The Faculty Forum

Vol. 9, No. 5: JANUARY, 1998

"You don't understand an old man's hunger--you eat and eat and it's never the right food."

--John Updike, Rabbit, Run (1960) & again in Rabbit at Rest (1990)


Williams on Poet & President

Riddell on Faculty Status of Artists

Vesilind on Curriculum Reform

Klopfer, Response to Willimon essay

Erickson, Response to editorial

Clark: The Secret of Effective Teaching

Ferret's Deconstructions (Marshal Tito)

Possum (Passim): Random Readings & Culture Studies

Parrot's Recitations (Thomas Wolfe)

Editorial Policy

NOTE: Minutes of Academic Council Meeting of December 4, 1997 (and of all meetings since 1991) are located at



--by Kenny J. Williams

[EdNote: Professor Williams joined the English Department in 1977.]

On October 26, 1775, Phillis Wheatley, the eighteenth-century black poet, sent a letter and a laudatory poem to George Washington. This was the beginning of an unusual encounter. Increasingly Washington has been denigrated for having been a slaveholder. His name has recently been removed from a school in Louisiana because--as one school board member explained--"black children should not have to go to a school honoring a slave master." While Washington's legacy is now being revised, the reputation of Phillis Wheatley, a former slave, has been in decline since the nineteenth century. Her poetry finds few readers in today's fast-paced world, and modern literary critics find little positive in her work. Frequently, she is considered--if at all--as a literary curiosity. Yet, at a given moment in American history, Phillis Wheatley and George Washington met. Their brief association provides one of the interesting stories of the nation's past.

Whether they are traditionalists or revisionists, people generally have some knowledge about George Washington, but who was Phillis Wheatley? Her life and career are not nearly as well known as other eighteenth-century writers; yet, her life in New England was a series of uncommon events. Apparently purchased in 1761 by John Wheatley for his wife, Susanna, the sickly slave child quickly learned to read and write. She soon became proficient in English, Latin, and biblical literature. Mrs. Wheatley and her daughter, Mary, took a great interest in her education and were proud of her efforts to write poetry. Considering the general level of schooling provided for girls during this period, her education was indeed unique. She undoubtedly became one of the most learned young women of Boston whose visibility was increased by her association with the community's elite. As a member of Old South Meeting House and a welcomed guest in the best homes of the day, Phillis Wheatley grew up in a cultural atmosphere highlighted by taste and refinement.

By 1775 and her communication with George Washington, she was an established poet whose early work demonstrated her commitment to England. For example, the short poem, "To the King's Most Excellent Majesty," written in 1768, displays a respect for George III not usually associated with American colonial poetry. Later, she celebrated the selection of William Legge, the Second Earl of Dartmouth, as the Secretary of State for the colonies with a congratulatory letter and a poem written in 1772 for the occasion; however, the poem illustrates some concern for the problems of the American colonies and the issue of subjugation.

So prolific had the young poet been by 1772 that the Wheatleys considered having some of her work published in a single volume. The proposal for the book suggests Phillis Wheatley was beginning to think of the righteousness of the colonial cause. Regardless of her personal feelings, she must have been aware of the growing animosity between the British and colonial forces. The Wheatleys' King Street residence was in the center of much of Boston's political activity. Certainly the arrival of English regiments in the Harbor could not have been unnoticed by her just as the skirmish (later known as the Boston Massacre) could not have been overlooked. In a series of poems originally slated for her first book were some of patriotic and political interest that grew out of the conditions surrounding her and suggest her own growing ambivalence.

In the strangely allegorical "America," a labored effort to present prevailing conditions metaphorically, Phillis Wheatley wrote of "Britannia" who could not understand her rebellious male child. The poem ends with the promise to England that "New England/will increase like thee." While it certainly leaves much to be desired as poetry, "On the Death of Mr. Snider Murder'd by Richardson" details the events of February 22, 1770. Before the martyrs of the Boston Massacre captured the attention of the American public as having given their lives for freedom, Phillis Wheatley referred to Snider as "the first martyr for the common good." Furthermore, such poems as "On the Affray in King-Street, on the Evening of the 5th of March," "On the Arrival of the Ships of War, and the Landing of the Troops," and "To Samuel Quincy, Esq.; a Panegyrick" demonstrate conclusively that she understood the issues of the revolution.

In addition to the New Englanders who were highly supportive of her work, Phillis Wheatley had come to the attention of Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntington, who had been impressed by one of the young slave's early widely-circulated works. When the poet was approximately seventeen years old, there appeared "A Poem, by Phillis, a Negro Girl, in Boston, on the death of the Reverend George Whitfield." It initially appeared in the October 11th issue of the Massachusetts Spy and was accompanied by the notation "this day. . . published." Subsequently known by a variety of titles and often appended to the numerous funeral sermons delivered in both New England and in London for the celebrated divine who had died on September 30, 1770, the poem also appeared in several broadside editions before the end of the year in Boston, Newport, Philadelphia, and London. The eminent Methodist preacher George Whitfield had conducted religious services in the colonies, drawing large crowds.

The Countess of Huntington was an important figure in the eighteenth-century revival movement as well as an avid supporter of humanitarian causes. As a peeress, she had the right to appoint chaplains and build chapels. This she did with great fervor as she named evangelical preachers to those various posts. Her assistance with Whitfield's American crusade not only included the establishment of an orphanage in Georgia but also led her to aid in the founding of both Dartmouth University and the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton University. Her fascination with the downtrodden of the world generally embraced Native Americans and slaves in the United States and Phillis Wheatley in particular. The poem and its author seemed to enjoy the patronage of "her Ladyship."

