The Faculty Forum Vol. 9, No. 4 DECEMBER 1997
1. "Nature has many means, but no ends."--Joseph Wood Krutch
2. "The end of man is knowledge."
--Robert Penn Warren
Spicer, Address to Faculty Meeting
Strohbehn, Thoughts on the Curriculum
Evans, More Thoughts on the Curriculum
Sparks on the Arts at Duke
Applewhite, Poem: "Southern Humor"
Price, "Galloping Down the Home Stretch"
Editorial: The Future of Difference
Possum (Passim): Random Readings & Culture Studies
Ferret's Deconstructions (Shakespeare's Romance)
Parrot's Recitations (Poe Foresees Great Crunch)
Note: Academic Council Minutes for Meeting of November 20, 1997 have been transferred to the following Web File, which contains the minutes for every Council meeting since 1991: http://www.duke.edu/web/acouncil/
Annual Address to Faculty
--byLeonard D. Spicer Chair, Academic Council
Presented at Faculty & Academic Council Meeting of October 16, 1997
Once again, I am honored to join President Keohane in reporting to the faculty at this annual meeting. First, however, since again we have broken new ground at least with US News and World Report, let me congratulate you the faculty. It is your persistent efforts to overachieve in both teaching and research which in large part continues to enhance our visibility and reputation as a university. As the recognition we receive increases to the highest levels, I would also challenge you to do even more. We heard in the steering committee report at the last Academic Council meeting that the current self-study of this university focuses on the many facets of balance which we might strive to achieve in moving forward into the next century. I would suggest one of the most important factors in balancing our own efforts as faculty is to be able to step back from the press of our everyday activities and apply some of our creative energy to bigger issues in the academy. No less is expected of the faculties of leading institutions and we are now firmly in that enviable position.
Today I am not going to recount all of the activities which have demanded the attention of the Academic Council during the past year, but rather I would like to focus on a select few, saving most of my time to address major opportunities for academic leadership in the future.
One of the most visible items of interest last year, judging by the sheer number of inquiries, was the survey of patients in the Duke managed care system. After many delays, the survey was completed last spring with an approximately 60% return rate. The questionnaire was largely predetermined by the needs of an accrediting group, but the Faculty Compensation Committee did have an opportunity to review it and add selected questions. The results are still being analyzed although a very preliminary overview has now been discussed in PACOR and in the FCC. It is expected that a more thorough summary of findings will be available later in the fall and will be presented to the Academic Council by Clint Davidson, our new Vice President for Human Resources.
I would add, however, that while we welcomed this survey, it should be only the first step in an ongoing process in our efforts to optimize our Medical Center's health care delivery system. We are in the fortunate position to have faculty who are the care providers as well as faculty who depend on Duke managed care for their health care needs. Every effort should be made to obtain constructive input from both sides as we strive to set the standard for quality managed care in the best interest of all the faculty, the university, and our surrounding communities.
I should also comment on the other Medical Center activity which has occupied the news lately namely the proposed merger with Durham Regional Hospital. While it is premature to anticipate the outcome at this point, the Chancellor for Health Affairs, Ralph Snyderman, is planning to provide a briefing to ECAC within the month. We will monitor events so that if a firm plan develops it can be brought to the Academic Council in a timely manner.
Other committee activity the past spring included the report from the Task Force on the Arts chaired by Professor Radway. The committee makes an eloquent argument for upgrading and solidifying the facilities needed by the Arts departments and their faculties and students to insure an enduring presence which enriches our university and the campus experience. Several options are explored with the objective of future development of a manageable, phased plan to address this important cultural and academic need. The Academic Priorities Committee has reviewed the report in detail and will be advisory to the Provost as a plan to address these needs develops.
The report from the Provost's Committee on Evaluating How Teaching is Considered in the Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Process chaired by Professor McClay was also completed last spring. This anticipated the periodic overall review of the APT process scheduled for this academic year. In this report a number of innovative suggestions regarding student input to the review process are provided, some of which could be initiated, at least on a trial basis, this year.
In reviewing the past year, I should also comment further on the Faculty Forum. At the last Academic Council Meeting ECAC provided a preliminary informational report to serve as the basis for Council discussion regarding the effectiveness of this faculty sponsored publication. When its immediate predecessor, the Faculty Newsletter, was initiated by the faculty in 1990, the motivation was to provide a totally independent voice for faculty discussion and debate. As faculty have talked about the Forum most recently, it is clear that in the minds of many supporting faculty, the issue of preserving an independent vehicle for faculty discourse when it is needed is important in its own right independent of some of the issues related to the number and breadth of contributors or readers. In many ways, this desire on the part of the faculty is as strong as that which led to the newsletter's founding and indicates lines of communication within Duke between academic units and with the administration are still not as clear nor is the communication as frequent as most would like.
Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the value of broad and diverse debate within the academic community. We are not alone in this challenge both to foster open communication on campus and to support substantive debate. As Walter Dellinger pointed out in his address at the Founders' Day Convocation last month, such debate is an inherent responsibility of the university. Our successes in meeting this challenge will surely contribute to the continued enhancement of this university. I am pleased to say with the last issues of the Forum, the editor, Professor Strandberg, has energetically renewed his efforts to engage the faculty in discussion and debate, and I would recommend that you all take a look for yourselves and, if stimulated, participate in the revitalization of this faculty publication.
I would also call your attention to three areas of great importance which bridge into the future. The first is our aggressive plans for and efforts in the generation of development resources to propel us into the next century, in competition with schools having many times our endowment. The comprehensive strategy developing to increase our resources and in particular our unrestricted endowment, when successfully implemented, will provide the critical flexibility to pursue academic opportunity and not only establish priorities but fund them in a timely way. This is an opportune time to work toward institutional goals beyond our departments and even in some cases our colleges.
With the positive public recognition Duke is receiving, this is also a time faculty are particularly proud to be here and to have contributed to the academic excellence upon which this recognition is based. We should reflect on those characteristics at Duke which make the difference to each of us and discuss those characteristics with alumni and friends of Duke at every opportunity. This is one of the surest ways to reinforce our financial development efforts the success of which is necessary to provide the "vital margin" needed for excellence.
A second area of great importance to the university is its graduate school. In many ways the graduate school is not only central to Duke but the heart of any great university. I do not have to remind anyone in this audience that strong graduate programs and excellent graduate students attract the strongest teacher-scholars to our faculty and conversely an outstanding faculty attracts the best students. This privileged position, however, requires considerable resources to support the education of graduate students and Duke simply has not had the endowments or flexible resources to adequately provide for Graduate School needs in this area. One of our development priorities is focused in this area in the form of endowments for graduate fellowships. At the September meeting of the Board of Trustees Lew Siegel, Dean of the Graduate School, made a highly persuasive presentation of this need which captured the imaginations of everyone present. Using a variety of facts and figures, Dean Siegel clearly showed the very bright prospects graduate students from Duke face in the job markets and the high quality of our applicant pool. We have a compelling story to tell, and must use that information to our best advantage to build an adequate financial foundation under the Graduate School through our development efforts.
Another important issue engaging a large number of faculty is our renewed effort and focus on equity and fair treatment among our diverse university community. This topic engenders a broad range of opinions, but the thread of basic fairness is woven through the concerns as revealed by the May letter from 20 black faculty. The recent September open letter representing some 250 faculty members also states this sentiment well by mandating the Duke community to become "a place where ALL OF US are treated with dignity and feel welcomed to study, work and learn." In the future this simply has to be a way of life on this campus, and I urge every member of our faculty to make this a priority in their interactions with students, colleagues and all Duke employees. In this regard I call your attention to one particular activity which was noted by President Keohane in her letter to the faculty who wrote on this issue. That is the creation of the Samuel DuBois Cook Society which is nearing implementation. Many of you know Dr. Cook was the first African American faculty member to earn tenure at Duke and went on to become President of Dillard University and a trustee of this University. Membership will identify and recognize those who further Dr. Cook's vision by accepting responsibility for mentoring members of the Duke community who are of African descent.
I can only add that as we take essential steps to address faults in our attitudes and infrastructure as a community, we must also maintain focus on our primary scholarly missions of teaching and research. At the last Academic Council meeting, I was heartened to hear President Keohane's response to the student petition to cancel classes. Solutions which lead to equity and fair treatment for all should never be viewed in competition with or as a trade off for scholarship. We must never lose sight of our principal reason for being as an institution of higher learning.
