Going Global,Duke Magazine, September-October 2010

Though geographically distant, Duke Kunshan University became a more and more familiar theme this past semester: Construction of the 200-acre campus was well under way, and the university prepared to submit an application for approval to the Chinese Ministry of Education. It was also the subject of debate and discussion—ranging from a Chronicle editorial encouraging the administration to “get faculty on board with Kunshan,” to a letter in the student newspaper complaining that, among other things, the administration" still has to provide a financial plan to make DKU a sustainable, let alone meaningful, undertaking during a time of fiscal duress here at Duke,” to a discussion with President Richard H. Brodhead before the Academic Council.

Opening the Academic Council discussion in March, its chair, Craig Henriquez B.S.E. ’81, Ph.D. ’88, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, said, “The one question I have is, where are the faculty advocates?” Referring to Duke’s partnership with the National University of Singapore to create a graduate medical program, he added, “The Singapore project worked because faculty were ready to move their research and resources and in some cases their lives there.”

Brodhead told the Academic Council, “When we first approached the trustees with the DKU venture in late 2009, the response was excitement because of its great potential, and anxiety because we haven’t done anything like this and it’s not a world we know.” Recent efforts have “gone a long way to clarify the nature of the project,” he said. “The one promise I can make is that we will be committed to make this effort succeed, and we will watch it carefully so that we don’t end up with unanticipated exposure.”

Brodhead said he could not guarantee there would be no conflicts over academic freedom and human rights, but that those issues have been core principles in Duke’s discussions with Chinese officials, as they were six years earlier in planning the Singapore campus. “On the whole, it does seem better to learn something about China, to help our students to learn to negotiate these differences, than just to say it’s impossible and break off any engagement.”

Dive and parry: championship student-athletes Johnston, Ward, and McCrory, from left.

In comments to Duke Magazine, provost Peter Lange, the university’s chief academic officer, said, “We have probably gone though as exhaustive a planning process for this venture as we have for any school, institute, or program.” He added, “The board of trustees has been engaged at every step, as have the faculty’s leadership and standing committees, a number of departments from throughout the university, expert consultants, and alumni in China. This does not mean that all the planning is correct in detail or that there will not be changes and surprises down the road. Establishing a new university in a different country, with partners, rules, and regulations—not to mention a new language—is a complex undertaking.”

Lange calls China “an obvious and important strategic priority” for Duke. The Chinese leadership wants to sharply improve higher education at home, he said, by adopting aspects of the American liberal-arts approach to undergraduate education, and by developing more interdisciplinary graduate and professional training. “In the coming years, more Chinese students will be staying at home for their education, and increasing amounts of research will be conducted on Chinese soil with even deeper ties to scholars around the world. We believe there is great benefit for Duke in being a part of this process.”

Lange noted that Harvard University, the University of Chicago, Stanford, and New York University, among others, have all recently announced major expansions in China. “China provides the ideal laboratory and classroom to expand understanding of cross-disciplinary issues like business, global health, the environment, and public policy, all areas of great strength for Duke.”

Kunshan is located just outside of Shanghai and has been likened to Silicon Valley. It has the highest per-capita income in the country and has been attracting high-tech businesses from the U.S. and around the world, according to Lange.

Duke’s partner university, Wuhan University, already has a range of international partnerships and is the oldest comprehensive university in China, where it is “consistently ranked in the top ten,” Lange said. (Chinese law requires that such projects be sponsored by Chinese universities; Duke’s initial sponsor was Shanghai Jiao Tong University, but ultimately the two partners agreed to go in different directions, though they will continue to develop joint programs.) “It has schools of medicine, business, engineering, and public health, as well as the humanities and social sciences, which complements the programs that Duke hopes to pilot at the Kunshan campus.”

A joint agreement awards Duke the sole authority to propose to the DKU board all policies and procedures by which DKU will operate and gives Duke three of seven seats on the board, while establishing a five-vote requirement for all significant DKU decisions. (Kunshan and Wuhan will each name two members of the board.) The agreement deploys a number of Duke standards in key areas, establishing Duke’s lead role in faculty affairs, admissions, and curriculum. It also provides basic guarantees of academic freedom, such as open access to library resources and, through a private network, Internet resources.

The agreement commits Duke to developing educational programs “at world-class standards” and to sharing the responsibility for annual operating support with Kunshan—though most of the costs are expected to be covered by tuition and philanthropy. DKU’s offerings will take shape in several phases, culminating in the development of a comprehensive research university, with undergraduate and graduate programs. Duke officials expect the campus will open in late 2012; in “Phase One,” it will accommodate up to 700 students, as well as a state-of-the-art conference center.

Duke’s Fuqua School of Business will be the first on the scene, with the degree program Master of Management Studies and an Executive M.B.A., along with a small set of non-degree executive-education programs. Another Duke component, the Global Health Institute, will offer a graduate degree and a certificate program.

“An extensive amount of effort over the past eighteen months has gone into developing, analyzing, and testing our financial models for this program, and in minimizing Duke’s financial risks,” said Lange. Kunshan is dedicating the land and constructing the entire campus, which would cost about $260 million if it were built in the U.S. Kunshan’s cost-sharing stance is “unprecedented, certainly in China, and gives us great assurance that they are committed to the long-term success of this university,” he said.

For the first six years, Duke will commit about $6 million per year to the venture. That figure represents about $4.5 million from Fuqua programs already taking place in China that will move to the new campus; philanthropy directed to DKU; and Duke-provided services for the new campus, such as information technology. The remainder—about $1.5 million per year—will be a “strategic investment” on the part of Duke. Duke previously agreed to provide $5.5 million for master-plan design and oversight during the construction process.

In a late-April forum with employees, President Brodhead was asked about Duke’s global ambitions—particularly in China. A university that lives up to its highest potential “is going to be expanding,” he said. “But it’s going to be strengthening its home activities by means of that expansion.”

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