Despite esteem for her, Phillis Wheatley was not able to find approval for her proposed book. It was an unsettled period. People were beginning to have considerable fears about the fate of the colonies, and the prospects of a book of poetry by a young slave probably did not seem of sufficient importance to attract a large number of subscribers. Moreover, a dying Puritanism still controlled the literary tastes and proclivities of the region. Books of poetry were not in great demand, especially if they did not represent material that might be used for the edification of the young and old. Determined that the book should be issued, the Wheatleys contacted some of their friends in England. In the meantime, John Wheatley wrote a short biographical statement and procured the signatures of seventeen other distinguished men of the community authenticating that Phillis had indeed written the poems. Archibald Bell of London agreed to issue the work.

In 1773, Phillis Wheatley took her only trip to England. Concerned about her delicate health, the Wheatleys' family physician recommended a sea voyage for her. Since Nathaniel Wheatley (the Wheatleys' son) was scheduled to go to England on business, it was decided that Phillis would accompany her former playmate. The excitement of the trip was not without some sadness and apprehension; but in "A Farewell to America," addressed to Mrs. Wheatley, Phillis looked forward to the new experience and noted "for thee, Britannia, I resign/ New England's smiling fields."

Fortunately this trip--even though for health reasons--coincided with plans for the publication of her poems. Interestingly enough, the patriotic works initially planned for the volume are missing from the published book. Undoubtedly, the poet was politically astute enough to realize that open support for the colonial cause would not be in her best interest nor would it endear her to her British advocates. As a result, the collection seems to illustrate a strong sense of commitment to England.

She was not, however, being duplicitous. She found much to admire in English culture. She enjoyed reading the sermons of the clergy and included in her book a poem entitled "To the Rev. Dr. Thomas Amory on Reading His Sermons on Daily Devotion, In Which That Duty is Recommended and Assisted." This was an outgrowth of her great respect for Amory's work which had been issued in a Boston edition (1772) two years after its publication in London. Equally fascinating to her were the landscapes painted by Richard Wilson, who apparently was popular in the colonies. In fact, like Phillis Wheatley, he had become entranced with the classical legend of Niobe and had used it as a basis for some of his work.' ('Wheatley's long poem "Niobe in Distress for Her Children Slain by Apollo, from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book VI, and from a View of the Painting of Mr. Richard Wilson" is a recognition of his ability.)

While in London, she was lionized and showered with gifts. Obviously the exoticism of her African background as well as her already-established reputation as a poet contributed to her popularity. Brooke Watson, who became a Lord Mayor of London and who knew of her fondness for Milton whom she called "England's Homer," gave her a copy of Paradise Lost. The Earl of Dartmouth reportedly gave her money with which she bought a collection of Alexander Pope's poetry. Even Benjamin Franklin visited her although he later lamented that he "should perhaps have inquired first" for Nathaniel was not pleased by the visit. (It may have been that Nathaniel was uncomfortable being in England with an American slave, or it may be that Nathaniel's pro-British stance was sorely tested by Benjamin Franklin's patriotism.)

Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntington, was not in London when Phillis Wheatley arrived but requested that the young poet remain in the city; however, due to the illness of Mrs. Wheatley, Phillis decided to return to New England. She sent a message on July 17, 1773, to the Countess expressing sorrow at having missed their meeting; but Wheatley dedicated her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral to the Countess of Huntington.

When Phillis Wheatley returned to the only home she knew, it was clear that life was changing drastically for her and that the political situation was unstable. At the urging of her friends in England, the Wheatleys freed her in 1773. Mrs. Wheatley died in 1774, and the Wheatley children had embarked upon their own lives. Mary had married and Nathaniel increasingly spent time in England. Free though she was, October 26, 1775, found her living in Providence, Rhode Island, where John Wheatley had moved his household in order to escape war-ravaged Boston.


Events during the latter part of 1775 and in the early months of 1776 did not augur well for the colonies in general and for George Washington in particular. He was plagued by self-doubt and insufficient support. No matter how noble the colonial cause may have been, reactions to it were decidedly mixed. Many of the elite who would later become leaders in the new nation disavowed Washington's ill-equipped army. Others fled to England in order to avoid any connection to the colonial insurrection. They thought--as did the sons of John Wheatley and Benjamin Franklin--that living in England would take them out of the military confusion in the colonies. There were those who completely accepted without question the position of the rebelling forces. There were some who remained unconvinced that war with England would solve their problems. Many colonists were willing to support the monarchy but were determined that they would not be enslaved by Parliament. Others were willing to support peace at any cost.

In an attempt to resolve the growing political stalemate, the Continental Congress had adopted John Dickinson's "Olive Branch Petition" only to see it rebuffed by George III, who observed that the colonies were indeed in a state of rebellion against the Crown. Consequently, as 1776 opened, Thomas Paine's Common Sense was widely circulated in the colonies; and within a few months a climate for independence had been created. Although military activities between England and the colonies had begun in 1775, the story of the writing and the adoption of "The Declaration of Independence" is a familiar one; but in the midst of that great drama, a former slave's poem to a military commander played a role in establishing one of the important legends of the nation's history.

And so it was that on October 26, 1775, in the midst of one of Washington's lowest points as the leader of the colonial forces, Phillis Wheatley wrote to him:

"Sir: I have taken the freedom to address your Excellency in the enclosed poem, and entreat your acceptance, though I am not insensible of its inaccuracies. Your being appointed by the Grand Continental Congress to be Generalissimo of the Armies of North America, together with the fame of your virtue, excite sensations not easy to suppress. Your generosity, therefore, I presume, will pardon the attempt. Wishing your Excellency all possible success in the great cause you are so generously engaged in."

The incongruity of a former slave addressing a celebration of liberty to a slaveowner apparently eluded her.

Several months later, Washington's first mention of Phillis Wheatley apparently came as an afterthought in a long letter dated February 20, 1776, and written from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Joseph Reed, his one-time military secretary, who had returned to his home in Pennsylvania. Throughout the letter Washington seems worried about his own image and reveals a general sense of insecurity. While he is concerned about his men and their lack of supplies, there is an extended commentary on Great Britain as the enslavers of the colonies. Then after a recitation of many inconsequential matters such as the vagaries of the weather, he alludes to Phillis Wheatley:

"I recollect nothing else worth giving you the trouble of, unless you can be amused by reading a letter and a poem addressed to me by Mrs. or Miss Phillis Wheatley. In searching over a parcel of papers the other day, in order to destroy such as were useless, I brought it to light again: at first with a view of doing justice to her great poetical genius, I had a great mind to publish the poem, but not knowing whether it might not be considered rather as a mark of my own vanity than as a compliment to her, I laid it aside, till I came across it again in the manner just mentioned. . . ."