Last year at this time, I commented on the leadership responsibility incumbent upon us as one of the nation's premiere universities. Today I would like to look forward to some of the areas where this leadership might emerge. Indeed an argument can be made for the fact that past successes at Duke are now providing a model for others and in so doing are at least partly if not largely responsible for the stature we enjoy in the academic community. I told the trustees in September that the outstanding visibility and reputation we currently enjoy did not come to Duke overnight and indeed has been built on a progression of activities some of which were planned and some of which just "came naturally" to a relatively young institution with aspirations.
Almost everyone would consider our outstanding achievements in athletics as an important contributor to our visibility, particularly in view of the fact that our athletes are also capable students. Another primary factor, however, I believe has been our natural tendency to foster scholarship with interdisciplinary vision. Some ten years ago during the initial data collection phase for the profiling and self study of Duke University, we as a university community learn perhaps for the first time just how interdisciplinary our interests were and had been for a decade or more. At a time in the late eighties when many other schools were starting to think about how adjust to the cross disciplinary migration of current scholarship, Duke had been pioneering this way of life because it simply "came naturally" as faculty looked for ways to direct their teaching and research programs toward maximum impact knowing that as a relatively small university with major ambitions it simply was not possible to compete in all the traditional areas. Besides, many at Duke wisely felt that's where the action and creative excitement was!
I think this is one of the areas where Duke has clearly
provided leadership among universities in the United States, and this leadership
likely also contributed significantly to our current unprecedented
visibility. It is clear we have both attracted the attention of and provided a model for numerous universities and colleges. "Crossing Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Planning for the Nineties," the 250 page work product of the faculty and administration of Duke University following the reaccreditation self-study, has been requested by many other schools over the past nine years and, although it was written in 1988, just last month another top 35 university sought it with the comment that it too would like to follow in Duke's path in pursuing interdisciplinary academic programs and research activities.
Where else have we developed approaches to higher education which might serve as models for others to follow? I submit one of those areas is faculty participation in governance. I also discussed this in some detail in my address to the Trustees last spring following publication last fall of a short article in the Chronicle of Higher Education which began with the sentence "Many college presidents have complained privately about 'shared governance' a concept that calls for professors to be included in curricular, budgetary, and administrative decisions." This article referenced the 1996 Report of the Commission on the Academic Presidency published by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, entitled "Renewing the Academic Presidency -- Stronger Leadership for Tougher Times." Apparently the commission report was a relative "best seller" since when we called to order a copy, the operator at the Association order desk said the phones had been ringing off the wall since publication. He indicated the calls were mostly from academic administrators and that one day he had 90 calls requesting copies of the report.
The Commission included a cross section of some 22 highly accomplished and successful members from academics, government, foundations, and corporations, all having a record of service to higher education. Included were former presidents of Stanford, Cornell, Smith College and a former chancellor of Berkeley. While the full report is far too extensive to review in detail here, I would like to quote a few sentences that are particularly important for this discussion. The report argues "faculty representatives expect to be consulted on most if not all important decisions made by the president and/or the board. And 'consultation' is often a code word for consent." In practice this means that faculty "can veto proposals for action, either through endless consultation or public opposition."
Despite this indictment, however, the Commission concluded "The members of the commission are convinced that shared governance can and should be maintained but not in its present imprecise undisciplined form. It must be clarified and simplified so that those with the responsibility to act can exercise the authority to do so." In my estimation this is where we at Duke are with our current evolved form of faculty participation in governance except for one remaining factor which the commission neglected to emphasize. Along with the authority to act must come the responsibility to be accountable for actions. At Duke that accountability takes many forms, not the least of which are the regular meetings of the senior officers with the faculty representatives on the Executive Committee of the Academic Council and the Council itself. Those free exchanges rather than dictates and vetoes are what makes Duke different and extend all the way to the Board. I am convinced we are a better institution for it, and our model is certainly worthy of serious consideration at other more troubled institutions.
Finally among the many other initiatives, I point to some of our emerging global education efforts. Fuqua and Law have vibrant and growing programs which are not only drawing attention, but also competition as others seek to follow our lead. The Medical Center has an extensive network nationally and a significant outreach effort in training in the Middle East. In each of these areas our initiatives are imitated or joined by others -- a clear sign of the type of leadership expected from a premiere institution.
Still there are additional new areas where we can be pathbreakers. Duke and many other schools are exploring the various roles information technologies and electronic communication can contribute to the educational responsibilities entrusted to the university. Some of our faculty were among the pioneers in experimenting with the electronic or paperless classroom and several of our off-campus learning experiences in professional education, including the global MBA program, use e-mail and electronic chat sessions to enhance their value. Medical education benefits from bedside electronic databases so that every student has a myriad of tools at his or her fingertips. We are constantly breaking new ground in efforts to uncover the most fertile areas for these exciting technological advances.
Nevertheless, in our primary on-campus functions of undergraduate and graduate education, we along with essentially all other universities experimenting with electronic classroom supplements have reached a plateau. The small fraction of faculty with advanced computational skills and interests who have incorporated this technology in their courses have by and large found just how challenging and time-consuming it can be. As a result many have moved back to more conventional approaches. Others have made more modest excursions and many faculty quite simply do not know where to start. The phase we and most other schools are currently in is sometimes called a stallpoint. Recognizing this in the context of knowing the ever increasing opportunities offered by advanced technology in electronic communication, Duke, through its Center for Teaching and Learning under the direction of our colleague Al Eldridge, is examining those past experiences with the objective of understanding and overcoming the inhibitions of what has become the classic stallpoint stage in use of electronic information technologies in classroom instruction on campus. With major funding from an anonymous donor and consulting assistance from IBM, the Center's efforts to integrate and understand not only our own experiences but also those at a number of other leading public and private institutions nationwide are unique.
A report on the initial findings of this study is expected in November and we will schedule a presentation of the report and open discussion in the Academic Council shortly thereafter. The next step will likely be experimenting with various strategies for facilitating use of computers, on-line graphics and electronic communication as an enhancement to on-campus and off campus instruction. Since the faculty are principal stakeholders in providing the highest quality education for our students, we must take ownership in this effort if it is to succeed. I urge all of our faculty to make it your responsibility to stay informed as this project proceeds and to take advantage of support mechanisms which develop in this experiment to push past the stallpoint. By taking the lead in exploring this important new and challenging area and agreeing to rapidly and openly share the findings, we may just impact delivery of higher education in unprecedented and positive ways. No less is expected of a leading university.
Finally, I should comment briefly on our upcoming efforts to review and enhance the undergraduate curriculum at Duke. Curriculum change is traditionally where distinguished universities have led the way and many followed. Dean Chafe has charged the faculty through the Arts and Sciences Council with this task. While the effort is just beginning in the Arts and Sciences, I would suggest that it represents an opportunity to help define higher education here and elsewhere for the future. Innovative, solid efforts at Duke will be noticed. If we do our job right for our students, others will follow just as they have done in past generations with Harvard and Chicago and other distinguished schools. Success in this effort and others noted above is where we will truly earn and continue to enhance our reputation. We owe it to ourselves and our students to do no less!
THOUGHTS ON THE CURRICULUM
--by John Strohbehn, Provost of the University
I would like to join in on the discussion about our undergraduate curriculum that has recently gone into full gear with the Arts & Sciences curriculum review committee chaired by Peter Lange. Curriculum reviews are, and should be, activities that foment a great deal of discussion by the faculty, and almost always there are widely disparate opinions about what, if anything, should be required, and how one strikes a balance between the twin objectives of providing all students a "good liberal education" (itself a term open to debate) while ensuring an in-depth experience in a well-defined discipline area.
One can make the argument that there is no right answer to this question of an "ideal" curriculum; certainly universities of such excellent quality as Brown on the one hand and Chicago on the other have interpreted the notion of curricular requirements in widely divergent ways. Duke takes a middle road in this matter, categorizing courses by area of knowledge, requiring that some coursework be undertaken in at least five of the six areas, and setting expectations for the number and kind of courses studied in each area.
