Chronicling the Substance and Reach of an Ambitious University
Chronicling the Substance and Reach of an Ambitious University

Duke Magazine at 25

Chronicling the Substance and Reach of an Ambitious University
June 1, 2009

In its inaugural issue, May-June 1984, Duke Magazine committed itself to conveying Duke's "intellectual dynamism." If the 1980s constituted Duke's adolescent phase—Duke's figuring out what it could be—the 1990s brought the university into dynamic adulthood. The magazine mirrored the transition.

Basic to Duke's coming of age was the scholarly reinvention of the English department under academic agitator Stanley Fish. A 1990 Duke Magazine story surveying Duke's shifting literary landscape included a recently hired professor, Michael Moses. Moses said that the old canon was hardly "homogeneous" in tackling fundamental questions of the human condition, that the model of "quiet, secluded" English departments was outmoded, and that it was simple-minded to imagine that literature would be taught that didn't rank high by aesthetic standards.

Today, Moses says, a more open-ended canon is a settled issue. Less settled is the question of whether American literature should embrace areas like film, popular fiction, and other markers of "culture" in the broadest sense. Also unresolved, he says, is whether Victorian, Medieval, Romantic, and other period-rooted literary groupings are distinctions that deserve to endure.

One enduring aim of the magazine is providing context and informed perspectives on campus news, even contentious campus news. Back in 1999, the federal Office for Protection from Research Risks, citing careless procedures, forced the medical center to suspend research with human subjects. John Falletta, then chair of Duke's internal research oversight committee, acknowledged in the magazine's cover story that an excessive workload had produced a less-than-ideal process. Today, he recalls the instant impact of the federal action: "Work that people had been doing for years had to stop. Careers were put on hold because investigators couldn't do anything with their data."

But Duke—singled out by federal regulators, in the view of some, because its emerging prominence would make other institutions pay attention—became an exemplar. This spring, the medical center sought, and won, accreditation by the Association for the Accreditation of Human Research Protection Programs, which evaluates everything from how policies are written and followed to how members of internal review boards are recruited and trained.

Campus controversies come and go; other issues are Duke perennials. A 1994 story asked whether students were devoted to the life of the mind. (A few years earlier, English professor Reynolds Price '55, in a Founders' Day speech, had described a student body more enthusiastic about partying than learning.) One of the students quoted was Alex Hartemink '94, then a senior and a newly selected Rhodes Scholar, now a Duke associate professor of computer science; he's been teaching here since 2001, shortly after he earned his Ph.D. Hartemink observed at the time that in considering the intellectual-climate issue, students and faculty members seemed to be caught up in a mutual blame game.

Student engagement is entwined with faculty members' consciously "modeling attributes like good decision-making, practical wisdom, and moral skill," Hartemink says today. He adds, "What is generally valued in this community? If interaction with students is important to us as faculty members, it should be part of the job description."

Interpreting scholarly trends, developments on campus, and how students live and learn: That's a pretty good job description for the magazine's past twenty-five years, and for the twenty-five years to come.