Shortly after his letter to Reed, Washington wrote to "Miss Phillis" in a letter dated February 28, 1776. He thanked her for the flattering poem and concluded: "If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near headquarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favored by the muses, and to whom Nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her disposition." The following month the young poet did indeed visit the general. Her visit preceded by a few days the British evacuation of Boston; and in view of conditions that must have been prevailing at the time, it is interesting that a general had time to entertain a poet.

Just as Washington had indicated to Reed that publication of the poem might suggest unwarranted vanity so also had he made substantially the same point in his letter to Wheatley. On the other hand, Thomas Paine did not share Washington's reluctance about making the poem public. There was a war to be fought, and Paine obviously considered the ode to be an important testimony. Certainly, he apparently thought, it might help to create an aura of trust for Washington. Thus, as editor of The Pennsylvania Magazine, Paine included Wheatley's poem in the April (1776) issue of the journal.

"To His Excellency George Washington" came at a defining moment in American literary history and in the military leader's career. It also marked an important shift in Wheatley's work because on numerous occasions, in earlier poems, she had exhibited her faith in the British political system. Thus, before much of the patriotic and nationalistic verse had been written in the colonies, Phillis Wheatley not only had commemorated the greatness of the coming nation but also had praised the man who was to become known as "the Father" of the new country.

Celestial choir! enthron'd in realms of light,

Columbia's scenes of glorious toil I write.

While freedom's cause her anxious breast alarms,

She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.

See mother earth her offspring's fate bemoan,

And nation's gaze at scenes before unknown!

See the bright beams of heaven's revolving light

Involved in sorrows and the veil of night!

The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,

Olive and laurel binds her golden hair:

Wherever shines this native of the skies,

Unnumber'd charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates

How pour her armies through a thousand gates,

As when Eolus heaven's fair face deforms,

Enwrapp'd in tempest and a night of storms;

Astonish'd ocean feels the wild uproar,

The refulgent surges beat the sounding short;

Or thick as leaves in Autumn's golden reign,

Such, and so many, moves the warrior's train.

In bright array they seek the work of war,

Where high unfurl'd the ensign waves in air.

Shall I to Washington their praise recite?

Enough thou know'st them in the fields of fight.

Thee first in place and honours, we demand

The grace and glory of thy martial band.

Fam'd for thy valour, for thy virtues more,

Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform'd its destined round,

When Gallic powers Columbia's fury found;

And so may you, whoever dares disgrace

The land of freedom's heaven-defended race!

Fix'd are the eyes of nations on the scales,

For in their hopes Columbia's arms prevails.

Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,

While round increase the rising hills of dead.

Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia's state!

Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed great chief, with virtue on thy side,

Thy ev'ry action let the goddess guide.

A crown, a mansion, and a thorns that shine,

With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

While it may appear to be an over-stylized hyperbolic work with echoes from John Milton, the poem is of considerable historic interest because it antedates the Washington myth and seems strangely prophetic in many ways. At the time of the appointment of "the Generalissimo of the armies of North America," there were obvious questions concerning the probable outcome of a war that pitted the colonial forces against superior British regiments.

Furthermore, her constant reference to "Columbia" is an example of one of the earliest uses of that term to designate the colonies and later the nation. The couplet "Thee, first in place and honours, we demand/ The grace and glory of thy martial band" was misprinted by an early editor to read "first in peace" and ultimately became a popular description of Washington. While the facts of the initial exchanges and military skirmishes between the colonies and England would not have warranted the enthusiastic outburst of the "first in peace" line, later events and success proved that this was the beginning of the legend that has lasted through the years. After the Revolutionary War such writers as the Connecticut Wits often used Washington as the national hero for many of the neo-classical tributes which were distributed throughout the newly-freed colonies, but it was a young black poet who led the way.

Mr. Wheatley died on March 12, 1778. The following month she married John Peters, listed as a "free black." With the death of the Wheatleys' daughter, Mary Wheatley Lathrop on September 24, 1778, the fortunes of Phillis began to decline; however, by 1779 she was planning to do a second volume of verse. The proposal for it appeared as a newspaper advertisement in the Boston Evening Post and General Advertiser; and it was to have been dedicated to "Right Hon. Benjamin Franklin, Esq: One of the Ambassadors of the United States at the Court of France." The book was to contain thirty-three poems, at least eleven of which would essentially be patriotic works. Among the thirteen letters to be included was one addressed to Dr. Benjamin Rush of Philadelphia, undoubtedly in response to his earlier praise of her work.

Although this volume never materialized, by the end of the Revolutionary War, she was clearly convinced of the justice of the colonial cause. While she deplored the devastation of the armed conflict, in one of her last poems, "Liberty and Peace" (1784) she saw the potential promise that "e'en great Britannia sees with dread Surprize,/ And from the dazzl'ing Splendor turns her eyes!" Yet, in spite of the help from European allies, the colonies suffered from the ravaging of the countryside, and Wheatley reported:

Columbia mourns, and the haughty foes deride,

Her treasures plunder'd, and her Towns destroy'd:

Witness how Charlestown's curling Smoaks arise,

In sable columns to the clouded skies!

The ample Dome, high wrought with curious Toil,

In one sad Hour the savage Troops despoil.

But with the war's end came freedom as well as the promise that ''in her train Commerce and Plenty" will return.