In his speech of September 11, 1997, to the Arts & Sciences Council, Dean Chafe stated his hopes for the curriculum review and recommended areas for special consideration. He and I are in agreement about most of these issues, but I thought it would be useful for me to articulate my own views. I chose this particular forum rather than a letter to Peter Lange because I thought it might engender more discussion; perhaps others will use such venues to bring their thoughts forward to the committee.
I would underscore two aspects of a liberal arts education at the outset. First, the broad divisions of the humanities, social sciences, and sciences expose students to the various forms of intellectual inquiry and methodologies that they need to understand in order to be thinking, productive citizens; second, for many students the undergraduate experience is the last chance they will have to freely explore areas of knowledge without the pressures of keeping up in a chosen career.
While I have conveniently forgotten most of the advice I received in my teenage years, I do recall vividly that a very wise man -- my father (who is even wiser in retrospect than he was at the time) -- gave me one piece of advice when I went to college. He told me to take the hard courses because they are difficult to tackle on one's own, whereas easier subjects can be learned by oneself. I found mathematics and foreign languages to be my hardest subjects, and have always regretted that in following the intricacies of math and engineering, I did not pursue mastery of a foreign language.
Thus, I understand our undergraduates when they elect to avoid certain areas, especially languages, mathematics, and sciences. That they are, in fact, avoiding these areas is suggested by a study recently conducted by the undergraduate subcommittee of our SACS self-study team, which found that for the class of 1995, 52.4% of the class chose to omit entirely one area of knowledge, mostly foreign languages with quantitative reasoning and natural sciences running second and third respectively. But even more, I understand that it is our responsibility to help our students appreciate the beauty and importance of these subjects. I hope that the review committee will look at this issue carefully to see how we might increase the percentage of our students who experience a deeper immersion in the areas of knowledge that are difficult for them.
Possible routes to such an end are many. With regard to languages, mathematical reasoning, and the natural sciences, we could consider requiring students who drop one of these areas completely to take more than three courses in one of the other two areas. I actually prefer a proficiency examination in the languages to a required number of courses, but the nature and extent of that proficiency might well depend upon the language itself.
Another aspect of our curricular requirements that concerns me is the course choices within the areas of knowledge. In the four areas in which a student must elect at least three courses, students now can hypothetically fulfill the requirement with all three courses within one particular department. Would we be satisfied with these choices, or would we find them too narrow? I personally would consider this a flaw in our curriculum if many students took this option, but again, only an analysis of actual course selection patterns will reveal if this is a problem in practice.
Four Models for Deploying Resources
One of the strengths of higher education is the diversity among colleges and universities in their approach to similar educational objectives. Given that all universities have limitations of resources (and at Duke, because of the size of our endowment, we have more constraints than most of our peers), we must make hard decisions about how we deploy our resources -- primarily our faculty. Here are four different models to suggest, with some liberties, the different approaches regarding the use of faculty:
(1) In the model that I will label "Freshman year is for setting the tone," the underlying philosophy is that the first year is the most critical time in a student's academic career; therefore, we should do everything we can to make that year a great experience and thus to get the students on the right track. In this model, freshmen have small classes and are taught by regular-rank faculty, with graduate students used only to complement the major instruction by faculty.
(2) In the model called "Senior year as culmination," students spend their first three years learning the basics and getting into their majors. This prepares them for a senior year experience that stretches them, making them aware of the joys and frustrations of pushing the boundaries of knowledge. In this model, all seniors are required to do a substantial thesis, for which they have spent part of their junior year preparing. Most of the faculty resources are oriented toward the senior year, when they are heavily involved with advising and mentoring students on an individual basis.
(3) In the third model, "It's all the same," resources are distributed fairly evenly throughout the four years because no one point is deemed special. Neither the first year nor the last contains particular curriculum requirements.
(4) The fourth model is the one I prefer, and though I could give it the unfortunate name "dumb-bell" because of its "shape," in point of fact, I believe that this model is designed to make our students smarter! This model recognizes that both the first and last years of a student's undergraduate education may well be the most important, and therefore it distributes resources heavily in both. Given how involved our second-semester seniors are in preparing for life after Duke, we might define the final year as the second semester of the junior year and the first semester of the senior year. At any rate, this is the area in which we might well concentrate our greatest attentions now, since we have already made great strides in making the first year a special one (a smart recruiting strategy, I might add, since the freshmen probably have the greatest impact on home-town high schoolers). In this model, the senior year is an integrative one, with a balance of capstone experiences including theses and special seminars.
Having taught in both a freshman seminar course and a Focus program, I have seen firsthand the extent to which these initiatives, spearheaded by Dean Richard White, stretch our students' intellectual horizons and set a standard for their remaining years at Duke. But we need to do more to fine-tune the first year experience. For example, the Focus program itself is not as available as perhaps it should be to students majoring in the sciences because of their more stringent schedules. Additionally, I would point to the University Writing Course, language instruction, and computer competency as areas needing strengthening. Let me discuss these separately.
The First Year Experience
During the years I have been here the freshman writing course has traveled a rocky road. Certainly there have been substantial improvements in the last year or so, but I do believe that our strategy with respect to the UWC is flawed and should be carefully reconsidered. My first concern is that the writing abilities of our first year students cover a wide spectrum, in large part because of the disparity in their prior writing instruction. However, we put all these incoming students into the same course structure regardless of their abilities, so that some students are bored and others struggle to catch up with those who are better prepared.
Based on my knowledge and experience of how this matter is handled at other institutions, I believe that we could at the same time improve our operation in the area of writing instruction and better deploy our constrained resources. Other universities successfully use proficiency tests when students arrive on campus: those who "place out" will then take an advanced writing course that in many cases is taught by regular rank faculty from across the disciplines. I am thinking here of a seminar course with heavy writing requirements, one which evaluates the students on both their writing skills and their mastery of the particular subject matter. Since we already require students to have one small group learning experience -- in addition to the current UWC -- before the end of the freshman year, we could combine the two requirements. If we pursue this strategy, we might well use the graduate students who are no longer teaching the formerly-mandated UWC -- I estimate as many of 50% of the entering freshmen would place out -- to provide instructional support in many of these writing-intensive seminars. Some faculty would not need this support, but others, such as myself, would certainly benefit from it. Note that this paradigm would foster a close relationship between a graduate student and a faculty member in a teaching/learning environment. This relationship should prove mutually rewarding to undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty alike.
As for foreign languages, over the last few years we have been doing careful studies of the resources we deploy in this area compared to the practices at other universities. Under our present curriculum, at least in the Western European languages, we are giving three hours of instruction a week while many of our peer institutions require five. Robust research shows that language proficiency is closely tied to the number of contact hours. Thus, I would hope that as part of the curriculum review the committee will look not only at the question of requiring a foreign language but also at the number of contact hours that a course provides. I recognize that an increase in these hours is not an inexpensive proposition.
Computer literacy is the final aspect of the first year experience that I would like to address. We are clearly moving into an era in which computing and the new technologies have a major impact on education. Indeed, the regional accrediting bodies, acting on mandates from the federal government, now require that universities be able to demonstrate that those who receive the baccalaureate have developed computer competency. At the present time, Duke's attitude about computing, while not exactly laissez-faire, is somewhat relaxed; and I am not uncomfortable with that on the whole. I believe that computing technology should be employed when its educational benefits are clear, and that students who have not become adept at computer use in high school will learn what they need to when they encounter Duke courses in which computers are used in significant ways. Certainly that is what is happening in the Focus course I am teaching now with John Sigmon, which makes heavy use of computers and which brings students needing extra help up to speed by way of tutorials.
I am concerned, however, that even though we provide computer clusters in convenient locations, students without their own personal computer are negatively affected by our faculty's admirable increasing use of technology to hand out assignments, to foster discussion outside the classroom, and to supplement the in-class educational experience in many other ways. Especially since we now need to certify basic computer competency across our undergraduate body, in order to be reaccredited, we need to make sure that all students have access to this resource, along with the capabilities of utilizing it. Addressing issues of computer access and literacy, then, is the fourth area in which we need to make improvement. If we can continue the Focus program at about the present level -- 14 seminar clusters, impacting about a quarter of the first year students -- and substantially strengthen both the writing program and language instruction, I believe that we would provide a first year experience as strong as that of any of our competitors.
