The Faculty Forum

Vol. 9, No. 2 OCTOBER, 1997


Vesilind on Academic Structure

Applewhite, "Southern Voices"

Chafe, Report to Arts & Sciences

Oceans Connect Project

Dowell on Research/Service/Teaching

Editorial: Farewell, Beasties (?)

Poet's Corner (Howells): "Calvary"

Poems by Ed Levin

Editorial Policy

Note: The Academic Council Minutes for the September 18, 1997 meeting are on the Internet at


After the destruction of the Challenger spawned a reevaluation of organizational management structures, an analysis of Morton-Thiokol's management communications revealed serious flaws in how decisions were made. More importantly, the communications within NASA came under scrutiny and criticism. In both cases the findings were the same: only good news flows up the chain of command, while mostly bad news flows down. Because Morton-Thiokol management felt themselves to be under immense pressure to agree to the Challenger flight, and because NASA felt itself under intense pressure to put the "teacher in space" in time for the president's state of the union speech, only good news flowed up. Bad news, specifically that it was too cold to launch and the O-rings on the booster rockets had shown failures at temperatures far warmer than what would be expected, did not flow up to the decision makers. Fear of retribution prevented the flow of honest information and resulted in the disaster.

If this is the case with governmental organizations and industrial firms, why would the academe be any different?

Ah, you say, but professors have tenure and they are free to speak their minds without fear of retribution. Unfortunately, as I argue in this essay, this is a myth. In fact, the same force -- fear -- that pervades all other organizations is often just as much an operative management tool in academia. Academic administrators, just like corporate managers, often create organizational structures that provide them only the information they want; that is, good information. I suggest that this management structure exists in universities where administrators are appointed and not elected to their positions.

The tragedy is, of course, that these administrators are good and honest people who are placed in a command structure where they never do find out what the faculty really think of their decisions. They do not have the benefit of honest evaluations. Only good news flows up.

Let me illustrate a typical academic administrative structure by creating a hypothetical situation for a college or a school within a larger university. I then use this organizational structure to examine how one action that requires an evaluation of performance is handled in such an environment. Finally, I propose an alternative model for academic administration.

The Structure

Assume that the governance of this hypothetical university is the standard model: a provost is the chief academic officer who has a major say in the appointment of the dean, who in turn has an almost unilateral say in appointing the departmental chairs. That is, the structure is one where the faculty do not themselves have any direct say over the people who are appointed to leadership roles.

Second, assume that the university has a policy of making tenure difficult to obtain, and the process is again both opaque and dependent heavily on the opinions of the chair and the dean. For example, assume that the provost's advisory committee routinely asks the departmental chair if the tenure candidate is the very best available for that position. A negative response would mean almost certain rejection of tenure, irrespective of the qualifications of the candidate and the opinion of the departmental faculty. Finally, assume the dean has a similar opportunity to scuttle tenure decisions or nominations for promotion. That is, the university places great weight on the opinions of two academic leaders, both of whom are appointed by superior academic administrators.

In this hypothetical university, the dean selects the departmental chairs, with the concurrence of the provost. The provost is, however, far removed from the internal workings of the department and has little to guide the decision except letters written by the faculty and the opinion of the dean.

The Action -- Reappointment of the Departmental Chair

Assume first that the present chair has been a bitter disappointment to the departmental faculty and almost everyone looks forward to new leadership. Fortunately, her term of appointment is about to end, and the dean sends a letter to the departmental faculty asking for their thoughts on the matter, ostensibly to guide her decision in the reappointment. [For simplicity's sake, I will use the feminine second person for all participants.] The form and substance of this letter are important, however. If the dean wants to reappoint the present chair the letter is full of praise for the wonderful job she has been doing. If it is obvious that the dean wants to reappoint the chair, who among the faculty of full, associate and assistant professors are willing to write an honest (negative) evaluation?

Untenured assistant professors immediately recognize that there is no benefit whatever in writing a letter critical of the chair. They are well aware of the dean's intentions and are equally aware of the dean's power in tenure decisions. To write a letter critical of the chair (a letter that might someday accidentally find its way to the chair) would be foolhardy and stupid. Every one of the assistant professors would therefore either decline to write a letter or would couch it in such careful terms that it could not be considered a negative letter.

The assistant professors also know that the departmental chair has veto power in tenure decisions and can unilaterally destroy tenure cases at the level of the provost's committee and that there is no appeal, mainly because the committee deliberations are sub rosa and what the chair says to the committee will never be revealed publicly.

The untenured professors are in a vulnerable position. They cannot afford to irritate the chair (or the dean) for fear of the knife in the back. They spend their formative and probationary years constantly in fear of their academic lives and act accordingly, even when they might be taken advantage of or unfairly treated.

But if the assistant professors feel so strongly about the toxic situation, why don't they talk to the dean and express their concerns? They can't. They know very well that to criticize the chair's performance to the dean is self-destructive. If the dean asks for an honest opinion, what she gets is exactly what she wants to hear. Only good news travels up.

Although the tenure decision is behind them, the associate professors nevertheless recognize that their promotion to full professor is in the hands of the chair who has to initiate the process and the dean who has a major say in the decision. Why should the associate professors intentionally irritate the very person who will be asked to provide them with a strong recommendation for promotion?

Finally, the full professors. One would hope that these eminences have nothing to gain or lose and can be candid in their opinion. But suppose there are deals to be made. Suppose there are retirements and sabbaticals and appointments that require maintaining the favor of the chair and the dean. Why would a senior person, within a few years of retirement, rock the boat and jeopardize her own perks?

The bottom line is that the dean would be lucky to get one or two honest letters that describe the situation in the department as it really is. These brave people would recognize that the worst that can happen is that they will suffer minor inconveniences or even receive no pay raises as a reward for their honesty, and they are willing to accept this indignity. But the vast majority of the faculty would rightly fear retribution for their candor and would not send honest letters. Only good news will travel up.

Full of good news, the dean now reports to the provost that everyone in the department, especially the younger faculty, are pleased with the performance of the chair. Should the provost get any mail to the contrary, suggests the dean, it is from disgruntled professors who do not have the best interests of the department at heart. The provost, not having an independent source of information, bases her opinion on the non-negative letters and agrees with the dean.

