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Academic Council Honors Provost Kornbluth, Hears Report on Research IT Needs

Provost Sally Kornbluth said farewell to the Academic Council Thursday in a celebratory but emotional meeting where faculty members paid tribute to the university’s first female chief academic officer.

Kornbluth, who is leaving to become president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January, took “a short walk down memory lane” in saying goodbye, remembering her first day at Duke in 1994. “I remember the incredibly warm welcome we received. This was warm in every sense of the word. I distinctly remember standing on Research Drive in August with steam coming off the pavement, and Danny looked at me and said, “where on earth have we moved?”

Kornbluth honored her staff and colleagues in the provost’s office for their assistance, and spent much of her comments discussing the value of a collaborative relationship between the faculty and administration in finding solutions to challenges the university faces.

“Faculty governance at Duke is a true gem,” Kornbluth said. “It’s a partnership between faculty and administration that is rare if not unique in higher education.”

A James B. Duke Professor, Kornbluth joined the faculty in 1994 in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology. Her research focused on the biological signals that tell a cell to start dividing or to self-destruct, both key processes for understanding cancer and degenerative disorders.

She joined the academic administration in 2006 as vice dean for basic sciences at the medical school. In 2014, then-President Richard Brodhead named her provost, succeeding Peter Lange.

Kornbluth's husband, Danny Lew, is James B. Duke Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke, and will be joining her at MIT.

Academic Council chair Erika Weinthal said the connection between Kornbluth and the faculty went beyond professional collaboration, noting that many faculty had children who grew up with Sally’s children as friends from schools or other activities.

Kornbluth herself referenced the balance of parenting and work, noting that her son was asked in elementary school what he wanted to do when he grew up. “And he said, I don't know, doesn't everybody get a lab? So that tells you a lot about our early family life,” Kornbluth said to laughter.

Prior to the tribute, Tracy Futhey, vice president for information technology, reported on findings of a faculty-led committee conducting a research IT needs assessment.

One finding focused on barriers to collaboration between researchers from the campus and the health system. They have different IT operations with different procedures and cost recovery policies.

Futhey said the two organizations work together closely “but we’ve heard this concern vehemently and painfully from many faculty. It’s frustrating to them and hinders collaboration.” Two different organizations we collaborate closely, but it’s still different sets of rules and it’s frustrating and hinders collaboration.”

“One of the most difficult things I’ve heard is from a researcher who said that at his previous job he collaborated all of the time with medical faculty, but that since coming to Duke, he’s tried several times and it just won’t work,” Futhey said.

The committee also found that Duke lacks sufficient personnel to support domain-specific research.  Futhey said this was a common concern in the humanities and social sciences, but unexpectedly, the panel also heard it from the traditional sciences.

“This the most essential finding, and probably the most expensive to solve because it’s not just an IT issue.”

Other findings looked at security issues and the challenge to establish security requirements without overburdening faculty with obstacles that limit research.

The committee spent seven months in its assessment and was assisted by the Information Technology Advisory Committee, the university’s primary faculty advisory body for IT. The next phase will be to develop solutions to the issues raised by the findings. Futhey said solutions will be proposed by March, with implementation and financing determined later in 2023.