The Senior Year
In tandem with our strengthening of the freshman year I would like to see special attention paid to the senior experience. Bill Chafe has broached in his Arts and Sciences Council address the need for investigating the possibilities for a capstone experience in every major, and I concur with this idea. A capstone experience might require a seminar that integrates knowledge over a wide disciplinary area: perhaps on the research methodologies or on a reasonably broad subfield or on the evolution of the field. Such a capstone course would not replace, but would rather supplement, the narrower foci of other senior seminars. A second type of capstone experience is significant research leading to a thesis -- much more than the customary one-course independent study in which many of our students already engage. A thesis experience should allow students enough time to identify problems of their own choosing, with guidance from the faculty. Such theses were constructively presented to my own research groups in the past and some led to published papers in respectable journals. In my experience, senior students did first-rate work that added to the productivity of my laboratory.
We may wish to conceive of a thesis experience as different in the humanities and social sciences, including release time to faculty advising a substantial number of students; but I do think that we must strongly consider enlarging the thesis experience across the institution. We are, after all, a research university, and we must ask ourselves whether we are fostering in our students an interest in making significant contributions to pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge. True, the large majority of our students will go on to careers in such areas as law, medicine, business, and public service. But, given the quality of those whom we admit and matriculate, do we not have a responsibility to at least encourage our students' consideration of the pleasures (and, yes, the tribulations) of a research career? And are not the habits of mind learned through the course of such critical inquiry beneficial to our students in whatever career they might choose?
Presently we are ranked 21 among universities in the percentage of our graduates going on for the doctorate in the last study conducted (of the years 1977-1986). As a top-ranked university I believe that we should score higher, in the top ten. Clearly we cannot change that statistic quickly, and we have been moving up over the years. What we need now is a change in our environment of the sort I have noted above, and I would advocate that the Curriculum Committee look carefully at how other institutions foster access to research experiences; that it attempt to determine the correlation between taking on a significant research project and continuing on to graduate school; and that it make recommendations for a reasonable approach to the issue of enhancing the upperclass experience through research opportunities.
Challenging our Students
Throughout our students' four years at Duke we must make sure that we are setting our standards high enough to challenge our undergraduates as they deserve (and expect) to be challenged. I believe that in many cases we are not stretching our students. I advocate a rigorous scrutiny of every major to determine whether it is meeting the intellectual standards of a first-rate university. As part of this scrutiny, I suggest that we determine, perhaps, by inserting this question on our course evaluation forms, how many hours per week our undergraduates are spending on their courses outside of class. (The current question about demand compares the demand level between courses and, thus, is only partially useful on this score.) The COFHE senior survey, for example [see footnote 1], suggests a low expectation level in the way it phrases the answers to the question of how much time is spent studying outside of class: the response choices begin with the absurd option of zero to two hours per week and end with 20 hours or more per week. Given that our students spend at least 12 hours in class each week, I believe that the lowest number of out-of-class study hours should be on the order of 30 hours; but, to be brutally frank, if we are not expecting greater than 40 hours per week of study time for our students, then I do not see how we can possibly argue for the tuition that we charge.
A last thought with respect to challenging our students, and strengthening the senior year, is to consider some outstanding opportunities for our best students, many of whom will have finished all of their course work or major requirements in their junior year. We might, for instance, consider choosing 10 to 15 students in a competitive application process and allowing them to spend their entire senior year on a project of importance to them, even if they have not yet finished the major. Working space allotted to them in or near the library would permit regular interaction, and an advisory committee would act as mentors. Such programs merit at least reflection if not implementation.
In closing, I want to underscore my appreciation for the upcoming work of the Curriculum Committee and to express my hope that it will think boldly. As I stated at the outset, there is no perfect curriculum; but I am nonetheless convinced that we can make a number of changes in the present curriculum to strengthen it tremendously. The task of providing a more challenging and exciting educational experience for our students is itself challenging and exciting. I wish this committee the best as it begins its work.
1 The Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE)
is an association of distinguished private colleges and universities in
the United States with a common interest in undergraduate education, and
in understanding cost of higher education issues and improving services
More Thoughts on the Curriculum
--by Lawrence Evans (Physics)
I read with interest Don Fluke's well done article about the undergraduate curriculum [in November FF], which was to some extent a response to my earlier piece on academic entropy [in September FF]. Although a conversation in which each party replies a month later is pretty slow going, I will make a few points here in response to Don.
First let me confess that in 1968-69 I was an enthusiastic supporter of what we then called the "New Curriculum." As a new member of the Undergraduate Faculty Council I voted for the changes because the curriculum then in place (which Don mistakenly thinks I would find agreeable now) was full of special interest requirements -- in effect, academic pork. I thought that giving students freedom to select their non-major courses, with only very general distribution requirements, would result in a more open and free intellectual environment. Maybe I was too young to know better.
Of course, when we voted to let students choose more freely we had in front of us the 1968 Bulletin, which listed many fewer courses than the current one, and in which nearly every department had introductory courses as prerequisites to their more advanced (100-level or higher) offerings. If those were the choices available to today's students, even the current curriculum might be workable. But, as I argued in my earlier piece, one consequence (no doubt unintended and unforeseen by many of us) of the loss of specific requirements was an enormous proliferation of course offerings and the near extinction of prerequisites.
So when I read Don's analysis my reaction was that he is talking about requirements as they appear on paper without taking into account how drastically the options have changed since 1968. Curricular requirements purport to be aimed at the students, but it is the response of the faculty that determines what they mean. The regrettable trends over the past thirty years arose from actions by the faculty, not for the most part collectively through council votes but individually and within departments. They have responded to the free market created in 1968 in a natural way -- predictable back then although nobody seemed to foresee it -- by inventing courses that contain less and/or demand less, by steadily increasing the giving of high grades, and by eliminating prerequisites. In short, they have behaved like competing retailers in a shopping mall.
Departments need adequate enrollments to avoid retrenchment, so students must be attracted somehow. (Easing of demands on students has been less marked in the science departments, but those departments have large built-in enrollments of premed and engineering majors.) Of course it is also less work and more pleasant for the faculty to concoct light courses dealing with their current personal interests and to grade generously, while requiring hard work and being stingy with high grades entail only negative immediate consequences all around. One really should not be surprised at what has happened.
Pleasing the customer -- pardon me, the student -- is now the dominant theme of the undergraduate enterprise, at Duke and most similar universities. Apparently gone is the notion of a university education as the achievement of a respectable level of usable knowledge, certified by the faculty, about matters selected by the faculty.
What can be done now? As I argued earlier, some external influence on this system is needed to reduce the entropy, to limit the number of allowed paths to a Duke degree. No amount of tinkering with general distribution requirements will do the job as long as each of those requirements can be satisfied by almost any course in a number of departments. Whether the options are limited by a core of required material, by reinstitution of general prerequisites, or by other means, I hope the outcome of the curriculum review now being started is some system which provides incentives to the faculty to embrace and retain high standards and which restores a clear purpose to Duke's undergraduate programs in Arts and Sciences. It will not be easy, because one must first recreate for those programs -- almost from scratch since we have been without one for so long -- a generally accepted misson.
--by Donna Sparks (Duke, A.B. '76)
[EdNote: The writer, a member of the Duke Chapel Music professional staff, 1979-1997, was a member of nine student performing organizations at Duke and the founder of two, including the Chapel's Choral Vespers choir, now entering its twelfth year. The first full-time professional female conductor of a performing organization at Duke, she participated in the 1975 Vienna program, has traveled with other Duke ministers and musicians in three exchange programs with Russia, and served as tour director for the first international tours of the Duke Chapel Choir and Chorale, including Poland, the Czech Republic, England and China.]
I cannot contain my pride in my alma mater. For two months this fall, culture did battle with the almighty dollar at Duke, and the arts won.
For the second time in recent memory, Duke almost lost the Wind Symphony due to an administrative decision not to replace its outgoing full-time faculty conductor. If one performing organization had been left to die, deprived of its leadership, others would surely have suffered the same fate as their conductors retired or advanced professionally. Now all are safe. Everybody won for the moment.