With the approval of the reappointment in hand, the dean tells the chair that the provost wants her to continue in office. Now fully beholden to the dean for the reappointment, the departmental chair continues to be a firm supporter of the dean's agenda, perhaps even to the detriment of her own department.

If this scenario is repeated in the other departments in the school or college, the dean's desired management structure is in place. With the departmental chairs beholden to the dean for their reappointment, and recognizing that her opinion will count heavily in their ambitions for future appointments in academic administration, they would be unwilling to challenge or question the dean on matters of substance. They also will bring only good news to the dean because this is what serves their individual purpose.

One is forced to admire the dean who creates such an organizational structure. There is nobody to criticize her openly. Those brave souls who do offer criticism have nobody to turn to. The provost sees only positive (or at least non-negative) letters concerning departmental matters and believes only the good news she hears. The faculty, however, are left with no advocate and no appeal. Fear permeates all faculty meetings and nobody is willing to stand up to the chair. In the long run the school and the department destroys itself, just like the Challenger blowing up. Then there may be an inquiry, but the truth will be so buried that it will never emerge and the same mistakes will be made again. But by that time the dean would have been promoted to a provost and the departmental chair become a dean, each writing glowing letters about each other's performance in academic administration.

The Myth of Omnipotence

Perhaps the greatest mistake made by academic administrators in such a system is that once they are appointed to a position by a superior administrator, they feel they are "the chosen." They have been selected -- plucked out of the midst of the great unwashed and entrusted with a special responsibility. This must mean (so they believe) that they have special skills in academic administration, unlike their former peers. A chair who is appointed by the dean is tempted to feel special, somehow smarter, more insightful and clearly superior. With this attitude, the academic appointee now sets to show that she truly is more clever than the rabble and starts to make unilateral decisions. Why ask the faculty? They are the not-so-clever. Their opinion should be discounted or even ignored, for the only allegiance the appointee feels is to the superior administrator. Such academic administrators -- chair, deans and provosts -- alike then make decisions in the face of faculty opposition, believing the myth of their own omnipotence.

Consider a tenure case in which a chair, dean or provost, in the face of overwhelming positive faculty opinion, decides on her own that the candidate should not receive tenure. By so doing, the administrator is in effect telling the faculty that the academic title gives her special wisdom wisdom that she did not have a few short months before the appointment. Confronted by the faculty, such an administrator will invariably defend her decision by saying that only she has all of the salient information and therefore the faculty should keep quiet and trust its leaders.

This is what I used to think during the Viet Nam War -- that the U. S. government must know a great deal more than I did. Why else would the government continue to support the war, I argued? We all found much later that the government did not have such information and was deluding itself into believing it had greater wisdom than the people. I suggest that this is also often the case with administrators who tell us only they know the full story.

An Alternative Management Structure

I want to suggest an alternative model for academic administration. The essential element of the model is that the academic administrators serve not at the pleasure of the superior administrators, but at the pleasure of those being administered. A department chair would be elected by the department for a set term. If she does a good job, there would be no reason to change departmental leadership and one person might be chair for quite some time, serving the department with distinction. Similarly a dean might be appointed not by the provost, but elected by the faculty. Obviously the formal appointment would come from the provost, and the provost would have some say in the decision, but the essence is that the faculty would do the choosing and the unchoosing! Recently at a small private engineering college a dean of engineering who was unanimously elected to the position was unceremoniously unelected only two years after the appointment. How many academic administrators, fat and happy holding positions where they have to answer only to their superiors and being able to thumb their noses at the faculty, would be able to hold on to their positions if a fair and honest election were held?

I am reminded of the test for owning an animal. If you are not sure that you should own the animal, you should set if free. If it comes back, then it is yours. Should we have a similar test for academic administrators? Let's vote on them. If we vote them in, then they belong.

P. Aarne Vesilind is a former (appointed) chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the last time he looked, is still a professor of civil engineering.

DUKE MASTERS: James Applewhite

EdNote: Much as we admire the artistry of this poem, we applaud as well its insight regarding race relations. Last spring, Mr. Applewhite--that rare species of Duke faculty, a native North Carolinian--published his eighth book of poems, Daytime and Starlight.

Southern Voices

If you understand my accent,

You will know it is not out of ignorance.

Broom sedge in wind has curved this bent

Into speech. This clay of vowels, this diffidence

Of consonantal endings, murmurs defeat:

Caught like a chorus from family and servants.

This is the hum of blessings over the meat

Your cavalry spared us, echoed from an aunt's

Bleak pantry. This colorless tone, like flour

Patted onto the cheeks, is poor-white powder

To disguise the minstrel syllables lower

In our register, from a brownface river.

If it sounds as if minds were starved,

Maybe fatback and beans, yams and collards

Weighed down vitamins of wit, lard

Mired speech, left wetlip dullards

In cabins by cotton. But if bereft

Of the dollars and numbers, our land's whole

Breath stirs with Indian rivers. Our cleft

Palate waters for a smoke of the soul,

A pungence of pig the slaves learned

To burn in pits by the levee. This melon

Round of field and farmer, servant turned

Tenant, longs for a clear pronunciation,

But stutters the names of governors, Klan

And cross-burnings, mad dogs, and lynchings.

So ours is the effacing slur of men

Ashamed to speak. We suffer dumb drenchings

Of honeysuckle odor, love for a brother

Race which below the skin is us, lust

Projected past ego onto this shadow-other.

So we are tongue-tied, divided, the first

To admit face to face our negligence

And ignorance of self: our musical tone

Of soul-syllable, penchant for the past tense,

Harelip contractions unable to be one.

--from Ode to the Chinaberry Tree (1986)


Annual "State of Arts and Sciences" Address

I come to you today to present my annual assessment of the progress we have made during the last year in Arts and Sciences, the problems we face, and my vision of where I hope we can go in the future.

