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Chapter 3 - Duke's Enduring Themes

We begin our strategic planning process with an affirmation of the centrality and importance of five enduring themes that have defined, and continue to define, Duke:

While these enduring themes could be common to many universities, Duke's distinction rests on how they are manifested in our everyday activities, how they undergird our school and departmental strengths, and how they work together to enable us to realize our collective institutional vision. Each of these themes is embodied in what happens in our schools and in the ways that they combine in a kaleidoscopic pattern to give a collective coherence and beauty to the university as a whole. Following each of themes described below are strategic implications that guide this plan.


Many of the most interesting and pressing problems of today, such as environmental pollution or economic competitiveness, human health or cultural understanding, are deeply interdisciplinary at their core. Consequently, some of the most c reative teaching and research occurs increasingly at the intersections and interstices of traditional departments and programs. Faculty and students who are equipped to address these issues most constructively will be those who have learned to work in more than one dimension, using the tools of their own as well as other disciplines, who have been trained to grasp the interaction of many parts of the question and bring to bear multiple sets of analytic skills, and who can collaborate as well as work alone. Duke has long recognized this fact, and perhaps our best known institutional strength is our self-definition as a scholarly community that values, and has a proven track-record of success with, interdisciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity thrives at Duke because faculty tend to be less oriented to a map of the disciplines than to intellectual questions and living human issues, which their knowledge might help to understand. When we are oriented toward challenges of this order, the disciplines are naturally synergistic, since no discipline holds all the pieces of the puzzle to be solved. As a young university, we have been forced to leverage resources and collaborate across departmental and school boundaries, a feat facilitated by our compact campus that joins in close proximity - unlike many other major research universities - our undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools.

This institutional self-identification with interdisciplinarity was crystallized in the 1987 accreditation review and report "Crossing Boundaries," that placed interdisciplinarity as the foremost of intellectual qualities to which the University sought to aspire. In the late 1990's, Duke was a leader in establishing a Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and through that office has provided faculty development opportunities and university-wide forums to foster interdisciplinary collaborations. Strategic and deliberative actions over the past two decades have seeded and nurtured the creation of a variety of cross-school, multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary centers and institutes, such as the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, and the Social Science Research Institute, as well as an innovative framework for seeding, supporting, and evaluating interdisciplinary efforts. Interdisciplinarity, combining and recombining issues and ideas, will remain at the forefront of what we do and continue to be an integral part of Duke's identity, providing a signature strategic advantage.

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