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Building on Excellence

Duke’s Signature on American Higher Education

American higher education is widely admired throughout the world. Private research universities occupy a special place in American higher education, and Duke University ranks in the top echelon of those institutions. In 77 years, we have substantially realized James B. Duke’s remarkable vision of transforming a progressive regional liberal arts college into a national and international university, thanks to the foresight and patient labor of generations of trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Our trajectory has been remarkable, and our momentum is strong. The work, however, is never done. Our overriding goal is to cement a leadership position among the small number of institutions that define what is best in American higher education.

During 1999-2000, we undertook an integrated school-level and university-level planning process with a particular focus on our academic choices for strategic investment. This plan, adopted by the board of trustees in spring 2001, sets our course for the next five to ten years and plays a central role in our efforts to move to the top of our peer institutions. We will benefit substantially from having this clear, well-understood blueprint. Like a navigator’s chart, it will help steer us past low-priority investments of our time and energy. It gives bold expression to Duke’s commitment to stewardship, leadership, excellence, community, and values.

Principles and Goals of the Academic Plan

Our academic plan is rooted in our assessment of what Duke is and what we want it to be. Among our most important comparative advantages are our ability to build excellent multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary programs, both within and across schools, and our ability to move somewhat more quickly and flexibly than many of our competitors. Our physical layout, especially the close proximity of the medical school and our other professional schools, promotes interactions that are much more difficult at other universities. Our relative youth is also an advantage, for we are less tied to traditional modes of operation and more able to construct broad new innovative programs. Our Duke culture generally supports programmatic cooperation and coordination, as illustrated by the degree to which the current strategic plans of our constituent schools have developed along cooperative and complementary, rather than competitive, lines.

A broad theme of our plan, therefore, is “deepening” – the intensification of support, including facilities and infrastructure, for the research and teaching of existing faculty, and expansion only in targeted areas where we suffer particular vulnerabilities or need to bolster faculty strength in order to fulfill research and teaching priorities. While Duke saw significant programmatic growth in the latter part of the ‘90s, our academic facilities have not kept pace. It is essential that we address the demand that has been created. We currently have essential programs that are too cramped and crowded to be effective, and we have activities that are split across locations, in a number of cases in off-campus, rented facilities.

We have laid out in these pages a synopsis of how we will take this major step forward in excellence. The plan in greater detail is available on line and the headlines in this report link to the appropriate parts of the plan.