We begin the year with a new administrative structure in Arts and Sciences, one that I believe will make us more effective in fulfilling our various roles, and better able to interact successfully with faculty and students. Jim Siedow joins us in Allen Building as Dean of Faculty Development. Jim will be working with each department to think through its long range plans, dealing with department chairs on issues of faculty recruitment, coordinating our efforts to increase indirect cost recoveries, and, together with Charles Putman and Lee Willard, presiding over a series of initiatives such as the Howard Hughes program. Bob Thompson joins us as the new Dean of Undergraduate Affairs. Bob will be working in close cooperation with the Trinity College deans on academic advising, reinvigorating the cooperative role that our office plays with departmental DUS's, and working closely with coordinating academic and student affairs activities. He will also be a major figure in our curriculum efforts. My own role will change to the degree that I will be more involved in long-range planning with the president and provost, and will devote a larger portion of my time to policy initiatives in both undergraduate life and faculty affairs. Jim and Bob and I meet daily to go over our activities, discuss our priorities, and parcel out our responsibilities. I am confident that we will work well as a team, and speak with a coherent voice. Please join me in welcoming them to the Arts and Sciences administration.

Now, let me turn to five other areas: our budgetary situation; my sense of the overall prospects for faculty growth in an era of constraints; my view of how Duke faculty should handle the respective roles of research, teaching and service; the issue of race on Duke's campus; and most importantly, my perspective on the need to substantially reform the Arts and Sciences curriculum if we are to provide the kind of education our students deserve in the 21st century.

Let me begin with what must always be the bottom line of any academic venture, our ability to function as an economically viable part of the University. As you know, we have faced a difficult financial situation over the last two years. As financial aid costs skyrocketed, outpacing the growth in tuition income, we faced an increasing drain on the operating budget of Arts and Sciences in order to pay for a priority we all agree with -- need-blind admissions and a guarantee of 100 percent financial aid to all those who need it. At the same time, we suffered a significant decline in indirect cost recoveries last year, approximating a million dollar shortfall from what we had budgeted. Because of both of these situations, we have been unable to develop the economic security of knowing that we can plan ahead with adequate resources; instead, we had to draw on reserves to finish the year in balance.

I've worked very closely with President Keohane and Provost Strohbehn to deal with these budgetary problems. This past year, the Board of Trustees approved a new policy regarding the allocation of unassigned income. Under this policy, President Keohane has been given discretionary authority over that portion of the unassigned income that represents growth over the previous year. This allows her to apportion those discretionary funds according to her sense of University priorities. Given the financial aid crisis of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering, President Keohane this year has allocated the vast majority of those new discretionary funds to provide additional support for financial aid. In effect, the President has determined that need-blind admissions and financial aid for all those who need it is a University priority, the burden of which should be shared between the University as a whole, and the undergraduate schools. This decision has meant the addition of approximately $1M to Arts and Sciences resources.

Similarly, the Provost has determined that Arts and Sciences initiatives are critical to his view of the University as a whole, and has allocated $700,000 of his funds to address Arts and Sciences issues. As a result of these arrangements, we project a balanced budget for next year.

At the same time, with the active cooperation of Charles Putman and department chairs, we have begun to reverse the decline in indirect cost recoveries. The number of grant applications has increased, as has the number of awards, and the total indirect cost recovery dollars last year grew by nearly 10 percent over the previous year. Although we are still not back to where we were three years ago, we are moving in the right direction. In terms of flexibility for pursuing a wide variety of objectives, a robust ICR picture is pivotal to our future plans. We need first of all to rebuild the Arts and Sciences reserves that were so dangerously depleted last year; and we then need to use hoped-for continued growth in ICRs as a major resource for continued faculty development. Overall, I want to emphasize how much better and more stable the situation looks now than it did a year ago.

Naturally, our financial situation directly affects our ability to pursue initiatives in faculty development. After a record setting year of successful recruitments two years ago when we were able to recruit nearly 50 people, with a yield rate of approximately 75 percent, we were forced to drastically reduce our searches last year. Faculty members and department chairs for the most part understood our dire predicament and responded supportively. I am grateful for that understanding. Although we were only able to conduct 16 searches last year, we were nonetheless very successful in those areas where we could seek additional faculty. I am especially pleased that we were able to attract John Simon from the University of California at San Diego to become the new Geller Professor of Chemistry. Professor Simon will join the faculty this coming January, and I expect will make a significant difference in the vitality of our program in the physical sciences. Overall, our success rate last year was again at the 75 percent level.

It is important to note that, notwithstanding the financial crisis of last year, the Arts and Sciences faculty still stands at nearly an all time high in numbers. We have grown by a total of 25 faculty members over the past five years. We must also recognize that, in the face of ongoing financial constraints, it will not be possible to plan on significant increases in our overall faculty numbers. In effect, we are in a steady-state situation. That means that every recruitment becomes pivotal. It also means that strategic priorities become all the more important in determining where searches will be made. Although some programs will grow, others will not, and some may even lose faculty. As you will recall from my speech to this Council two years ago, I am committed to a model of "growth by concentration" which means allocating resources to those departments and programs with the best chance of moving forward significantly in national reputation, and maintaining those programs that are in danger of significant decline. Such a strategy requires that difficult choices be made.

My expectation is that over the next five years we will be conducting between 20 and 30 searches per year. Many of these will be in response to vacancies that have been created, although not always in the exact same areas. This year we will conduct 27 searches reflecting both needed replacements and some long-term initiatives.

Clearly, this financial picture has implications for how we are able to compensate our faculty. Many people are unhappy with a salary policy that amounts to a cost of living increase per year. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that Duke ranks among the top six universities in America in faculty salaries, and that when cost of living variables are taken into account -- a naturally elusive category -- we rank even higher.

We are seeking in consultation with other deans and with department chairs to arrive at a fairer way of conducting evaluations that will result in a more equitable distribution of salary resources. One idea, for example, is to conduct a thorough merit review every three years. On that basis, faculty members would receive a cost-of-living increase for two years out of every three, and then a merit increase, built into their salary base, in response to the three year review. Other ideas are also being considered. I am also working on a year to year basis to eliminate some historic inequities.