Had the Wind Symphony been allowed to wither under a stream of temporary, part-time conductors, Duke would have lost not only a valuable recruiting tool, a positive alternative to less constructive extracurricular campus activities, and a part of Duke's cultural heritage, but also the Vienna program, one of Duke's earliest, most successful, and longest lasting efforts in internationalization. Since the Wind Symphony is now saved, students who wish to study engineering or public policy will continue to have their lives enriched by the opportunity to play flute or trombone in an ensemble or the opportunity to hear fine instrumental music on campus. Our prospective students who consider such cultural opportunities essential to their educational environment or to their very being can continue to select Duke instead of being forced to consider other universities. Chem and bio majors who have enthusiastically and carefully arranged their four-year course schedule in order to fit in a semester in Vienna with the Wind Symphony will continue to be offered this opportunity as a reward for their strategic academic planning.
Those of us who attend cultural exhibitions of student talent on campus can now look forward to future performances and displays. Who among us would choose to attend or work at a university with no wind ensemble, no orchestra, no Chapel Choir or Chorale, no Jazz Ensemble, no Hoof 'n' Horn, no Modern Black Mass Choir, no dance or drama programs, no poetry readings, no visual arts, no chamber music, no Pitchforks, no Rhythm and Blue? Besides football and basketball, how would the University showcase its students on Parents' Weekend or for alumni reunions and prospective donors?
I believe it is no coincidence that Duke has for the last quarter century maintained a strong and on-going connection with a small country, but one which has historically exerted powerful and world-wide influence in the cultural realm, through the Wind Symphony's Vienna program and the semi-annual Viennese balls that were an outgrowth of that program. Austria is a country that enthusiastically embraces and financially supports its primary gift to the world, its main "export," culture -- the Vienna Philharmonic, the Vienna Boys Choir, Strauss, Mozart and Klimt. Are not these (and perhaps Freud) what the world recalls when it thinks of Austria?
In turn, Vienna welcomes the Duke Wind Symphony every two or three years for a semester of cultural exchange. Duke students participate in all that Vienna has to offer -- opera, waltzing, visual arts and music. They absorb the lifestyle of a people passionately devoted to culture, a people that enjoys simply to walk for pleasure among their architectural treasures and vibrant outdoor sculptures, a people that has voted to sacrifice tremendous financial gain from international investors in favor of the preservation of their unique cultural treasures.
As their own contribution to this exchange, the Duke Wind
Symphony, indeed all the Duke performing organizations that travel, not
only spread the Duke name and thereby attract international students and
scholars to our campus, not only learn the elements, methods, and artistic
philosophy of other peoples in
order to share such with the Duke community upon their return, but our performing students also export the best of America -- Gershwin, Copland, Bernstein, spirituals, jazz, and the many contemporary composers who have yet to become household names, but who enjoy the encouragement (and inspiration?) of commissions and public performances through the philanthropy and vision of the Wind Symphony or Chapel choirs.
When the Wind Symphony goes to Vienna and tours Europe, when the Chapel Choir and Chorale travel to Poland, China or the Czech Republic, when the Jazz Ensemble visits Italy, they often prepare a few pieces in that country's language or from that country's traditional repertoire as a sign of respect to their hosts. And they are rewarded with smiles and polite applause. But the Viennese, the Chinese, the Poles, the Czechs, the Italians fill their concert halls and churches to hear American students play and sing American music. They come to discover what is unique to American culture and to learn how young Americans express themselves in art, to hear how America is encouraging its youthful scholars, its future doctors and lawyers, politicians, engineers and scientists to reach for immortality.
Most Americans have not yet grasped the importance of learning the world's languages in order to participate more fully in the exchange of ideas, but we can and do enjoy true communication with all nations and peoples, and thereby stimulate each other's thinking and creativity, through sharing the arts, each country's national treasure and each individual's contribution to the preservation of humanity.
I congratulate the Provost and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, guided by their own commitment to a liberal arts education and persuaded by an impressive show of support from students and alumni, for deciding in favor of authorizing a faculty search for a full-time faculty to conduct the Wind Symphony, thereby preserving this instrumental ensemble. I applaud the Duke administration for affirming the arts as vital to our students' education and for recognizing the importance of Duke's performing artists as ambassadors of our University and our nation.
In 100 years, few may remember that the United States exported Micro-soft technology or Ford trucks. Few will study the biographies and accomplishments of Bill Gates or Tim Berners-Lee. Those studying the great minds and influential masters of the twentieth-century world will know Maya Angelou, Duke Ellington, the Beatles, Shostakovich, Leontyne Price, Alvin Ailey, and Leonard Bernstein.
Science and technology are also vital and dynamic aspects of our time. Indeed, without the Wind Symphony's immediate access to hundreds of alumni via e-mail, the letters that persuaded the administration to save this ensemble might not have materialized in time. But most developments of the natural and computer sciences are by their very nature outdated almost as soon as they are accomplished, while that which expresses our humanity endures. The arts are our gift of immortality, for ourselves, our nation, our university.
I congratulate my alma mater on giving our students the chance to hear a Sousa march in Baldwin Auditorium or to play a Gershwin medley in Vienna's Konzerthaus. This gives me excitement about and hope for Duke University's future, and a hope that the arts will continue to prevail as the University's commitment to culture is tested from time to time. When parallel situations arise, as will inevitably happen when choral and instrumental conductors and other arts leaders retire or accept new positions, let us hope that Duke and indeed all educational institutions will continue to affirm the arts by providing for on-going, permanent, full-time leadership.
Yes, I have great hopes for Duke's future and for the future of culture at Duke. I am infinitely proud of my alma mater. The value of culture has been affirmed; the arts have been allowed to prevail. The next time we attend or participate in a performance on campus, let us remember how close we came to losing the privilege of doing so. And be grateful.
JAMES APPLEWHITE AND REYNOLDS PRICE
1. POEM BY JAMES APPLEWHITE
EdNote: Although they were written many years apart, we think "Southern Humor" an appropriate companion poem to "Southern Voices," which we published in the October FF. Both poems tell about the South from the perspective of one who grew up there -- in eastern North Carolina in this instance. Professor Applewhite is a Duke A.B and Ph.D. who, after a term at UNC-Greensboro, joined the Duke English Department in 1972.
Jokes about the South come easy, these lazy
days. What could be funnier than a half-million
wounded and killed, or dead of typhoid or starved,
in defense of keeping slaves?
The Ku Klux Klan just tickles some funny bones
and it's always a horse laugh to hear how
rural children lag in school. The gasoline splash
On churches up pine-lined lanes
still boils against skies in billows of humor.
The joke's on us if a four-year-old drifted
hours in a boat, because his father went under
vainly trying to rescue his cousin.
Sin seems especially southern, like the idiot's peek,
or look of paranoic aunt past her parlor curtains.
Usually, no one's there. This place is a myth so the horrors
we expect condition what happens
like the driver's foot slipping off the brake,
the van with its five more children going down
the bank, towards Susan Smith's sons. We're
laughably worshipful of maternal piety,
especially when it's proved so murderous. Shrines
to our losers fill courthouse squares and shelves
Of menagerie glass, from William's Mississippi
to Williams, Tennessee.
Nothing tickles the ribs so much as laughing till
you cry, telling one more whopper about Dolly's
double burden. Those mountains of milk and honey,
that never would run dry,
now trickle down vinegary waters, as we suck on
apples of fallen orchards. We dream the moon-
whitened apples, those bolsters snowing their feathers
Down labyrinths of family trees,
where white-suited Kentucky colonels lead fried chicken
battles and a few little Lees sell lots of cars,
all used. It's a land so full of stand-up comics,
we're competing with the Jews.
What we have left to lose is only the new money
that bought the old honor. We're like a baby so homely,
we hang these jokes around our necks like porch chops,
so the country hounds will lick us.
2. A Gallop Down the Homestretch
--by Reynolds Price
[Ednote: Earlier this year, Mr. Price delivered this talk on National Public Radio.]
Since I began writing my first substantial piece of fiction in 1958, I've written in a good many other forms as well -- poetry, drama, the essay. Like any particular track or field event, each brand of words has its own rules and makes its own demands on the writer's focus and stamina. I'm often asked if I have a favorite form, a particular event that gives me the most gratifying sense of workout. I answer truly -- No. A four-line poem written in a twenty-minute sprint, or the twelve-month marathon of a five-hundred page novel can feel equally rewarding in the surge and then the wake of its completion.
