Campus Culture Initiative Reports

April 1, 2007

Duke can become a more “inclusive academic community” by making changes in its curriculum, housing system, alcohol policies, and other key areas, according to a report released in February by the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee.

The committee, one of five groups appointed last April by President Richard H. Brodhead in response to issues raised by the lacrosse party of March 13, focused on undergraduate life. In its report, the committee, chaired by Robert Thompson, vice provost for undergraduate education and dean of Trinity College, praised Duke for “its institutional courage not to shy away from tough issues” and proposed recommendations that focus on six areas: curriculum and experiential learning; faculty-student interaction; dining and residential and social life; alcohol; athletics; and admissions.

In the academic sphere, the committee called for a sharper curricular focus on differences within the United States and an expansion of experiential learning opportunities such as the DukeEngage program, also announced in February. The committee urged measures to enhance faculty-student interaction, calling for “a new social contract between the university and the faculty” and renewed efforts to recruit women and minority faculty members.

The Duke undergraduate experience is “grounded in the context of a residential experience,” the committee said. Yet, particularly on West Campus, where students move in their sophomore year, “the privilege given to selective living groups, and to men in particular, affects campus culture disproportionately.” The committee called for a new housing system that would limit the number of students who may request to live together. It also urged “significant improvements to residential, dining, and social facilities,” and a new dining-services model that would promote a sense of community among students.

On the topic of alcohol, the committee said drunkenness is more of a problem than drinking per se, leading to bad behaviors and health problems for individuals and to risks to the university, both legal and in terms of its reputation. Social life at Duke is too often organized around drinking, according to the committee, and “the risk of another alcohol-related death in the Duke community is very real.” Its report calls on Duke to “re-orient social life on campus to reduce the centrality of alcohol and enable more non-alcohol events and venues.” It also recommends clearer university policies for dealing with alcohol, better prevention and treatment services, and improved tracking and accountability.

The committee’s review of athletics notes the outstanding record of Duke student-athletes in both competition and the classroom, but says “strong and persistent forces” nationally are making it harder to balance academics and athletics. The report recommends that Duke decrease practice and travel time demands on its student-athletes and ensure they receive appropriate academic support. The committee also calls for stronger ties between athletic programs and other parts of the university, and for the admissions office to reduce the number of athletes admitted near the low end of Duke’s academic standards.

Calling athletics a “proud Duke tradition,” Brodhead said, “I look forward, as the report does, to our strong continuing participation in Division I competition, and to striving jointly for athletic and academic achievement. Getting the balance right requires fine-tuning and knowledgeable faculty advice to the administration and trustees, who have final oversight of athletics policy.”

The report’s final set of recommendations, on admissions, includes increasing the role of faculty in the admissions process, emphasizing Duke’s commitment to diversity in its recruitment materials, and aggressively recruiting international students and high-achieving applicants from underrepresented groups.

The committee noted that some of its recommendations, such as expanding opportunities for student civic engagement, already are being implemented, while others have significant policy or budgetary implications that require further review.

The report received a mixed review on campus. In several editorials, The Chronicle expressed concerns that “the CCI’s recommendations were developed more as a response to the lacrosse case than out of an earnest attempt at institutional improvement.” The paper complained about the possible “marginalizing” of selective groups. It also criticized the recommendation that the university should “raise the low end of admissions standards, including those for legacies, development candidates, and athletes,” contending that such steps would threaten the Duke “brand.”

“The important thing now is to have the conversation the report is meant to launch,” Brodhead said in a message responding to the report. “None of its recommendations is a ‘done deal.’ Nor should any of its suggestions be off the table. This is a time for vigorous debate, which is a healthy thing in a university.” Provost Peter Lange will lead the effort of considering the report and the issues it raises.