Compensation issues, of course, also reflect our sense of faculty responsibilities who we are, what we should be doing, how we should balance our many roles. In both my previous addresses to this council, I have emphasized my deep conviction that teaching and research -- our two primary faculty responsibilities -- are complementary, not contradictory; that our best teachers are also superb scholars, and vice versa; and that we do our best intellectual work, at least in part, because of the engagement we have with our students. It is true that in order to win a National Book Award, one needs to have the time to write a book. But it is also true that the ideas we put into those books owe an enormous amount to the interaction we have with our students, testing out our hypotheses, generating new insights.

I also believe that we need to acknowledge and reward the service that faculty members provide on university committees, in administration, and in conjunction with student activities, such as being advisors to various student groups. I do consider these issues in salary discussions. We also seek, with department chairs, to provide compensation for faculty service. What I want to emphasize today, however, is the critical importance of recognizing the value of all three of these activities. Research, teaching and service are three legs of the tripod of faculty responsibilities at Duke. Although research may be the most critical for purposes of securing tenure, all three are indispensable for success as a faculty member at Duke, and it is important to emphasize this as a principle of university policy.

The fourth issue about which I would like to speak today is the racial climate at Duke University. As you know, President Keohane has identified the improvement of race relations as her top priority this year. The Board of Trustees has endorsed that decision. All of us, I think, are aware of the degree to which the issue of race remains our most central national problem. Although enormous progress has occurred both at Duke and in the country at large over the last three and a half decades, we still live in a society where all too often there are two separate worlds, one black, the other white. Our ideas, perceptions, and experiences too often fall into categories where race becomes a defining variable. Black students often feel as though their perspectives and concerns are not heeded in the classroom; black faculty members frequently experience a sense of isolation or insensitivity in their relationship with their white colleagues.

It is imperative that we address these issues directly, both in terms of an increased sensitivity to students and colleagues who are African American, and in a renewed commitment to create at Duke an environment in which all individuals treat each other with the same degree of respect, understanding, and appreciation. Each of us is part of a rich, multi-textured, and diverse society. Each of us also is different, by virtue of our class, our color, our region, our religion, our gender, or our sexual orientation. We do share norms as a community of scholars, but in developing and operating on those norms, we must acknowledge and appreciate the degree to which each of us, with our differences, bring something special to the overall fabric of the community of which we are apart. I urge you in your faculty meetings within departments, in your committee work, and in the classroom to be constantly aware of this responsibility to each other, so that we may work toward the goal of making Duke a place that can be an example for the rest of the country to follow, not a place where we have to apologize for failing to live up to our principles.

Finally, let me move now to what I see as the major priority for Arts and Sciences this year. In keeping with trends that occurred throughout the country in the 1970s and 1980s, Duke embraced a curriculum strategy of introducing maximum flexibility in the courses that one could choose. As a result of these actions, we eliminated any language requirement, and we made it possible for students through selective use of the existing rules to avoid any contact with the sciences or quantitative reasoning, or any exposure to foreign languages. That description applies to approximately 16 percent of Duke's students.

It seems timely now to reassess that situation. Already we have moved to toughen up our major requirements. Some departments have eliminated advance placement credit for introductory classes. Others have developed greater rigor in the requirements established.

I believe it is time to move toward a simpler, more coherent, and more rigorous curriculum across the board. To that end, we will be creating with the Arts and Sciences Executive Committee a faculty committee to thoroughly review the entire curriculum this year, and come forward with a series of recommendations for changes by the end of the spring semester.

My charge to this committee will revolve around six issues. First is the question of whether we want to move back to a core curriculum that will require all students to engage the basic domains of knowledge during their time at Duke. Are there not courses in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences that everyone should have the opportunity and responsibility to take?

Second, in a world of increasing complexity and cultural interchange, is it not time for Duke to have a requirement that students here be exposed to a diversity of world cultures. On the eve of the 21st century, I believe it is inappropriate for a student to graduate from a school like Duke without having some understanding of the values that our various civilizations east and west, north and south have produced to shape our contemporary civilization. In addition, I believe it is imperative that we come to grips with the diversity within our own culture based upon race, economic status, gender, and region. A second question to this curriculum review committee, therefore, will be how best to achieve such exposure.

A third issue is whether we should not find a way to insure that every single Duke graduate becomes familiar with principles of science, and the scientific way of addressing intellectual problems. The world we live in today is full of high technology and sophisticated scientific methodology. Here at Duke, we help to pioneer that research through our Free Electron Laser Laboratory, our work in magnetic resonance imaging, and our exploration of the secrets of cell and molecular biology. It is not necessary that every student at Duke become familiar with all of the sciences, but surely, we owe our students the opportunity to understand the fundamental principles by which scientists address the world around them.

Fourth, I believe we should revisit the issue of either having a foreign language requirement per se or at least a foreign language proficiency requirement. In a society that totally depends upon international communication, it is no longer acceptable for American students to speak only one language when they leave a distinguished university. I hope that the curriculum review committee can find a way in which to ensure that at the start of the 21st century, all Duke students will be able to converse and to understand a non-English language.

Fifth, I hope that the Curriculum Review Committee can work on the continued improvement of our University Writing Program so that it becomes an effort that can be emulated throughout the country and other universities. We have already made significant progress in this direction. The new focus on critical thinking and advocacy developed by Van Hillard has significantly improved the content of the writing course. Student evaluations have become far more positive. We have initiated this year a project in which ten of the hundred sections in the writing course are devoted to exploring issues of ethics. Sponsored by the Kenan Ethics Program, and implemented under a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, this effort will bring substantive focus to the Writing Program, and enable students in those sections to become particularly skilled in reflecting on and writing about the ethical dimensions of our world. We should move toward increasing the number of options of this nature, and consider as well whether we wish to develop a curriculum in which some students are able to place out of the first year writing course, and instead meet their writing requirement by working more on seminars related to a particular area of knowledge.

Sixth and finally, I hope that the curriculum review can develop criteria and means by which we can enhance the senior experience of our students. We need to develop more capstone courses in different disciplines, encourage independent research activities by students, either alone or in groups, and initiate FOCUS type programs that can bring to upper class students some of the same intellectual excitement and stimulation that now is available to one quarter of our first year students.

