DURHAM — Duke University’s top administrator for its new campus in China says she’s confident academic freedom will be protected at Duke Kunshan University.
“The devil is in terms of what happens on the ground,” acknowledged DKU Executive Vice Chancellor Mary Brown-Bullock in recent remarks to the Duke faculty’s Academic Council. “But we are encouraged. We are quite confident Duke Kunshan University is being provided political space … to develop in a very open way.”
Students and faculty at the new campus — currently under construction and now scheduled to welcome students sometime next year — “will have complete freedom of academic inquiry,” Brown-Bullock said.
Nevertheless, she told the council that she didn’t want to “soft pedal” any concerns they had about academic freedom, particularly potential restrictions on access to the Internet by the Chinese government.
If that happened, Brown-Bullock said, the university has “backup plans in place” for those on the campus to connect to the Internet remotely through Duke’s own network.
Something like that happening would be unlikely, she added, because the Chinese are looking for an American-style campus, with all the freedoms that would entail.
“They want a world-class university,” said Brown-Bullock, the former president of Agnes Scott College in Georgia. “They want to experiment. They are taking political risks that we cannot even imagine. They aspire to have real faculty governance and an independent Board of Trustees.”
Worries about academic freedom have been among a series of concerns that have bedeviled the ambitious project. Taking shape on a 200-acre site between the cities of Shanghai and Suzhou, the DKU campus has faced a number of roadblocks.
Construction of some of the buildings has been delayed, the project still has not received final approval from the Chinese Department of Education, Duke’s costs have risen and the start of the first classes on the campus has been repeatedly pushed back. Officials now say that they’re targeting the spring of 2014 for the first classes.
Nevertheless, Brown-Bullock told the council that she was “tremendously impressed by the planning [for DKU] going on here at Duke.” The new campus, she added, had the potential to “contribute to the transformation of Chinese and American higher education.”