The minutes of the March meeting of the Academic Council have just become available, and they reveal that Duke University has no guarantee from the Chinese government for academic freedom at the proposed Duke Kunshan University.
A DukeCheck Special Report
As the debate over the proposed Duke Kunshan University escalated, it became focused on academic freedom and whether the repressive Chinese regime would allow the unfettered inquiry and interchange that a true university education requires.
In a PowerPoint presentation, The Brodhead Administration offered a document filled with glowing words.
Everyone on the DKU campus — its faculty, students, guest speakers — would be on an island free from restraint: “Free to teach, research and publish in the spirit free and open academic inquiry, to discover new knowledge, to convey disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge, to participate in and expose students to the full marketplace of ideas, and to train students in the methods and skills of particular disciplines and in the general skills of critical thinking, evaluation of evidence, independent thinking and cogent expression.”
The Harvard professor who was paid handsomely to help sell DKU to the Duke faculty, William Kirby, added an important qualification: in China, academic freedom exists “within the walls of universities” and not in society at large. This was certainly a rather critical limitation for Duke since its tradition of academic freedom stems from Professor John Spencer Bassett who was challenged in 1903 — not for his teaching within the walls of Trinity College — but because he wrote a magazine article that was circulated through-out the south.
Trampling on Bassett or not, Susan Lozier, chair of the Academic Council, who received special briefings on Kunshan last summer along with other members of the Council’s Executive Committee, summed up what the Administration was saying by addressing the first Council meeting of the new academic year in September: “The President and Provost have assured us that we are entering into an agreement with our DKU partners that allows for complete academic freedom.”
Brodhead and Lange were present. They did not respond.
In February, Lozier and the Executive Committee presented a resolution that gave the green light for further curriculum development. In March, this passed overwhelmingly. The text included these words: “The Academic Council’s endorsement of academic pro-grams comes with the expectation that… academic freedom for all members of the DKU community will be diligently protected, monitored and reviewed with the appropriate faculty bodies.”
Brodhead and Lange were present; they did not comment.
As the Council prepared to vote on the resolution at its March meeting, Karla Holloway, James B. Duke Professor of English, Professor of Law and an incisive critic of the Kunshan Initiative, questioned Peter the Provost about the parameters of Duke’s negotiations with the Chinese for an agreement.
Peter the Provost was forced to concede there were no negotiations, no discussions. Rather, all of the whoopla about a guarantee of academic freedom referred only to a proposal that Duke had made to Chinese Ministry of Education.
And then the real surprise. All the talk about unfettered internet and other freedoms was based only upon the Ministry’s silence. As Peter put it, “The ministry has indicated nothing regarding any desire to change any of those principles.”
My fellow Dukies, it’s also true that the Chinese have indicated nothing regarding any acceptance of any of those principles. Or as the ancient proverb puts it, silence is not to be taken as assent when dealing with a snake.
In fairness to Lange — and DukeCheck is fair — we note that he went on to say that if the Chinese did not accept what we had put forward, “that would have a direct effect on our ability to go forward.” Effect? He stopped well short of even suggesting we would cancel the deal.
None of this changes the bottom line: as of this date, April 19, 2012, five years after the Administration started talking about Kunshan in its Allen Building offices, and precisely three years since the city was first mentioned in the Chronicle, Duke University has no guarantee of academic freedom in Kunshan. Only silence.
Loyal Readers, the Administration has spread fog around what academic freedom will be like in Kunshan. As we wrote yesterday, there is a similar obfuscation enveloping the issue of DKU finances — and the amount of the subsidy that Duke University will have to pay.
In its latest calculations, the Brodhead Administration included as income the tuition payments from hundreds of graduate students studying for a masters degree in public health. A total of 275 students in the initial years. The Duke Global Health Institute is only proposing a program for 80 students in a three year trial run.
What’s the difference? $12,090,000 of income from phantom students studying in a program that isn’t even being proposed. This income serves to reduce the deficit.
The same discrepancy exists in the financial projections involving the Fuqua Business School.
Meanwhile, the Chinese ministry sits on our request for approval to operate Duke Kunshan University. In a hush-hush hurried trip to Beijing and Kunshan in January, Brodhead met with Vice Minister of Education Hao Ping, who assured him that the proposal will be approved in a matter of weeks. That was just the latest in a string of assurances.
Or as Brodhead bubbled, “Hao was encouraging us to start planning for the announcements.”
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