Phillis Wheatley died on December 5, 1784, alone except for her last surviving infant who died that same day. Ironically her poetic career ended with the neoclassical tribute to "Liberty and Peace." Her own freedom brought only a degradation that she had never known as a slave. The much-prized inner peace was not to be hers. She spent her final days as a scullery maid in a dilapidated boarding house. Her classical education clearly had not prepared her for this life.

While she understood the issues of the American Revolution as well as her own ambiguous role, she optimistically believed in the possibility of the American Dream. Freedom was more important to her than a continued relationship with England, the country that had provided to her the greatest acclaim she was to receive during her lifetime. In a moment when the land needed a cultural hero, Phillis Wheatley could elevate Washington the insecure soldier to Washington the legend. When an emerging nation needed a poet to sing of the coming glory of Columbia, she committed herself to the cause of political independence, an irony that should not be lost on future generations.

Her untimely death cut short a poetic career that enjoyed contemporary respect and she seemed destined for even greater acclaim. One can only speculate about what she might have done had she lived. Whether the reality of the American democratic experiment would have forced her to reconsider her sense of patriotism will never be known. Through the years, however, considerations of her work have seldom focused upon her sense of nationalism and have been hindered not only by her slave status but also by shifting tastes in poetry. Too frequently, she has been victimized either by the racism or by the good intentions of her critics. In her own day, Thomas Jefferson dismissed her poetry in the mistaken notion that nothing of artistic merit could come from the African mind. On the other hand, nineteenth-century abolitionists ecstatically praised her work indiscriminately as proof of the importance of their educational theories. Twentieth-century analysts generally claim that she was a naive young woman whose interest in religion made her too complacent and whose love of Alexander Pope's work made her too imitative. They complain that her verse lacks "racial fire" because she displayed neither a concern for her people nor any sense of urgency about the prevailing conditions of involuntary servitude. As a result, recent commentaries have often overlooked her commitment to freedom both as an abstraction and as a reality.

Modern readers have a tendency to forget that current notions of overt protest and emotionalism were not part of the eighteenth-century literary tradition in the colonies. This is not to suggest that there was a denial of social responsibility of the poet, but one must recognize that each age has its way of dealing with life through its aesthetic principles. Phillis Wheatley's view of literature, for example, was largely conditioned by neoclassicism. Her use of the heroic couplet came from her admiration of Pope. On occasions the hymns of Addison and Watts provided alternate patterns for her as a respite from the more structured form derived from Pope. The work of John Milton had shown her that a Calvinistic view of life could be combined with a knowledge of the classical world in such a way that the dichotomy between the Christian and the pagan could be minimized. Because the poetry--cast in the popular mode of eighteenth-century America--seems to hold little interest for modern audiences, there is the faulty assumption that she made no significant contribution in her own day. To expect her work to differ appreciably from that of her time and place is to expect more of her than of her contemporaries. Ultimately, the faults of her work are largely those of the models that formed the basis of her understanding of poetry, and she must be judged in terms of eighteenth-century Boston rather than on the basis of what might have been.

That she had access to some of the great minds of the era is also overlooked. In an attempt to reduce her to an imitative poet who echoed what others could do better, many modern critics have forgotten that long before women writers concerned themselves with "the ways of the world," Phillis Wheatley entered--at least on a poetic level--the world of politics. She did not, however, totally forsake those subjects dealing with hearth and home. Her elegies (dealing with the deaths of husbands, wives, and children of her friends and acquaintances) illustrate that she could write of home and family life; however, these works follow so closely the general pattern of the New England elegy that they are more static and stylized than her other less well known poems. While she may be considered as an early feminist, she certainly did not have the same sense of independence that guided Anne Hutchinson; but Phillis Wheatley's self-determined approach to life becomes even more apparent when her poetry is compared to that of Anne Bradstreet, "the tenth muse lately sprung up in America," whose 1650 collection is the first book of poetry by a colonial woman. In the final analysis, it was a slave poet who caught the vision of what a new nation could become.

The Status of Artists Among the Duke Faculty

--by Richard Riddell

[EdNote: Richard Riddell is the Director of the Drama Program and the Mary D.B.T. and James H. Semans Professor of the Practice in Drama]

For the last few decades, faculty at Duke in the creative and performing arts have been contracted on term appointments. With very few exceptions, this class of faculty are ineligible for tenure-track appointments, which remain the primary class of appointments for members of the full-time faculty in Arts and Sciences.

While there is no formal policy statement on why this is so, administrators and faculty who have been at Duke for a long time offer the following explanations:

· The Appointments, Promotions, and Tenure Committee (AP&T) lacks criteria for evaluating artists. How, it is asked, can you really evaluate an artist's work anyway? With scholars, we can send books and other written documents out to be evaluated. What do we send to evaluators of actors, singers, or dancers?

· Years ago at Duke the arts were deemed to be desirable extra-curricular activities for students, particularly female students (thus the location of most arts facilities on the former campus of the Women's College). As they developed and moved into the curriculum, the arts came to be regarded by many faculty as "soft" subjects, valuable as activities for students, but less appropriate for serious academic study and support. Consequently, the legacy of the arts at Duke owes much to student and community interest and less to faculty and administrative initiative and support.

As we begin our work in this new year, which will bring with it discussions on curriculum revision at Duke, and in light of the work of the Provost's Task Force on the Arts last year, which issued a report in late summer 1997, it seems a good time to re-examine the current way that arts faculty and the arts disciplines fit within the scheme of things at Duke. Is the present system of classification of arts faculty appropriate for Duke's vision of itself at the beginning of the 21st century as a national, even international university? How do we want the arts to figure in the education of our students in 1998 and beyond? Is the present system supportive of our vision and plans? And in terms of Duke's responsibility to prepare young adults for futures that draw upon the life of the mind as well as the heart, what place do the arts have in the four years that a young person spends at Duke?

Starting first with the issue of faculty status, there's no question that artists in Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, Music Performance, and Visual Art, while sharing a spirit of exploration, investigation, and discovery with scholars, produce different things. This has led some of our peer institutions (e.g., Brown, Cornell, and Stanford) to equate "creative activity" with "scholarly research" in evaluating the results of artistic achievement. At these schools, it is understood and accepted that faculty in the arts produce work that can be evaluated and judged, just like a scholar's manuscript. What is different is the specific way the results are measured and evaluated.

