Timeline: Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University



University Self-Study Report “Crossing Boundaries: Interdisciplinary Planning for the Nineties”

This report, commissioned by President Brodie and Provost Griffiths, set the stage for the university’s ongoing commitment to a culture of intellectual innovation and collaboration.


Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Activities Created

Provost Langford established this position (to be held by the Dean of the Graduate School) following a recommendation of the 1988 university strategic plan. The office had the responsibility of facilitating, administering, and evaluating both new and existing interdisciplinary programs, with the goal of minimizing institutional barriers to collaborative activity of faculty across the campus.

Provost’s Common Fund Created

This fund furnished seed money for interdisciplinary work throughout the university.


University Strategic Plan “Shaping Our Future: A Young University Faces a New Century”

The plan acknowledged the importance of the Provost’s Common Fund in supporting new interdisciplinary projects and heralded the emerging focus on interdisciplinary and cross‐school collaboration as one of Duke’s competitive advantages. Led by President Keohane, the plan called for the fostering of joint degree programs and joint faculty appointments, and emphasized, among the goals for the Schools, to securely establish the School of the Environment.


English Professor Cathy Davidson Named First Full-time Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies

The full-time appointment, made by President Keohane and Provost Strobehn, underscored the university’s commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and research. Davidson became the first individual to hold such a position nationwide.


University Strategic Plan “Building on Excellence”

Released under the stewardship of President Keohane and Provost Lange, this plan called for a series of major cross‐departmental and cross‐school undertakings. The plan was supported by significant central resources to amplify presidential and provostial leverage in setting institutional priorities.


University Strategic Plan “Making a Difference: The Strategic Plan for Duke University”

Emerging from a university-wide planning process, this strategic plan reflected the leadership of President Brodhead and Provost Lange. They put forward a bold vision with a central role for interdisciplinary studies, which resulted in the building of an infrastructure for interdisciplinary scholarship, teaching, and practice centered on seven university-wide institutes.

Psychology Professor Susan Roth Named Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies

Roth took on the responsibility for implementing the interdisciplinary goals of “Making a Difference.” Under her leadership, Duke’s portfolio and supporting infrastructure of interdisciplinary units matured.


University Acts on Commitment to Seven Signature Interdisciplinary University Institutes and Their Affiliated Centers (UICs)

Duke both invested further in the Social Science Research Institute, Franklin Humanities Institute, Kenan Institute for Ethics, Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, and Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, and completed the group of seven signature interdisciplinary university institutes and their affiliated centers by establishing the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. The latter two institutes were partnerships with the School of Medicine.

Provost’s Joint School‐UIC Tenure/Tenure‐Track Faculty Hiring Program Established

This joint hiring program facilitated UIC partnerships with the Schools to enhance Duke’s vision of knowledge in the service of society and more broadly raise the profile of interdisciplinary studies at Duke.


Office of Interdisciplinary Program Management Created

This office opened as the central administrative infrastructure to promote program delivery and innovation, realize economies of scale, set standards of staff expertise and competence, provide close oversight for good stewardship of university resources and compliance with university regulations and standards, and establish a new financial model and metrics to guide investments in the University Institutes and Centers. The executive director reports to the vice provost for interdisciplinary studies and works closely with the offices of the executive vice provost and the executive vice dean for administration in the School of Medicine.

School-based Centers Moved to Schools

Duke transferred administration of more than 60 interdisciplinary school-based centers to school deans, with procedures for the chartering and review of school-based centers monitored by the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies.


Sanford School of Public Policy Created

Following a recommendation in the 2006 strategic plan, Duke rolled the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy and the Department of Public Policy Studies into a school.


Strategic Plan for Interdisciplinary Studies Published

In 2009, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies Susan Roth initiated a strategic planning process for interdisciplinary studies at Duke. A group of faculty met weekly to formulate a set of goals for the next five years. The resulting strategic plan was published in 2010.


Duke Energy Initiative Launched; Planning Begun for Bass Connections

Initiatives with University-wide potential rounded out Duke’s strategic interdisciplinary profile. Duke launched the Energy Initiative to tackle major global issues, and planning began for a new program to support interdisciplinary research teams incorporating faculty and students, which eventually became Bass Connections.


UIC External Reviews Undertaken; Phase 2 of Joint Hiring Program Begun

In line with the recommendations of the 2010 Interdisciplinary Studies strategic plan, Duke instituted an external review process of the seven signature university-wide Institutes. Modeled after departmental and school reviews, the process brought in external teams of experts to assess and provide feedback on each institute. Duke also initiated a second cluster of joint hires between schools and UICs.


Bass Connections Launched

Duke established Bass Connections, a university-wide initiative seeded by a $50 million gift from Anne and Robert Bass. The program links faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates to respond to complex societal challenges through problem-focused project teams, courses, and summer programs.


Genome Sciences Reorganized

After more than a decade of rich scientific discovery and significant faculty and student recruitment, the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy evolved into several new programs, including the Duke Center for Genomic and Computational Biology, Duke Center for Applied Genomics and Precision Medicine and Duke Science & Society.


History Professor Ed Balleisen Named Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies

Balleisen’s research has led to collaborations with faculty from law, business, policy, environmental studies, and other units. His priorities include heightened focus on support for interdisciplinary faculty research, amplification of interdisciplinary opportunities for graduate students, the expansion of collaborative, problem-centered inquiry across the Duke curriculum, a reinvigoration of partnerships among UICs and Duke’s schools, and the fostering of more sustained research connections with community partners.


Interdisciplinary Opportunities for Graduate Students Expanded

Duke received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to launch Versatile Humanists, a partnership among the Graduate School, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies. In addition, Vice Provost Ed Balleisen launched two funding programs, Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) and Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG).


“Together Duke: Advancing Excellence through Community”

The strategic plan strengthens the university’s commitments to interdisciplinary research, a transformative educational experience for every student, and engagement with communities around the world on pressing 21st-century challenges.