It would be a lie, though, not to confess that the work on a novel and the final days of that work can feel as uniquely invigorating as a month by the purest Norwegian fjord, being splendidly fed as spring climbs toward me with clean sun and flowers. In apprentice days, I experienced my share of the miseries of any job -- the uncertainties of skill, failures to understand the importance of physical training and pacing, the slowness of progress. I can remember early nightmares as I reached the final hard fifty pages of a manuscript -- in those dreams, I'd enter a book shop to find that someone had spirited the fretted-over manuscript out of my house and published it without me.
In the past decade, an encounter with cancer has altered my mind and body in ways I don't entirely comprehend. As one of the results, in any case, the process of writing a novel has become one of generally uninterrupted pleasure with a final bonus jolt of elation as the end comes in view. And that elation offers so many of the addictive qualities of other joys -- athletic exertion, sex, splendid cooking, participation in intense moments of music or sacred ritual -- that I've indulged it as frequently as possible: six times in eleven years.
The latest birth is a tall stack of paper called Roxanna Slade. It's a first person story, the life of a woman born in 1900 and alive to tell her story today. The fact that I'm unquestionably a man undertaking her voice has been one of the bigger pleasures of the job, as it's been more than once before in my work. To enter daily, for a long stretch of months, the eyes and mind of a separate creature is lure enough to draw a born writer on through long miles of story -- Roxanna, for instance, relates a full ninety-four years of life.
For a man to enter, to such an extent, the mind of a woman is as powerful a draw, however risky. But I've braced myself with a single incontestable fact -- like most men, I was reared almost exclusively by women. In venturing to cross the gender line -- a line we all exaggerate absurdly -- another onward pull began to take me. As a life took shape (with all its surroundings of parents, mate, children, friends, enemies), I came to think I was attempting at least a steady bow to the tribe of women -- white and black -- who made my childhood a safe and tempting school, a well-lit room in which I was asked to learn one skill before all others: unguarded sympathy for the life of my species and the Earth around us. Whatever Roxanna Slade achieves, she's passed through barnacled, battered me in that first hope and warmed my heart.
THE FUTURE OF DIFFERENCE
A Monologue on Race
(This essay is adapted from my talk last March at the Duke Symposium on Difference.)
So far as the human consciousness of Difference is concerned, Darwinian science would begin with the prehistoric past when men from different tribes first competed with each other for turf or food or females. It has been speculated that early Modern man may have caused the extinction of Neanderthal man in some such deadly competition. Whether or not our Modern human ancestors killed off the Neanderthals, there is no question that by the time early civilizations had evolved, tribal survival against hostile tribes had become the central theme of the epics of antiquity such as the Iliad, the Aeneid, and the Chronicles of Ancient Israel.
In celebrating the violent destruction of one tribe by another -- Trojans by Greeks, Philistines by Hebrews -- these narratives gave religious sanctity to the sense of racial, ethnic, and cultural Difference that defined the ethos of those primitive times. And a similar ethos clearly prevailed among preliterate tribes like the Aztecs or Maya, whose horrifying pictographs celebrate the most brutal intertribal torture-slaughter. Through eons of evolution, then, it appears that human biology and culture have collaborated in giving rise to racism or tribalism as a mechanism of survival that subordinates individual identity to group consciousness. And that group consciousness, or consciousness of Difference, has played a central role in the historic annals of atrocity.
Tragically, as we all know, those racist/tribalist propensities remain savagely at work in the world we now live in. The sense of tribal Difference that so recently produced the Holocaust in Europe and the Rape of Nanking has persisted to claim victims by the millions in Nigeria (where a million Ibo tribesmen were killed in the 1960's), in Rwanda, in Bosnia, in Sri Lanka, in the Middle East, and elsewhere. In India the concept of Difference based on class sustains the abominations of the caste system, while in Africa (both Black and Arabic) the category of Difference based on gender has condemned 100 million females to suffer the horrors of genital mutilation.
Here in America it has appeared to many observers that tribal/racial solidarity overrode all other considerations in the first O. J. Simpson and Rodney King trials. Even more dishearteningly, in the latter episode racist rioters brutally assaulted another tribal group who had nothing whatever to do with the Rodney King beating, torching thousands of small stores owned by immigrant Koreans. The point is clear, then, that the sense of Difference can be a dangerously combustible compound. Clearly, our life together, if it is to be a civilized one, requires that our sense of Difference be tempered by a larger view of the human community.
Unfortunately, the trend of higher education in recent times has often displayed a contrary emphasis, belaboring Differences in race, gender, class, and cultural heritage as though they outweighed our common humanity. Our public policy too, by setting up a cookie jar of awards based on Difference, could eventually extend our reasonable remediation of social injustices into a permanent institution of self-serving Difference advocacy.
The perverse effects of such thinking are not limited to the extreme cases we sometimes read about, like an Afrocentrist professor dividing the races between Ice People and Sun People or a feminist law professor claiming that all sexual coition is rape. More widely accepted perversities on many campuses include self-segregating student bodies, restrictive speech codes, a "spoils system" approach to admissions and budgeting, and a resulting loss of public support for faction-riven institutions of learning. And worst of all, perhaps, is the loss of public support for the concept of Difference itself when its meanest aspects appear to loom larger than its desirable attributes.
Is there a way to cope with excessive assertions of Difference? I believe there are two grounds for hope regarding our situation in North America. The first ground is biological. Despite increasing claims to Difference by segments of American society, an uncomfortably large measure of which relates to material benefits in prospect (e.g. Indian casinos), the prophetic vision that concludes Absalom, Absalom! is truer now than when Faulkner described it in 1936: "In a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings."
Thanks to accelerating rates of intermarriage, Faulkner was wrong only in his time scale. It won't take a few thousand years, or even a few hundred, but barely a few generations to produce unprecedented amalgamation of blood lines among this nation's assorted ethnic groups. Already the average African-American is 30 percent non-African, and a recent report in the New York Times Magazine (9/29/96) says that "among American-born married women ages 20 to 29 in 1990, 67 percent of Asian-Americans and 38 percent of Hispanic women married outside their ethnic group." In the Durham Morning Herald of February 9, 1997 (page G-3), a government study describes the American Indians undergoing even more drastic changes, with the percentage who are full-blooded declining from 80% in 1980, to 34% in 2000, to a near-zero .03% in 2080 -- a date many people now alive will live to see. And TIME magazine reports (11/17/97, 37) that the rate of racial miscegenation is rapidly accelerating: where 17% of teens said they dated someone of a different race in 1980, the figure for 1997 is 57%.
What this means is that evolution is employing the continent of North America to perform an experiment that is entirely new in human history: to reverse, by voluntary, non-violent means, the biological tribalism that has marked the last million years of human life on earth. That prospect, the gradual diminishment of tribe or race as an agent of separation within our human species, carries some hopeful implications, but it would count for little were it not for the other evolutionary prospect, which may require some visionary power to conceive of as a pending reality. I refer to the faith, hope, or belief that the purpose of human life on earth is spiritual evolution -- the gradual development of such faculties as discipline, generosity, compassion, and other components of the moral imagination.
It is true, in this regard, that the twentieth century has witnessed the most massive destruction of lives in human history, but the last two centuries have also witnessed the greatest advances on record toward a just society, promoting equal rights for women, the abolition of serfdom and slavery, the rise of democracies, humane treatment for animals and children, efforts to save the environment, widespread movement toward universal education and health care, and the formation of a United Nations.
If we may give tradition its due, we can trace these ideals of a common humanity back to the sacred writ of thousands of years ago. Six centuries before Christ, the prophet Isaiah struck down the sense of Israel's Difference from her two most deadly enemies. "In that day," he declared (Isaiah 19:24-25), "shall Israel be a third with Egypt and with Assyria. . . . Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed by Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance." In the Christian New Testament, likewise, we find the assertion that God "hath made of one blood all nations of men" (Acts 17:26) -- a prophecy that is being literally borne out in our time here in North America, as we have noted.