To the question of how creative activity is evaluated, I believe Stanford's promotion and tenure guidelines are a good place to start in imagining what might work at Duke. Stanford requires the work of all candidates for promotion and tenure to be reviewed by experts in the candidate's field; it is the job of the internal review committee to compile a list of experts which is scrutinized very carefully. Once selected, it is the opinion of these experts that matters in terms of the estimation of the candidate's work. It is no different for a singer than a medieval scholar: the experts are selected, their opinions are solicited, and their judgments weigh heavily in the evaluation.

Granted, there are logistical challenges in evaluating the work of artists. Though other institutions have developed their own particular ways of evaluating and documenting works by artists, it does require careful planning to insure that the work of the faculty artist is seen by reviewers when it is in performance or exhibition. Also of help, as in the case of traditional scholarship, is the venue where a performance is given. Just as where a book is published tells review committees something about the value that editors, peer reviewers, and the academic community place on a manuscript, a performance at, say, the Metropolitan Opera would indicate that a faculty singer had achieved national recognition among other singers, directors, and opera managements.

So for the argument's sake, let's assume that criteria could be developed that would satisfy our AP&T Committee as being equally rigorous to those currently in place for other tenure track faculty. After all, this problem has been addressed successfully before, since among the current tenure track faculty there are differences in what constitutes significant research or professional activity (e.g., between Economics and English). Developing such criteria would take time and energy so the question must be asked, why is it important to do this? What would it achieve?

In a nutshell, it would bring the artists to the table at Duke. While administrators like to point to the improvements that have been made in the types of contracts offered to artists in the last decade or so (and these improvements are real, e.g., longer terms, higher salaries), the fact remains that faculty in the creative arts are not evaluated by their peers in the same way that tenure track faculty are. Consequently, artists are not given equal opportunity to participate in the life of the faculty at Duke. As a rule, due to their term-appointment status, faculty in the creative and performing arts may not serve on the Academic Council, our principal governing body of faculty. From this limitation flow other discriminatory practices, namely that artists rarely serve on major committees that deal with resource allocations, which may help to explain why the arts as a body of disciplines are inadequately housed and minimally staffed on our campus. Making it possible for artists to hold tenure-track appointments would make it possible for arts faculty to participate fully in the governance of the university. If a goal is to make the arts an integral part of this community, it is only fair.

Including the artists at the table would also give Duke an advantage as it charts its way into the next century. Artists tend to be visionaries, to take dreams seriously, and to take human life very seriously. After all, it is the research into what makes us all human that feeds the artist's soul. This perspective and passion would help to keep Duke a humanistic institution as it deals with the challenges in an increasingly technological, commercial, and impersonal world.

This perspective would also help our students. If the faculty made it possible for the arts to be equal partners in the academic enterprise at Duke, this act would no doubt speak to our students. And if more students became exposed to the arts while they studied at Duke, we could all be comforted by both their increased exposure to different points of view, which is a hallmark of artistic practice, and their increased experience with acts of imagination, which in all the arts is supported and valued.

A sympathetic administrator recently asked me, "OK, let's say faculty in the arts at Duke could hold tenure-track appointments. What happens to the faculty who are currently on term appointments?" A good and compassionate question. Perhaps the answer is simple: we give them a choice. They may choose to be evaluated for a tenure track appointment, knowing in advance the criteria in place for such an evaluation, or they may choose to maintain their current term appointment. Engaged at Duke according to one set of expectations and standards, these faculty should have the choice as to whether or not they wished to move over into a new classification with its increased expectations of national and international work.

While this process of choosing would not be easy for faculty (and it begs the question of how to fully engage faculty at Duke who are on term appointments into the governance structure), in the long run it would be beneficial. Not only would it allow current faculty to ask themselves how they wish to spend their time, choosing between a term appointment with a stronger emphasis on teaching or a tenure-track appointment emphasizing research as well as teaching, it would help to raise the bar for all arts faculty at Duke. Sometimes I hear it said that a lot of the arts faculty just aren't as active nationally and internationally as their colleagues in other disciplines. Having tenure-track criteria for artists would provide additional incentive for such visibility. And as arts departments grow and develop, the option to make tenure-track appointments in the creative and performing arts would significantly enhance Duke's competitive posture in the market for new arts faculty. At last, we would be on an equal footing with our peers in attracting new appointments in the arts.


I applaud the present debate on the undergraduate curriculum review for arts and sciences, and I am most impressed with the personal interest shown in the issue by our provost, John Strohbehn. The idea that we the faculty at Duke University owe our students a superior education is apparently alive and well, and curricular innovations such as the Focus Program and the proposed senior year project are exciting.

I would, however, like to remind my colleagues that Duke University has an under-represented minority undergraduate engineering students. Because the provost's responsibilities also include overseeing the School of Engineering, I would hope that he would show the same level of commitment and enthusiasm to improving the curriculum of engineering students as he seems to show for the curriculum review of Trinity students. To get the ball rolling, the following proposals will lay out some ideas that might be useful in establishing such a dialogue.

First, let me point out that the School of Engineering has not had a curriculum review in over three decades (or at least since I have been at Duke). Engineering students take the absolute minimum of courses prescribed by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). These requirements include taking one full year of math and natural sciences, one half year of humanities and social sciences, etc. The individual departments then are required by their own accrediting societies (such as the American Society for Civil Engineers) to offer specific courses that constitute an accredited degree in that discipline. While these courses are the recommended MINIMUMS, we at Duke University have chosen to make these minimums the REQUIREMENTS. That is, we ask no more of our students than the absolute minimum required by the accrediting agency.