Clearly, many of these are controversial issues. But we did not become a great faculty or a great University by shying away from controversy. We do not seek a curriculum where Duke imitates Brown or Stanford. Rather, we seek a curriculum where Duke draws on its own traditions and speaks on its own behalf as a premier educational institution.

In all of this, Duke faces a series of challenges and opportunities. Our challenge, of course, comes from being relatively young, having a smaller endowment than most of our competitors, and needing to maximize in a more efficient manner the resources we have available. But each one of these challenges is also an opportunity. Our youth is one of our most attractive features, giving us the freedom to move decisively forward in those areas that we choose as our signature programs. The absence of a large endowment creates the opportunity to generate support from donors for new programs that will be particularly important in distinguishing Duke from its competitors. Our institutional history -- from having been the leading southern school to becoming one of the leading national universities, and now moving into a position of international recognition -- provides us with the opportunity to articulate a distinctive Duke message to the academy that will enable us to take pride in our own identity and not to worry about those surrounding us.

My intention here has been to speak with candor and forthrightness about both our problems and our possibilities. I have done that during my first two years of being Dean and you have responded with generosity and commitment. I look forward to continuing that relationship over the remaining years of my term, and of this century.

OCEANS CONNECT: Culture, Capital, and Commodity Flows Across Basins

A Proposal to the Ford Foundation "Revitalizing Area Studies" Initiative

From Duke University, June, 1997

In 1996 the Ford Foundation announced a special initiative called "Crossing Borders: Revitalizing Area Studies." The announcement offered grants of up to $50,000 each, to be awarded to colleges and universities that could come up with innovative proposals for rethinking the area studies curriculum by breaking down borders between disciplines, between areas, and between institutions. In all, some 270 applications were submitted; of those, 30 were funded, including Duke's. The broader background to this initiative is the widespread retreat, on the part of the major foundations (Ford, Mellen, SSRC, etc), from the funding of area studies research and teaching. This withdrawal of funding has sparked a major debate among scholars of the various world regions concerning the history of area studies, their intellectual rationale, and their future.

Oceans Connect: Intellectual Rationale and Thematic Focus

The modern map of area studies reflects a long-standing continental bias in Western geography. Institutionalized during the Cold War, the units that define this map -- Europe, Africa, South Asia, East Asia, Latin America, and the rest -- were initially drawn up by a wartime governmental body called the Ethnogeographic Board. This board took a conservative approach, introducing incremental modifications to an older model of the earth that identified civilizations roughly with continents. Each of the ten or eleven world regions in current use is accordingly conceptualized around a central landmass; even the supercontinent of Eurasia, while parceled into separate areas, has essentially been conceived as a collection of subcontinents.

Since postwar scholarship and graduate training in the United States have largely been carried out within the resulting land-based framework, seas and waterways have been relegated to the margins of the American academic imagination. When seen at all, their blank blue spaces appear as boundaries or even barriers between the territorial blocks where human interaction has supposedly been centered. The result is a widespread myopia toward trans-oceanic exchanges. Historically, by contrast, all of the world's major seas have done as much to facilitate as to obstruct communication, and every maritime basin has witnessed the formation of a dynamic community in its own right. Whether in the enclosed intimacy of the Mediterranean or the vast reaches of the Pacific, societies on opposite sides of major bodies of water have profoundly affected each other's history for centuries. As trans-oceanic networks have accelerated in recent decades, a few ocean-centered communities have come to public attention.

The most conspicuous such community in contemporary scholarship is undoubtedly the Pacific Rim. Although its status as a region is both new and controversial, the booming economies and quickening trade linkages between East Asia and North America have catapulted the Pacific to global prominence. The recent development of APEC attests to the growing sense of a common destiny among the peoples of Australia, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, and the west coast of the Americas. But the Pacific is more than an economic region. It is also a cultural region -- the product of a century of trans-oceanic migration (notably including a massive Chinese diaspora) and a strategic geopolitical zone as well.

Across the globe from the emergent Pacific Basin community is its much older counterpart, the Atlantic world. Nearly half a millennium before steamships conquered the vast reaches of the Pacific, the Atlantic became a major thoroughfare for intercontinental trade and conquest. Contemporary scholars credit the interactions of African, Caribbean, Native American, and European peoples since the late 1400s with creating a massive zone of cultural exchange that some have called the "Black Atlantic." Although this region remains obscured on most white Americans' maps of the world, it occupies an increasingly prominent place in African-American and cultural studies.

Still older communities can be traced around the shores of the smaller basins that join Africa with Eurasia. The Mediterranean/Black Sea region, for one, was already well established during the Classical era. A continual exchange of arts and ideas between the northern and southern shores of the medieval Mediterranean as well as sporadic military clashes between Muslim and Christian armies kept this community tightly if tensely knit together throughout the Middle Ages. In our own day, Europe and North Africa continue to be bound together by oil, immigration, and security issues, and the Bosporus retains is role as a crucial supply line for Ukraine, Russia, and even Central Asia. The recent demise of the Soviet Union has only highlighted the strategic importance of the Mediterranean and Black Sea region in the political economy of the late twentieth century.

Finally, the world of the Indian Ocean, along with its extension in the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, is slowly coming into focus in American scholarship as well. Here, too, is an ancient maritime community -- one whose African and South Asian littorals were steadily knit together by seafaring Muslim merchants in the premodern period. Yet like the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean is more than a historical relic. The Persian Gulf today is a center of intensive capital and labor flows involving not just Iranians and Arabs, but also Pakistanis, East Africans, Turks, and even Koreans and Filipinos, while the eastern Indian Ocean is being reconfigured as the locus of some of the fastest-growing economic exchanges of our time. If these patterns continue, the Indian Ocean is poised to recapture its fifteenth-century identity as a global commercial hub.

As scholars are increasingly recognizing these trans-oceanic formations in multiple areas and disciplines, we have concluded at Duke that the time is right for a focused, comparative look at ocean-centered communities. The premises behind this approach are three: (1) basic knowledge of specific societies can and should continue to be provided within the existing regional framework (especially as each area-studies community is already engaged in rethinking how knowledge is constructed and taught for its region); (2) in building on their basic knowledge, students can go on to acquire a more sophisticated understanding of the world by looking at both comparisons and connections between areas; and (3) a logical and exciting way to organize the latter is through the study of culture and commodity flows across the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean basins.

