Today, the Duke men’s basketball team is in Kunshan China. They are there to kick off a global tour that will also take them to Shanghai, Beijing, and Dubai.
It’s the latest, and most public, effort by Duke to expand its global reach.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski is famously focused. He’s that way whether he’s making adjustments during a national championship game or making a point to his young players during a summer practice.
Krzyzewski is prepping his team for the ultimate road trip. The first stop is Kunshan, China, a city of more than a million and a half people 40 miles west of Shanghai. And just because it’s been billed the “friendship games” doesn’t change the goal.
Mike Krzyzewski: "I mean we would like to win all of our games. There’s no question about it. I think it will be more experimenting with lineups, giving guys a chance to play. So they get experience. Especially with the four freshmen."
While winning is Krzyzewski’s goal, the university has a much broader interest in the trip to China.
In the fall of 2012, the University plans to open Duke Kunshan University, a $260 million campus. The plan is to offer degrees in business and global health.
Duke President Richard Brodhead.
Richard Brodhead: "China is hungry for high-quality higher education. And so they’re very eager to have us come, do a kind of program that really is a Duke specialty, theory and practice things, things that bring disciplines together. But the value for us will be all the learning that takes place through our students and our faculty that can then be brought back and factored into everything else we do."
But unlike basketball, Duke Kunshan is not proving to be a unifying force on campus in Durham. Faculty have raised concerns over Duke Kunshan that range from dilution of resources to academic freedom.
Thomas Pfau is a tenured professor of English Literature and German. He is also a leading critic of Duke Kunshan.
Thomas Pfau: "We are committing a vast amount of university resources, faculty, administrative focus, and money, to an endeavor for which we have never been tendered a coherent and compelling rationale."
The University expects to spend in the neighborhood of $30-to-40 million on Duke Kunshan over the first six years. The city itself is building the campus. Since it was first conceived in 2007, the project has hit a number of snags. In China, Duke’s higher education partner university has changed. And Duke Kunshan has yet to receive final approval from the Chinese government.
Back in Durham in June, the faculty at the Fuqua School of Business delayed a vote on what degree programs to offer. Shortly after, the Business School dean resigned to take a job raising money for Duke Kunshan.
Pfau says he has heard from numerous faculty members at Duke who believe the project is fatally flawed. And he believes there will be great resistance in getting faculty to teach in China. He also says sending the basketball team this summer strikes him as “desperate.”
Pfau: "They are sending essentially a kind of surrogate for the faculty who are really not inclined to upend their research and their entire lives by disappearing to some backwater industrial place in a Chinese province for extended periods of time."
If sending the basketball team doesn’t sound like a good idea to some faculty, it’s clearly one of the competitive advantages Duke has over the other elite universities setting up campuses overseas.
Johns Hopkins, NYU, and Stanford have either opened or will open campuses in China soon. That creates a highly competitive marketplace for English-speaking Chinese students who can afford around $40,000 a year tuition.
Young Chinese people are also huge basketball fans. Not a fact lost on Brodhead.
Brodhead: "So really that’s for us the interest of this venture, is capitalizing on the visibility of our basketball team to bring visibility to the rest of the university."
Brodhead acknowledges the challenges ahead and the trust that must be built, both in China and in Durham. He then points to a photo that sits on the bookcase behind his desk. It’s of a giant hole, surrounded by dirt mounds. A construction site in 1928.
Brodhead: "So, if you wanted to discuss Duke at that point, all you could discuss is ‘we don’t know what it’s going to turn in to but it sure is a big construction site.’ You’ve got to work through the process for anything to come into being, and we’re working through the process to try to create this program."
Brodhead says the university is fully committed not only to Duke Kunshan, but to other international campuses - a global networked Duke University. And in 15 to 20 years, he believes Duke will be as successful in places like China and India and Dubai as it is now on the basketball court.