This intimate mingling of tribes and races that for eons were geographically separated probably indicates the deepest meaning of our American political experiment. If this hopeful view prevails, the future of Difference in our society will have affirmed, in a newly significant way, that America really is something new in history. By de-emphasizing mere biological Difference -- the Difference between our physical bodies -- our society may turn its focus to what really matters, the intellectual diversity on which the progress of our human species absolutely depends. Without denying our Difference in culture or biology, we can thereby vindicate the greatest saints and sages from every culture and biological category who have subordinated their sense of Difference to an intuition of our common humanity.
Toward that end, the day is now in view when my Caucasian blood gets transfused into the common mixture, and I who regard you will have sprung not only from the loins of African kings but from Asian queens and Peruvian princesses. Or better yet, why not hope for a higher pedigree? Instead of kings and princesses, perhaps I shall derive my being from Caucasian factory workers, Zulu craftsmen, Hindu peasants, and Chinese laborers. So far as race, tribe, and ethnicity are concerned, that is the manifest future of Difference on this continent: a social order in which, in every important respect, Difference will make no difference. Perhaps Nabokov's was prescient in endowing his Humbert, in Lolita, with a "salad of racial genes." If we may alter that metaphor from a racial salad to genetic gumbo, we will conclude --with a nod to Mark Twain and Shakespeare -- by saying "T'is a consomme´/Devoutly to be wished."
POSSUM (Passim) Random Readings & Culture Studies
VOICES FROM THE KULTURKAMPF:
(I) THE STATE OF THE PROFESSION:
EdNote: The following paragraphs were culled from Thomas Haskell's review essay on Death of the Guilds by Elliott A. Krause in The New York Review of Books 12/04/97 (47-50)
"The traditional guilds lost control centuries ago, but it is only now, at the end of the twentieth century, . . . that control is finally slipping out of the hands of lawyers, doctors, and professors as well. What happened to skilled artisans in the nineteenth century, as factory owners increased profits by de-skilling jobs and routinizing manufacturing processes, is analogous to what. . . is happening to the learned professions today. . . .Professorial guild power rose in the United States. . . between the 1930s and the mid-1960s, but . . . power shrank as the number of potential practitioners grew, unbalancing supply and demand. There were 82,000 academics in this country in 1930 and 236,000 by 1960. Then came the explosive growth of the 1960s. . . . The number of potential job holders soared to 474,000 by 1970, . . . reaching 695,000 by 1985. . . .
The predictable response was stratification. The holders of tenure and tenure track positions make up the elite; meanwhile a rising number of 'gypsies' with advanced degrees go from school to school, never finding jobs with tenure. . . . For many members of the profession the rule is no longer 'publish or perish; instead it has become 'publish and perish.'"
(II) THE STATE OF THE PROFESSION:
"These days, many faculty members find themselves enforcing the implementation of standards far more demanding than those under which they themselves passed into tenured ranks. In making cases for hiring when lines are scarce, department faculty are likely to over-promise the administration 'a national reputation' with every hire. . . .
Does the demand that all ideas have a cutting edge undervalue steady work done in the middle? . . . I believe that our failure to question racheted standards [of research] has contributed to one of the most serious attacks on tenure -- the disdain by junior faculty who are burned out by the demands placed upon them."
Mary Burgan, ACADEME 5/6, 1997 (5)
Number of feet the Dead Sea has fallen since 1950: 56
Portion of California's revenue between 1852 and 1870 that came from taxespaid by Chinese laborers: One half
Hourly fee paid the "ethics adviser" employed by Kenneth Starr during his first 19 months as Special Prosecutor: $400
Percentage of Planned Parenthood donors in 1994 who also donated to Operation Rescue that year: 17
Chances that a U. S. doctor specializing in pain has under-medicated patients for fear of losing his or her license: 2 in 5.
--Harper's Magazine 6/97 (13)
SCIENCE FOR LAYPERSONS:
WHAT'S DOING IN PSYCHOLOGY:
"The wide swings between behaviorist, psychometric, cognitivist, depth psychological, topological, developmentalist, neurological, evolutionist, and culturalist conceptions of the subject have made being a psychologist an unsettled occupation, subject not only to fashion, as are all the human sciences, but also to sudden and frequent reversals of course. Paradigms, whole new ways of going about things, come along not by the century, but by the decade; sometimes, it almost seems, by the month. . . .
For it is a fact that not only is cultural psychology evolving rapidly, gathering force, and amassing evidence, but so as well are its two most important rivals, or anyway alternatives -- information-processing cognitivism and neurobiological reductionism. The introduction into the first of distributive parallel processing. . . and computer-mediated experimentalism. . . has given it something of a second wind. A technology-driven spurt in brain research, the extension of evolutionary theory to everything from morality to consciousness, the emergence of a whole range of post-Cartesian philosophies of mind, and perhaps most important, the dawn of the age of the absolute gene, have done the same for the second. . . ."
--Clifford Geertz, The New York Review of Books 4/10/97 (22-24)
DEATH OF THE EGG:
"A woman's ovaries are the site of far more death than life. The destruction begins even before a baby girl has emerged from her mother's womb. A human female develops around 7 million proto-eggs. . . . By the time she is ready to enter the world, no more than 2 million are left alive, the rest having fallen prey to a mysterious process of cellular suicide. . . . By puberty there are at most only a quarter of a million oocytes left. In a woman's lifetime perhaps 400 will become full-grown eggs capable of being fertilized by sperm. . . .
The situation is decidedly sexist. A male's single ejaculation contains in the neighborhood of 200 million sperm, and most men go on creating new sperm long after they start cashing Social Security checks. Not surprisingly, this imbalance has made itself felt in the fertility business. Sperm banks have become so commonplace that firms have to jockey for business. . . . Unlike sperm, mature eggs are almost always ruined if they are frozen, so there are no egg banks; instead clinics have to advertise for volunteers continually."
John Travis, Discover 4/97 (76-78)
"In his new book The Life of the Cosmos, Penn State cosmologist. . . Lee Smolin deploys Darwin's dangerous idea on a trans-cosmic scale. Like organisms, he argues, universes reproduce. . . . Smolin's scenario hangs on that familiar enigma, the black hole. . . . Although physicists [don't know] exactly what goes on inside a black hole, there has been some informed speculation that a black hole's gravitational collapse stops short and takes what's been called a 'bounce' -- an explosion occurring just before infinite density is reached. The result: a baby universe with its very own space-time. Indeed, the big bang that began the universe we live in may well have been just such a bounce within a black hole inhabiting another universe."
Jim Holt, Lingua Franca 6/7, 1997 (19)
LANGUAGE & RAINFALL:
"Niger, a vast, arid country, has only 20 languages; while farther south, a equally large but wetter Nigeria has 430. . . . [Daniel] Nettle [a linguistic anthropologist at Oxford] believes he knows how these languages developed. 'If you have abundant rainfall year-round, then you can pretty well produce all the food you need,' he says. Contact with the outside world is not essential to survival. But in areas with more seasonal crops, where failures can bring famine, relations with other groups become crucial. . . . West African societies largely conform to Nettle's theory. In the south. . . are reliable crops that can be harvested throughout the year. Thus their growers can live in small groups and speak a language that no outsider understands."
Josie Glausiusz, Discover 8/97 (30)
". . . the narrow strait separating the Indonesian islands of Bali and Lombok. . . constitutes [Alfred Russel] Wallace's line, which for a biologist is the sharpest and most famous boundary in the world, and the line whose crossing may have transformed our ancestors from glorified apes into real humans. . . Paleontologists tend to stress Africa as the cradle of humanity, to view Cro-Magnon Europe as the site where late ice age human culture flowered, and to neglect Australia as a remote outpost occupied by supposedly primitive Aborigines. Human behavior took a Great Leap Forward sometime between 100,000 years ago. . . [and] 30,000 years ago, when great art and complex tools began to abound in Europe. . . . But anatomically modern humans appeared in Australia before they appeared in Europe -- probably by 60,000 years ago. To reach Australia [they]. . . had to cross a dozen straits separating Australia from Asia [starting]. . . at Wallace's line itself. . . [which is] by far the earliest evidence in human history for an ability to use watercraft. . . . As a result, the first Australians and New Guineans of 60,000 years ago led the world in technology and art, and that progress trickled back to their poorer cousins in Eurasia and Africa. . . . [This crossing] may have been the crucible of human creativity, and our ancestors may have crossed from apehood to humanity as they crossed Wallace's line."