The first goal of this proposal is to stimulate communication across a pair of formidable boundaries: the geographical borders of traditional area studies and the disciplinary borders between the social sciences and humanities. A workshop focusing on the Indian Ocean, for instance, will invite dialogue between scholars specializing in the literatures, histories, economies, and polities of all lands in the Indian Ocean rim, from East Africa and the Middle East to South and Southeast Asia. Similarly, seminars on the Atlantic will create a forum for interdisciplinary exchange between students of Latin America, North America, western Europe, and west Africa. The nature of the conversations can be expected to vary from one region to another, being shaped by the commonalties that will be discovered among the participants. But in each case, the very act of designating a basin as the locus of attention will bring people and bodies of knowledge together in novel ways. This in itself can be expected to have a rejuvenating effect on international studies at Duke.

At the same time, our project has a second and more profound goal: to advance a new conceptualization of how regions are constituted in the first place. An ocean-centered model shifts the primary focus of attention from identity to interconnection. In so doing, it calls some of our habitual classifications into question. No longer can we categorize the Swahili-speaking coast of Kenya and Tanzania merely as a
portion of Africa. While this area is profoundly "African" in its cultural heritage, its close ties to Arabia and South Asia come into view as well. Similarly, a basin-centered map brings previously marginal regions into the spotlight. For instance, the heavily creolized languages and cultures of the Caribbean, which fall between the cracks of the area studies paradigm, move into the spotlight here, emerging as a veritable archetype for the process of multicultural exchange in an increasingly integrated world. As these examples suggest, overlaying the existing continental map of area studies with a basin-centered map promises to promote a more sophisticated, relational way of looking at the world.

Activities to be Supported

Forums for the exploration of specific basin-centered linkages cultural and demographic movements, on the one hand, and capital and commodity flows, on the other provide the framework for the "Oceans Connect" initiative. These forums will both encourage trans-oceanic research and chart ways to integrate oceanic with continental perspectives in area studies.

Faculty/student workshops on basin research: Five year-long faculty/student reading groups are central to this project. Four groups will focus on one or another of the basin communities identified above. Seminar participants (including faculty members from Duke and other Triangle universities, along with graduate students and advanced undergraduates) will meet monthly to investigate, through common readings and discussions, the twin themes of cultural diasporas and capital & commodity flows. A fifth group, with members drawn from each of the other four, will be global in scope, offering a forum for comparative discussions on the conceptual challenges of remapping world regions. Together, these five workshops will play a crucial role in sounding out the promise of the various oceanic communities as focal points for further initiatives at Duke in the coming years.

Pedagogical initiatives: A second component of this year-long experiment will be a series of pilot courses on trans-oceanic themes. We will develop four new seminars in a variety of disciplines, open to both seniors and graduate students, each of which will focus on connections in a specific basin community. A fifth seminar will be a trial "capstone course" for CAS majors, on the theme of "Connective Approaches to Area Studies." Finally, course-enhancement grants will be offered to Duke faculty on a competitive basis, to assist instructors with the challenge of incorporating a basins perspective into existing area-studies courses.

Student research support: A third component of this initiative will support student research on trans-oceanic topics. Modest stipends will be offered to a small number of graduate students and seniors, to defray travel costs and living expenses for short research trips during the summer of 1998. Based on the results of this initial effort, we hope to offer an expanded program of stipends and research assistantships in the future.

Conference support: A highlight of the year, and in many ways the culmination of the seed grant, will be a three-day conference to be held on the Duke campus in Fall 1998. This symposium will feature 16 local scholars (both faculty and advanced graduate students) alongside an equal number of their peers from other national and international institutions. The first two days' presentations will explore the empirical linkages that have shaped the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean regions. The final day will feature scholars who are engaged in research or pedagogical projects that involve historicizing, critiquing, and creating alternatives to the continental map of world regions. Convening such a conference on campus will fulfill two goals: (1) to lay the foundation for a published volume showcasing basin research, and (2) to begin a wider discussion in the area studies community about the pedagogical potential of the basin model. To this end, part of the symposium funds will be earmarked for interaction between visiting scholars and Duke undergraduates.

Faculty planning group: Finally, a faculty planning group will evaluate the institutional implications of reorienting upper-level area-studies teaching and research around ocean basins. This group will meet monthly during the academic year to pursue a four-fold charge: (1) explore the critical and curricular issues of basin approaches; (2) plan the year-end symposium; (3) monitor the ongoing progress of the initiatives supported by the seed grant; and (4) identify future projects, rooted in the faculty/student seminars, which could be expanded upon as we plan for continuing and elaborating on this effort over the next three to five years. Duke will be engaged in a major curriculum reform during the next twelve months in any case, and it is our hope that "Oceans Connect" will become a positive force in that effort.

Administration of the Program, Institutional Backing, & Collaborations

The Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs and the undergraduate Comparative Area Studies Program (CAS) will jointly oversee this initiative. Budgetary oversight will be provided by the Vice Provost, and program management will be handled by the CAS co-directors, Martin Lewis and Kären Wigen, Principal Investigators for this proposal.

Duke's Comparative Area Studies Program is a logical locus for the basin initiative. Home to an innovative undergraduate major that has already drawn national attention as a possible model for a new international studies pedagogy, CAS offers students a rigorous but situated approach to area studies. Majors not only undertake intensive study of the language, culture, and history of one region, they also design a secondary concentration on another world region of interest to them, and take a core curriculum of global and comparative courses as well. Our goal with this initiative is to build on a program that has already found creative ways to explore inter-area comparisons by integrating into it a connective component.

The CAS curriculum, like its steering committee, draws together faculty allied with the centers for North American and European Studies, the program in Latin American Studies, the departments of Romance Studies and African & African-American Studies, the Asian & African Languages and Literatures section, and the Asian/Pacific Studies Institute, among others. Through the proposed basin workshops, linkages between these units will be broadened and enhanced. The Atlantic Ocean seminar, for example, will include scholars from Latin American, North American, African and African-American, and European studies.

