Trina Jones on Faculty Governance and the Coming Academic Council Year

Law professor Trina Jones

These internal changes are occurring at a time when the external landscape of higher education is shifting.  Jones is especially concerned about legislative proposals that would limit tenure and the teaching of systemic discrimination.  “Although these restrictions are directed at public universities, and Duke is private, we would be wise to think about their possible implications for faculty and students at Duke, and for Duke University writ large,” said Jones.  Jones believes that the Academic Council, with its representation of faculty from all of Duke’s schools, is “ideally situated to help the university think through these difficult matters which go to the heart of academic freedom.” 

Jones is a nationally known expert on racial, socioeconomic and gender inequality, with a particular focus on the workplace. At Duke she directs the Center on Law, Race & Policy, and her teaching has won awards from the Duke Bar Association and the Duke Black Law Students Association.

Given Duke’s history of shared governance, and given that we are commemorating the evolution of a great university, faculty and students should lead in shaping Duke’s present and future.” 

Trina Jones

Since succeeding outgoing chair Erika Weinthal on July 1, Jones has had a whirlwind schedule of meetings dedicated to preparing agendas and priorities for the 2023-2024 academic year and to ensuring that Duke’s strong culture of shared governance continues.  Her experience of university service, including six terms on the Academic Council and one term on its Executive Committee, have helped prepare her for the role.  She also has the support of an “extremely talented Executive Assistant” Sandra Walton and seven “highly committed faculty members,” who serve with Jones on the Executive Committee of the Academic Council.

The first council meeting will be Sept. 21, with new Provost Alec Gallimore scheduled to address council members for the first time. 

In addition to the matters raised above, issues set for discussion this academic year include:

Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Jones observed that Duke has made notable progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the past few years, but said this work requires sustained attention and vigilance.  Jones hopes that the Academic Council will continue to partner with other Duke units that are involved in measuring and making recommendations on equity, inclusion, and belonging.  

Over the last 10 years, and often prompted by the Academic Council, Duke has created structural mechanisms designed to ensure that the University is constantly thinking about whether it is building an inclusive community, one in which all members are respected and feel as if they belong.  “I am encouraged that Duke’s climate assessments and interventions now extend beyond faculty and students, and are increasingly inclusive of staff and administrative personnel as well,” Jones said. “This broad-based inclusiveness is something for which the Academic Council has long advocated.” 

While Duke has made strides, Jones said “like many universities, we still have work to do, particularly in STEM areas and in advancing the socio-economic diversity of our student body.  In addition, our social and legal contexts are in flux, requiring that we think creatively to prevent regression.” 

Jones believes that “recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings may present obstacles to ensuring that Duke’s student body is as racially inclusive as we would like.” In addition, she points out that Duke is also part of a larger national landscape that does not always appreciate and respect differences among us – for example, the rights of transgender persons. 

Jones said that “in this environment, it will be critically important for the university to continue to stress the importance of human dignity and also how essential diversity is to excellence in teaching, research, service, and learning.”  She said, “We have scholars who are thought leaders in these areas.  I hope the university will call upon their expertise as we continue to press forward.  This is not a time to back down.”

Generative AI

Artificial intelligence is here to stay in higher education, bringing numerous possibilities but also concerns about misinformation, privacy, and dishonesty.  Several Duke faculty are already national leaders in this area, and Jones thinks the Academic Council presents a unique forum in which faculty from across the University can discuss generative AI’s benefits and dangers in specific teaching, learning, and service settings.  “I think faculty can, and will, play an important role in sorting this all out.”

Duke’s Centennial

Jones’ two-year term will run during Duke’s centennial celebration, and Jones welcomes the opportunity to reflect on Duke’s past while taking lessons from that history forward for the university’s second century.

“Duke is a world-class university, and it took time, effort, and some degree of risk-taking to get to where we are,” Jones said.  “The centennial is an amazing opportunity, not simply to celebrate, but to learn from Duke's past (both the good and the bad) and to think boldly and ambitiously about what the university might accomplish in the future,” she said. “Given Duke’s history of shared governance, and given that we are commemorating the evolution of a great university,” Jones believes that “faculty and students should lead in shaping Duke’s present and future.” 

Global Studies

Future Academic Council meetings will also address Duke Kunshan University as it approaches its 10th anniversary, and the future of Duke global studies more broadly.  Jones says these discussions will necessarily include examination of how best to teach and support Duke’s international students both in Durham and abroad.

While Jones believes that faculty engagement in university service is key to maintaining a strong Duke, she notes that it can also advance a faculty member’s own teaching and research agendas. “When I engage with colleagues in different schools and hear about their projects, I often begin to think differently and more creatively about my own work.  This is one of the true joys of being at a leading university.” 

University service has also given Jones an opportunity to teach undergraduate students and to benefit from the perspectives of Gen Z.  In a university filled with “supremely talented scholars and students,” Jones finds these cross-disciplinary and cross-generational engagements “exhilarating.”  She hopes that the Academic Council can continue to serve not only as a crucial site of shared governance, but also as a vehicle through which such partnerships and exchanges can occur.