Such an approach to curricular design makes for a very dull, uninteresting, and stagnant curriculum, resembling in great part the curricula of the large state schools that are under the same accreditation constraints. I would think it would be difficult to defend charging our students four times more money to take essentially the same courses as they could take at North Carolina State University. If we are to be special, we have to have a curriculum that is imaginative, contemporary and innovative.

If I compare my own civil engineering curriculum at Lehigh University ('62) with our own, the most striking difference is the reduction in course load. I took from 18 to 20 course hours each semester. Our students take 12 to 14 course hours. Some engineering classes that are ostensibly 4-credit hour courses, having a laboratory, seldom require much laboratory work. Six labs per course is common. There is no question that the effect of such a reduction has been a general dumbing down of the curriculum.

But the most striking comparison between my old curriculum and the present engineering curriculum is in their similarity. Duke students still take the same old courses, with little change and little thought as to how useful these courses would be for their engineering careers. And we do not ask what we should expect them to know as educated people. The world has changed in the past 35 years and one would think that engineering education ought to change with the world.

Let me list just a few areas that deserve consideration. Biology, for example, is now an immensely important part of engineering, and yet most of us (biomedical engineering being the exception) do not ask our engineering students to take biology. Most Duke engineering students will develop careers in business, and yet we do not ask them to take economics or management. We want to believe that we graduate civilized engineers, but we do not require them to take courses in history.

At the present time there is little enthusiasm in the School of Engineering to undertake a curriculum review. "Don't kick sleeping dogs" is the phrase heard most often. All four of our departments have recently won 6-year accreditation and this should last well past the retirement age of most of our leaders.

But I am being negative. Here is a positive modest proposal:

Incorporate the undergraduate program of the School of Engineering into the arts and sciences and include the engineering undergraduate program in the arts and sciences curriculum review.

If the arts and sciences faculty can agree to include technology as one of the emphasis areas in the arts and sciences curriculum, the present engineering curricula will already meet the curricular requirements of both arts and sciences and engineering. Each engineering department must still meet the ABET requirements, but our students would then also meet the distribution requirements of Trinity students. With the engineering students fully integrated into the arts and sciences, the School of Engineering would become a professional school following a model set by the School of the Environment. The dean of engineering would be the dean of the professional engineering school that would administer the graduate programs within the school. The present Graduate School would then be the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, a logical realignment.

My colleagues in engineering will protest mightily at this proposal. Not only will smell more work, but they will decry the loss of academic self-determination. They will remind me that in the 1960s there was a mini-revolt at Duke when the arts and sciences faculty established a curriculum that the engineers could not live with and the Engineering Faculty Council assumed the responsibility of overseeing the engineering curricula. But those days of rigid curricular requirements are past. I do not fear having all of the faculty of Duke University participate in establishing the curricular requirements for all of our undergraduate students.

The dean of engineering will protest mightily at this proposal because he will lose the use of the undergraduate tuition paid by the undergraduate engineering students. But if undergraduate tuition does not subsidize research, as is often asserted, then there should be no reason the School of Engineering could not function on the same type of formula as the School of the Environment, receiving payment from the dean of arts and sciences for teaching undergraduate courses. Most importantly, the tuition increment presently paid by undergraduate engineering students (and justified by arguing that it costs more to educate engineers than other students) will go to the dean of arts and sciences as a line item. These funds can then be returned to the engineering departments for the betterment of the laboratory and teaching facilities of the engineering students. A committee of both faculty and students should be in charge of determining how these funds should best be used. We do not know how big this tuition increment fund is, since it has never been revealed as a line item, but it could approach a half million dollars per yeara goodly annual sum for renovating the barely adequate engineering laboratories.

Obviously I have not thought through all the problems and implications of this proposal, but I want to start a dialogue. Mr. Provost, if you also care for the under-represented undergraduate minority, let's set in motion a program to improve their educational experience, and do this in tandem with developing a new curriculum for the majority. Let's put on the table the incorporation of the undergraduate engineering program into the rest of the university. Our undergraduate students deserve no less.



[EdNote: Dean Willimon's essay, "Aging in Winter," appeared in the Duke Dialogue of 12/19/97]

As we've come to expect from him, Dean Willimon's note on growing old in the university was a happy blend of humor and wisdom. Yet, from my personal point of view (and that of many of my family and friends) he was almost perversely wrong.

When I began teaching as a young man in the early 1950s, many of my students were just my age, some even older. We shared the same interests, enthusiasms, languages, and sometimes girlfriends. My age, as I perceived it, was defined by those around me - and this was objectively as well as subjectively true at the time.

The years passed. However, those around me remained as young and vibrant (or obnoxious) as ever. Most of my waking hours were spent in the company of these students, so, not unnaturally, this context continued to define my subjective sense of age. I have more than once been ridiculed by aging colleagues (not Dean Willimon, I hasten to say) for not "acting my age." Like my friend Ole Holsti, I still run and work out with student athletes, though I obviously need a larger stock of excuses for not keeping up than was once the case. I continue to ride (and occasionally jump) my horses, to the dismay of some in my family who think this, too, is best left to the younger set (although Winston Churchill wrote that he could imagine no pleasanter death than from a broken neck during an invigorating gallop).

Nor is it a case of denying my mortality. I am well aware that my body is aging, my abilities declining, my senses less sharp and appetites less acute, but, subjectively, I perceive this more as the consequence of a chronic progressive disease common to all members of our species, senescence. Subjectively, I remain as young as the students by whom I've been surrounded for the past several decades. Your mistake, Dean Willimon, is that gaze in the gymnasium mirror.

--Peter H. Klopfer (Zoology)


Dear Dr. Strandberg,

I would like to made a brief comment on your editorial in the December Faculty Forum, "The Future of Difference: A Monologue on Race." You point to a future in which racial/tribal differences disappear. I am very happy to have lived during a time when this has not yet happened. The variety of appearances of various "races" is very appealing to me, as are differences in "tribal" customs. What if all people looked and acted very much the same. How dull! Vivent les differences!