On-campus institutes will in turn mobilize affiliated scholars throughout central North Carolina, through the auspices of the Duke-UNC Program in Latin American Studies, the Triangle East Asia Colloquium, the Triangle South Asia Consortium, and the Carolina-Duke-Emory Studies of Islam Consortium. These and other area studies groups already bring together faculty from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham, North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, and the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill. Such ties will both support and be strengthened by the development of the basin clusters proposed above.

Finally, Duke is also situated in an expanding web of international academic linkages that goes well beyond traditional study abroad. The Center for North American Studies alone has established formal relationships with six separate Canadian and Mexican universities; altogether, Duke maintains similar ties with more than one hundred universities abroad. Many of these international connections are ideally suited for collaborative work across oceanic basins. Examples include El Colégio de México, Universite Tunis, Koç University in Istanbul, McGill University, and the new Asian International University in Thailand (for which Duke expects to be designated as the major coordinating partner).

Looking Ahead

The "Revitalizing Area Studies" initiative comes at a propitious time for Duke, where serious investments are being made to strengthen internationalization across the campus. A pilot program in Romance Studies has increased the number of contact hours in undergraduate language instruction, with an eye to helping students gain cultural as well as linguistic fluency. Expansion of that project to include all languages taught on campus is being considered. Meanwhile, faculty are mobilizing actively around transnational themes. Initiatives within the last year include a Triangle working group on international migration, a Sawyer seminar on comparative nationalisms, and a major conference on rethinking the status of languages. For next year, funding is in place for an interdisciplinary project on "Globalization and Equity" and for a new Sawyer seminar on "Trans-National Cultural Exchange." Clearly, faculty across the campus are finding novel ways to pursue interdisciplinary, inter-area work.

Our proposal with its emphasis on linking area-based scholars in new but still geographically defined groupings promises to complement and enhance these existing initiatives. It also promises to help Duke identify specific areas where further investment would prove especially beneficial. Preliminary responses to the basin concept suggest that targeting Africa and Southeast Asia for enhanced language training may emerge as a priority, for these two regions lie at the intersection of the most active emerging basin groups. The South Asianists, Africanists, and Islamicists from three Triangle universities are already laying the groundwork for a new consortium focusing on the Indian Ocean. For this group (as for our undergraduates who study Africa), regularizing African language instruction at Duke is a long-term goal. At the other end of the Afro-Eurasian landmass, the Indian Ocean and Pacific Basin groups are discovering a convergent interest in Southeast Asia, a region that has historically been all but "off the map" for Duke. Given Southeast Asia's increasing prominence, and the prospect of Duke's collaboration with the Asian International University in Thailand, it is compelling that we integrate Southeast Asia more fully into the curriculum. "Oceans Connect" will provide strategic suggestions about how to do that in an efficient and meaningful way.

Sparked in part by this proposal, a complementary initiative directed by the Vice Provost for Academic and International Affairs is underway to establish a Forum for Transnational Studies. The Forum will coordinate comparative global research on such transnational themes as international relations, security issues, and economic development. Once this mechanism is in place, the interaction between the faculty concerned with transnational themes and those involved in "Oceans Connect" will have a mutually beneficial effect: adding thematic strength to Duke's area studies programs, while providing an area-based perspective to those engaged in thematically focused transnational studies.

In sum, this proposal has significant potential to catalyze new discussions in international studies. By superimposing a fluid map of trans-oceanic ties onto the existing grid of area studies, it will prompt scholars and students alike to reexamine their ingrained ideas about the global community without losing sight of the importance of place (and of place-based knowledge). And in the process of exposing trans-oceanic linkages, participants will inevitably produce new linkages of their own. For all these reasons, we expect the "Oceans Connect" model to have a far-reaching impact on area studies at Duke and to serve as a useful model for other institutions.

Basin leaders--that is, reading group leaders for the various ocean basins--are Miriam Cooke (Mediterranean), John Richards (Indian Ocean), Bai Gao (Pacific), and Barry Gaspar (Atlantic). The fifth, comparative reading group will be facilitated by Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen.



[EdNote: The following essay appeared in the Spring 1997 Dukengineer magazine.]

The trinity of research, service, and teaching is the mantra of Duke faculty and faculty everywhere. Time is the essence of the challenge in addressing this trinity. One can always find more worthwhile projects to pursue, e.g. improving the course you are teaching or planning a new course you hope to teach, mentoring new graduate students as they begin their quest to be a scholar, helping an advanced graduate student complete their thesis, writing yet another grant proposal, journal article or book, setting up a new experiment or computer code, or serving your department, school or university in a myriad of ways on task forces, committees or advisory councils.

Looking back over three decades of faculty life now equally divided between two distinguished private universities, I can think of no time when more has been demanded of our faculty. Yet it is also the case that most faculty are thriving in this very challenging and competitive environment.

The question of balance among this trinity is always a critical one. Duke University is currently preparing a study of this delicate question as part of its reaccreditation study undertaken once each decade. So it is an issue, not just for Engineering, but for all of Duke. Corporately and individually, how do we achieve that balance and synergy that leads to each of these three activities benefiting the others? It is not an easy question to answer and no doubt the ultimate answer will always elude us, but I would like to suggest here that an engineering approximation may suffice.

Early in one's career the principal foci are teaching and research with service a more modest component. As a recent graduate of an excellent Ph.D. program, the new faculty member at Duke or other leading universities will have a deep understanding of the latest knowledge in some field of engineering. Teaching an advanced undergraduate or graduate course will be relatively straightforward. Much time and energy will be expended in launching a research activity with grants, students, computer and/or laboratory facilities all needing attention and effort.

Later one will be asked to help with key undergraduate courses. Is this a service or teaching responsibility? The answer is yes, of course. What is remarkable, and perhaps surprising to those who have not had the privilege of teaching bright Duke undergraduates, is that it can also be a spur to one's research. Out of the mouths of undergraduates, with their innocent and profound questions and their unquenchable enthusiasm, often come new ways of thinking about our most important research issues.

