

  • Investing in Duke faculty.  This includes strengthening faculty support and retention efforts, as well as continuing efforts to improve faculty diversity as a key element of university excellence.
  • Provide a transformative educational experience for all students. Kornbluth said the university will look for new ways to make Duke more accessible and affordable, noting the addition of the Washington Duke Scholars for first-generation university students and 4+1 degree programs that offer students a more affordable means of earning a master’s degree. And after a decade of innovative academic initiatives in undergraduate education, “Together Duke” looks to bring similar attention to graduate and professional education.
  • Address Global Challenges. The plan looks to boost university partnerships around the work, and enhance alumni engagement internationally, Kornbluth said. It also proposes to place a number of small Duke offices at key cities around the world, somewhat based on the model of the Duke in DC office.
  • Create a supportive environment for research, learning, and academic communities. “Together Duke” looks to get faculty and students working together in “strong, creative, diverse, and inclusive communities” and plans on spending money to have that happen in new ways. This includes creating more “collision spaces,” Kornbluth said, that “facilitate serendipitous interactions and communal engagements.”

Lozier told faculty that “building community here is as important as it is around the globe,” and that even though the plan doesn’t come with an extensive list of new programs, it will still require a lot of faculty commitment to implement its vision of a more dynamic scholarly community.

“Duke Engage and Bass Connections were not in the last strategic plan, but that plan set the stage for the programs that came forward,” Lozier said. “With this plan, we want to set the stage so that if things come together in the way we envision, we will have a more robust community of scholars and learners and we will ensure the preeminence of Duke for decades to come.”