Yet you place your hope for solution of much of the inhumanity of man against man in the dilution of these "racial" differences through intermarriage, and our de-emphasis of these differences through moral growth. I question this approach to Differences.

In your summary paragraph you remark that in America, "in every important respect, Difference will make no difference." I believe you were pointing only to certain limited Differences which have become targets for our dreadful human mischief; perhaps race is one of these because it seems so easy to identify even by the most unperceptive people.

You point out in your final sentences that we will benefit from a more diverse gene pool - but presumably because that will dilute racial differences. Increased genetic diversity will have a positive impact on those differences which are not as immediately obvious as skin color, such as the various idiosyncratic talents of individuals. And we will still have this wonderful array of different skin colors, but their continuity would not lend itself so easily to racial grouping . Such differences are the heart and soul of evolution.

Differences of all sorts are not to be minimized or morally overlooked, but actively acknowledged and devoutly desired. They are all we have. Our task is to let ourselves appreciate them.

--Robert P. Erickson (Psychology: Experimental, and Neurobiology)


The Secret of Effective Teaching:

[EdNote: Howard Clark (Engineering) sent us this item from his random reading.]

Evaluating the Evaluators

"How accurate are student evaluations of instructors? Many university administrators value them enough to consult them in making tenure and pay decisions. But a new study shows that students give the highest marks to the most enthusiastic--and not necessarily the best--teachers. Stephen J. Ceci of Cornell University taught developmental psychology twice one year. In the fall, he gave his lectures as he had for the past two decades. In the spring, he did the same but changed the pitch in his voice and used more gestures. Second-semester students found Cecinot only more knowledgeable and tolerant but more fair, organized, and accessible. And they claimed to have learned more, even though they did no better than first-semester students on the same exams."

--Kristin Leutwyler, Scientific American 12/97 (24)

FERRET: Transgressive Deconstructions

[EdNote: In 1948, the dictator of Yugoslavia assumed heroic status in Western eyes when he defied Stalin's order to come to Moscow and instead took his country out of the Soviet orbit. Our fearless Ferret's deconstruction of the affair reveals its actual unheroic origin.]


"One by one the old Comintern hands disappeared. Stalin left only those who had passed their examination in servility by betraying friends. Another who vanished was M. Corkic, head of the Yugoslav Communist Party. Josip Tito, future president of Yugoslavia, was his betrayer. In his letter to Dimitrov, Tito said that 'nobody in the country knows him, except a few intellectuals. What has happened to him [his arrest] can have no serious consequences for the Party.' When Tito visited Moscow in 1938 he found that eight hundred prominent Yugoslav Communists had been arrested. Dimitrov tested his loyalty in long discussions. On this visit Tito had to betray not only his friends but his former wife. She had been arrested as a Gestapo agent, and Tito wrote an explanatory note to [Stalin], which is preserved in the Party Archive:

'I thought that she was reliable because she was the daughter of a poor working man, and subsequently the wife of a prominent member of the German Communist youth movement, who was sentenced to fifteen years in a German labor camp. . . . I now consider that I was not sufficiently vigilant and this is a big blot on my life. I believe that various people intent on harming our Party may use this against me, and that must be taken into account.'

Tito need not have worried. By abandoning someone so close to him without demur he had passed his exam, like Kuusinen, Togliatti, Kaganovich, Kalinin, Molotov and so many others who renounced their nearest and dearest without a murmur. Nothing now stood between Tito and a general secretaryship. And in 1939, when the legendary Yugoslav Communist P. Miletic arrived in Moscow after many years in prison, Stalin showed his preference for Miletic's tried and tested rival. The hero and martyr Miletic disappeared into the cellars of the NKVD.

A new Comintern was born. In 1939 this well-drilled and absolutely docile body would approve the Soviet pact with Hitler, and, a little later, when the Boss found it necessary, it would obediently self-destruct."

--Cited from Edvard Radzinsky's Stalin (Doubleday, 1996), 411-412

POSSUM (Passim):

Random Readings & Culture Studies



"The registration fee for corporate participants at the conference on 'welfare privatization' held in Washington, D.C., in late March was $1,295an amount almost equal to a year of welfare benefits for a Mississippi family of three. Not that a Mississippi family on welfare was likely to venture into the hotel where the conference was held, which rents rooms for somewhere between $300 and $400 a night, discounted to $185 for conference participants. With its muted modernist decor and cavernous lounge spaces, the Park Hyatt presents itself as a setting in which the affluent can gather discreetly, over topics of mutual interest, undisturbed by any low-income people except for those wearing uniforms and available to perform small acts of personal service.

I first learned of the conference from a welfare advocate who faxed me, indignantly, the conference brochure, with its promise that the gathering would be an ideal setting for companies seeking to: Capita1ize on the massive growth-potential of the new world of welfare reform/Gain a leading edge in the market while it is in its early stage/Profit from the opportunities available. Until that time, my only acquaintance with the concept of welfare privatization came from a September New York Times article in which the sharp-eyed Nina Bernstein revealed that Lockheed Martin, Electronic Data Systems (EDS), Andersen Consulting, Unisys, and a host of smaller companies were proposing to take over the states' and counties' burden of processing and rehabilitating the poorest of the poor. "We're approaching this marketplace the way we approach all other marketplaces," the article quoted Lockheed senior vice president Holli Ploog. And why not? Government at all levels currently spends $28 billion a year administering welfare programs, a tempting prize for a company facing the prospect of long-term declines in defense spending. . . .

But it's not hard to see how the profit motive alone could seduce the private vendors of welfare-related services into becoming a permanent constituency for continued government spending on the poor, much as companies like Lockheed serve as permanent constituencies for the Pentagon. . . . Lockheed et al. [may] become similarly habituated to public welfare spending--to the point, perhaps, of lobbying for more of it.