As the faculty member moves to midcareer, various administrative (service) responsibilities may come their way, e.g. director of undergraduate studies or graduate studies, chair of a department or director of a major research and education center, or dean, provost, or president. Most faculty serve in one or more of these roles at some point in their career, mindful of the impact on teaching and research that serving as an administrator or, to use the term that I prefer, a leader will have.

A final word about research and teaching if I may. To the layperson outside academia and even to students or faculty at times, it may seem these two key thrusts of research and teaching at the modern university are oftentimes in conflict. The commonplace response by university administrators and some faculty to those who express such concerns is that often the best teachers are the best researchers and vice versa. Some faculty realists (not to say cynics) would question this glib response. The truth and the reality is more interesting and certainly more complex.

During February we had the pleasure at Duke of hosting Dean Elsa Garmire and the Board of Overseers of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. One of the portions of their visit and tours of our School's programs and departments most commented upon by our guests was a new course offered by Professor David Needham in conjunction with several faculty from Chemistry, Engineering and the Medical Center on "Biological Materials Science." This multidisciplinary team-taught course and research seminar drawing on the substantial resources of Arts and Sciences, Engineering and The Medical Center is an example of how teaching and research combine for faculty and students alike to provide the essence of the learning experience.

For many faculty, research is a form of continuing education. It is a way of continuing their own education as students of a subject that informs their teaching and writing. This alone is a most valuable function of research in the service of teaching. But it might be asked, is it not possible for faculty members to keep up with the latest advances in their field without doing research per se? Of course it is, but in fact only a few do so without the benefit of the discipline of organized research. Research, as well as teaching, is a craft. It requires practice. As most students benefit from the structure of homework, exams, projects, etc., so do we faculty benefit from the writing of proposals and research reports and papers. And like our students, we have been known to grumble about these tasks, but also to delight in our success when we excel.

So the trinity of research, service, and teaching remains a challenge to master. By recognizing their inseparability we may more fully enjoy our success in doing so.


My creatures have shrunk to the size of a thumbnail this month, their habitat pre-empted by enlarged faculty contributions. (It has always been our policy to vacate white space when our colleagues need it.) If this trend continues, the beasties could disappear altogether, just ahead of my editorials and similar entries which have caused our critics to say we are too conservative, too one-sided, and too boring.

As they recede toward limbo, my little crew is a bit puzzled by these responses. Parrot's Classic Erotica, we thought, featured some vivid figments from the likes of Ovid, Suetonius, Milton, Pepys, Joyce Carol Oates, and Reynolds Price -- a diverse and lively set of major writers. Possum, too, appealed to a wide range of interests, from hard science to the culture wars to offbeat glimpses of popular icons like Laurence Olivier, Ed Sullivan, and Che Guevara (in a leper colony). And Ferret's careful research into the nether side of genius, featuring the likes of Freud, Marx, and Heidegger, seemed worthy (to us) of reader engagement.

But perhaps, we infer, reader engagement requires reader agreement, even in academe: our critics say they have been turned off the FF by our stance on controversial issues. That's their privilege, of course, but in two respects we are disappointed. First, we think the best answer to a weak argument, if that was our problem, is a good argument -- not some version of pulling the plug on the whole discussion, as some of our critics have recommended. Our other disappointment concerns the campus colleagues who have been shortchanged in this FF controversy. After a year at the helm, we take this occasion to thank them for their solid, diverse contributions as follows:

William van Alstyne and Aarne Vesilind on Academic Freedom; Lawrence Evans, and Arkadny Plotnitsky on Science Studies; Stanley Hauerwas on Dappled Things, Stanley Fish (reprinted from the NYTimes) on Social Text, John Richards on the Teaching/Research Quandary, David Sanford on Abolishing the Rank of Associate Professor, Roger Corless on the Faculty in Residence Program, President Keohane's Annual Address to the Faculty, Gillian Einstein's Focus on Exploring the Mind, Irwin Fridovich on The True Purpose of Human Life (digging up carbon and burning it), George Williams on Duke's Tannenbaum Ceremony, Myron Wolbarsht on the Metric System, John Staddon on the Achievement Index, Walter Mignolo and others on the Relocation of Languages and Cultures, Peter Whitney on Free Market Reforms in Latin America, poems and fiction by Duke Masters (Pope, Lentricchia, Price), Lawrence Evans on Academic Entropy in the Curriculum, and and William King on Refugee Scholars on the Duke Faculty.

Perhaps, as we think how to expand on that list, we'll keep our creatures on tap after all. At best, they reflect a broad spectrum of interests. At worst, they can be ignored by high-serious readers. And the prospect of their return may move our critics to stop being non-writers for the Faculty Forum. To keep the creatures (and perhaps my editorials too) off the page, they merely need fill it with their own free expression of thought -- the only way we know of, apart from censorship, to resolve their complaint that the FF is one-sided. The white space is there for the taking. If left unused, it could mean Welcome Back, Possum, Parrot, and Ferret. Critics, colleagues, non-writers at large, it's up to you.


[Editor's Note: The following brief but memorable poem comes from a new edition of William Dean Howells' poetry selected and edited by English Professor emeritus Edwin H. Cady.]


If He could doubt on His triumphant cross,

How much more I, in the defeat and loss

Of seeing all my selfish dreams fulfilled,

Of having lived the very life I willed,

Of being all that I desired to be?

My God, my God! Why hast thou forsaken me?

POEMS BY ED LEVIN (Psychiatry)

A Constructed Word: Asisasis

As, is an is.

As is, an is.

As is an, is.

As, is an is.

"As" is a contraction of the words "as is".

There are many possible states of being, many "is's".

As is, an is.

The currently appreciated state, "As is,", is only one example of the many possible "is's".

As is an, is.

The concept that any reality is one of many realities

the transcendent reality


Finally's comprized

of all which has come before,

and not with the end.

A haiku

Jets can carry man

Faster than he ever ran

But he's running still.


We welcome Fact, Opinion, and Creative Whimsy from colleagues in Arts & Sciences and the Professional Schools--book reviews (new or reprinted), short or middle-sized essays, speeches, serendipitous items from random reading, and voices from the kulturkampf. Send entries to Victor Strandberg, 315 Allen (489-5531). email