--Jared Diamond, Discover 8/97 (76, 83)
ROCKY MOUNTAIN LOW:
"Altitude as a disease contributor has not been established but is biologically plausible. Those living in Denver, for example, get 15 percent less oxygen in the same volume of air as those living in a sea-level city such as Miami."
--Rodger Doyle, Scientific American 10/97 (40)
THREE TIMES A DAY:
"About three times a day our sky flashes with a powerful pulse of gamma rays, invisible to human eyes but not to astronomers' instruments. The sources of this intense radiation are likely to be emitting, within the span of seconds or minutes, more energy than the sun will in its entire 10 billion years of life."
--Gerald J. Fishman & Dieter H. Hartmann, Scientific
American 7/97 (46)
FERRET: Transgressive Deconstructions
A Shakespearean Romance
(II) The End of the Affair
[EdNote: Last month, in Part I of this Shakespearean Romance ("Festering Lilies"), we showed how the poet's persona in the Sonnets deconstructed himself while reaching the precarious bliss of Sonnet 110. Most scholars believe that the Sonnets reflect the poet's actual erotic entanglements.]
Regrettably, this little oasis of good feeling in Sonnet 110 could not last, as Shakespeare's affair with the golden boy crumbled before the dread onslaught of that bugbear of the Sonnets, Time's slow corrosion of physical beauty. Sonnet 19 offers a painful retrospect on this predicament. Here Shakespeare sought to stem Time's ravages by verbal admontion:
. . do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
0, carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow.
Ironically, Shakespeare's final trauma arose precisely from this answered prayer: Time touches the youth only to augment his beauty, while sweeping Shakespeare himself completely outside the arena of sexual competition and selection. Sonnet 68, which may be the weirdest or most puzzling sonnet of them all, gains some clarity from this perspective. Here, after looking admiringly at an older man who refuses to use cosmetics ("bastard signs of fair"), the speaker reacts with particular vehemence against the prospect of wearing a blond wig or toupee, as his lover may have advised. (Shakespeare worked in the theater, we should remember, where these props were always at hand.)
Thus is his cheek the map of days outworn,
When beauty lived and died as flowers do now,
Before these bastard signs of fair were born,
Or durst inhabit on a living brow;
Before the golden tresses of the dead,
The right of sepulchres, were shorn away,
To live a second life on second head.
Scorning such borrowed beauty, the poet would rather let his age stand openly displayed like the older man's, "Without all ornament, itself and true,/Making no summer of another's green."
Whether or not this was Shakespeare refusing to bewig and rouge himself, there is little question that the breakup of Shakespeare's great love affair was caused primarily, in his own judgment, by his failing looks. By the late 1590's, when Shakespeare was in his mid-thirties, thinning hair, deepening ridges in his face, and -- given the primitive dentistry of the time -- teeth badly rotting or missing would be the normal instance while the golden boy (if it was Southampton) would simultaneously be just now blooming into his early twenties. Hence Shakespeare, though by no means the feeble old man of his metaphor, depicts himself as dying of old age in the famous Sonnet 73"That time of year thou mayst in me behold/When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang . . . ." It was not the man but the love relationship that was dying, it appears, and with it the man's inmost soul was being extinguished in great pain.
Another much-loved poem with a bitter core is Sonnet 116, whose openings lines "Let me not to the marriage of true minds/Admit impediments"sound Platonic, since they speak of a marriage of minds, but the impediments in question turn out to be something carnal, namely the alterations for the worse in Shakespeare's physical appearance. In a desperate and pathetic attempt at moral suasion, the poet insists that real love would not consider such physical change significant: "Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds." But the "alteration" that the poem describes a few lines later -- the loss of "rosy lips and cheeks" to "Time's bending sickle"-- confirms that the relationship of these two men is at bottom sexual: if the love were asexual, the loss of rosy looks would in fact make no difference. As it stands, the poem is in the nature of a protest, a splendid but futile outcry as to how love should, by rights, operate:
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If only it really worked that way! But Sonnet 126, the last in the golden boy series, confirms the opposite picture:
O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy power
Dost hold Time's fickle glass, his sickle, hour;
Who hast by waning grown and therein show'st
Thy lovers withering as thy sweet self grow'st.
All Shakespeare can do at this juncture is to issue the younger man a warning: you just wait until this happens to you!
Yet fear her [Nature], 0 thou minion of her pleasure!
She may detain, but still not keep, her treasure:
Her audit, though delayed, answer'd must be,
And her quietus is to [sur] render thee.
Given this foreground, there is little reason to doubt the authenticity of Shakespeare's revulsion against sex in Sonnet 129, the famous blast against "lust in action" that reveals a mind moved close to madness by desire, guilt, and frustration. Aside from a few islands of joy, the whole experience of the Sonnets has come pretty largely to fulfill the prophecy laid down at the end of Venus and Adonis, where the goddess, thwarted (by the death of Adonis) from slaking her own desire, pronounces this fierce curse on love among mortals:
. . . lo, here I prophecy,
Sorrow on love hereafter shall attend:
It shall be waited on with jealousy,
Find sweet beginning but unsavory end;
Ne'er settled equally, but high or low,
That all love's pleasure shall not match his woe.
It shall be fickle, false, and full of fraud;
Bud and be blasted, in a breathing-while;
The bottom poison, and the top o'erstraw'd
With sweets that shall the truest sight beguile.
In the aftermath, Shakespeare's master theme of Betrayal (of Love, or Trust) emerged from the Sonnets and took possession of his other greatest works through the following decade -- plays like Othello, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, King Lear. Lear's bitter sarcasm about sex ("Let copulation thrive!" IV, vi, 116) harkens back to the Sonnets, as, surely, does Hamlet's brutal misogyny toward Ophelia and his mother ("Nay, but to live/In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,/Stew'd in corruption, honeying and making love .."-III, iv. 93-95).
In addition to his master theme of Betrayal, Shakespeare's plays gained one other major characteristic from the trauma of the Sonnets, something which Rollo May, in Love and Will (1969), described as “an element in sex and love which is almost universally repressed in our culture, namely the tragic, daimonic element” (emphasis his), Dr. May proceeds to define “daimonic” as “the natural element within an individual, such as the erotic drive, which has the power to take over the whole person.” The daimonic element, according to May, encompasses not only erotic monomania but other master passions—”sex and eros, anger and rage, and the craving for power are examples”—that are identified with major Shakespearean characters: Othello, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Caesar.
Whether a “god in love,” as Sonnet 110 puts it, or a lily that festered as in Sonnet 94, the love object in the Sonnets galvanized the poet’s psyche into unity, provoking at the same time the emotional extremes and rationalizations that so enrich Shakepeare’s characterizations. In passing, we in the Ferret/transgressive-deconstruction camp also note with some satisfaction this confirmation of an old truism: that we learn most about the human soul not from normal, healthy folk—those who are likely to become Steinbecks or Masefields—but from the world’s weird people, those roiled in the torment of some deep and often secret trauma.
Adventures in Noble Thinking
Edgar Allan Poe Foresees The Great Crunch:
". . . there must occur a. . . chaotic or seemingly chaotic precipitation of the planets upon the suns, and of the suns upon the nuclei; and the general result of the precipitation must be the gathering of the myriad now-existing stars of the firmament into an almost infinitely less number of almost infinitely superior spheres. . . . But all this will be merely a climactic magnificence foreboding the Great End. . . . While undergoing consolidation, the clusters themselves, with a speed prodigiously accumulative, have been rushing toward their own general centre -- and now, with a thousand-fold electric velocity, . . . the majestic remnants of the tribe of Stars flash, at length, into a common embrace. The inevitable catastrophe is at hand."
--Eureka (1848) concerning which Poe declared
"I have solved the secret of the universe."
The Faculty Forum is published monthly by the Academic Council of Duke University.
Editor: Victor Strandberg (English). Editorial Advisory Board: Matt Cartmill (Biological Anthropology & Anatomy), Howard Clark (Biomedical Engineering), Buford Jones (English), Seymour Mauskopf (History), and Kathy Rudy (Women's Studies).
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