--Barbara Ehrenreich, Harper's Magazine 8/97 (44, 52)


". . . the current rage for diversity in the arts is resulting in political homogeneity and intellectual conformity. The theater provides the most telling examples. . . . As a result, we have been breathing the suffocating atmosphere of total consensus over the past decade or longer. . . . In such a world, all black people are angrily protesting racism; all women are passionately confronting sexual discrimination and sexual harassment; all gays are maintaining an identical nobility, laced with bitchy wit, in the face of desperate battles with homophobia and AIDS; and all white male oppressors are either confessing their guilt or persisting in their wicked ways. Contemporary theater, in short, now features as many stock characters as commedia dell'arte.

. . . An art form wholly dependent on the element of surprise is now in the grip of mind-numbing predictability."

--Robert Brustein, New Republic 7/7/97 (27)


"Even if some immigrants are aware of the law, argue some theorists of this defense, their cultural conditioning may be too powerful to allow them to comply with it. Other legal scholars. . . [argue] that the very notion of a uniform rule of law is ethnocentric. Starting in the late 80s, the cultural defense produced a string of rather spectacular exonerations. At a 1989 trial in Brooklyn, for example, a Chinese immigrant named Dong Lu Chen admitted to bludgeoning his wife to death with a claw hammer after she told him she'd had an affair. It looked bad for the defense lawyers until they produced an anthropologist who testified that, in Chinese culture, the shame a husband felt when his wife cuckolded him was onerous enough to legitimate his killing her. Dong never served time; he was sentenced to five years probation. . . . The verdict angered many women's groups, but Margaret Fung, the head of the Asian-American Defense . . . Fund, stood up for it at the time. Banning this kind of defense would, she said, 'promote the idea that when people come to America they have to give up their way of doing things. That is an idea we cannot support.'"

--Margaret Talbot, The New Republic 8/11&18/97 (21)

CHURCH vs. STATE (Protestant):

"Now is the time for Disney to throw the full weight of its wealth at the Baptists, who need a lesson in constitutional law they will not soon forget. They should be brought to court. . . on First Amendment grounds. Further, and now for once let us get to the heart of the matter: The tax exemptions for the revenues of all the churches. . . must be removed. The original gentlemen's agreement between Church and State was that We the People (the State) will in no way help or hinder any religion while . . . the little church on Elm Street won't have to pay a property tax. No one envisaged. . . churches and temples and orgone boxes [with huge] holdings and portfolios. The quo for this huge quid was that religion should stay out of politics. . . . The agreement broke down years ago. The scandalous career of the Reverend Presidential Candidate Pat Robertson is a paradigm. As Congress will never act, there must be a grass-roots movement to amend the Constitution."

--Gore Vidal, The Nation 8/21/97 (21), on the Baptist boycott of Disney for endorsing gay rights

CHURCH vs. ITSELF (Catholic):

"The divorce rate among the 60 million Catholics in the United States has kept pace with the national average, which is now around 50 percent. In 1966, the Vatican granted 180 annulments worldwide. Twenty-five years later that figure grew to 80,000, most of them in the United States. As of 1992, only one in every fifty annulment requests was denied by the Church."

--Michael Crowley, The New Republic 5/2/97(11)



"'That is the story of human evolution in a few words: expansion of the brain, reduction of the face,' explains [Juan Luis] Arsuaga. Work was transferred from one body part to another. With brains large enough to conceive clever tools, we no longer needed giant, powerful jaws and teeth to process our food. On the other hand, we needed room for those brains. And so forward and upward they grew, creating tall foreheads that swelled over our facial features and crowded them lower on the front of our skulls. Compared with our African ancestors, our faces are shrunken, flat, and deflated. Instead of projecting forward, the bone under our eyes. . . slopes down and backward into a depression, giving all of us. . . hollow cheekbones."

--Robert Kunzig, Discover 12/97 (97-98)


"If the two-child [per woman] target is missed by even a small margin we will continue to grow forever; for instance, if each of the world's women has 2.5 children, the [world] population would reach. . . 28 billion by 2150. . . . For most of the history of human civilization--from roughly 8000 BC until roughly 1750 AD--it took between 1,400 and 3,000 years for the globe's population to double. . . . During the 'public health' era that began after [WWII]. . . global population doubled in only thirty-six years. . . .

[If] there had been only one couple 12,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age, and they had multiplied at the current rate of 1.6 a year, the world's population would be 5.3 x 10 to the 82nd power. 'Finding material to construct this number of people would be a problem,' [Joel E.] Cohen writes, 'because the number of charged particles in the known universe is approximately 10 to the 80th power, or 100 times smaller.'"

--Bill McKibben, in review of Cohen's book How Many People Can the Earth Support?,in The New York Review of Books 5/29/97 (32)


"From a two-year period ending in 1981 to a two-year period ending in 1990 the real prices of basic foods fell 38 percent on world markets, according to a 1992 United Nations report. Prices for food have continually decreased since the end of the eighteenth century, when Thomas Malthus argued that rapid population growth must lead to mass starvation. . . ."

--Mark Sagoff, Atlantic Monthly 6/97 (87)

PARROT: Recitations --Adventures in Noble Thinking


"Something has spoken to me in the night. . . and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying:

'To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to lose the friends you love, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth--

'--Whereon the pillars of this earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending--a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.'"

--Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again


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).

The purpose of the Faculty Forum is to provide an opportunity for faculty members to discuss topics of common interest. The FF therefore welcomes, and indeed depends on, contributions by faculty members. Contributions may be published anonymously, but the editor will need to know the identity of all contributors so as to authenticate the contribution and permit appropriate editing procedures. We welcome fact, opinion, and creative whimsy from across the wide range of Arts & Sciences and Professional Schools--book reviews (new or reprinted), short essays, serendipitous items from random reading, and voices from the eternal kulturkampf.

Contributions of every kind should be sent, in both print and (if lengthy) computer disk, to the editor, Victor Strandberg, in 315 Allen Building. Voicemail is 684-3976; no objection to calls at home, 489-5531. E-mail is FAX (English department) is 919-684-4871. The deadline for submissions is about the 25th of each month.