Duke, NCCU and Durham

dukesports01One of the unfortunate side effects of the lacrosse nightmare that landed on the community and drew worldwide attention was the widely conveyed impression that Duke and Durham shared an uneasy co-existence.  This is hardly the case. The University and the Medical Center combined employ almost 30,000 people, most of whom live, work and vote in Durham or nearby. This is a much greater number than the students who are here at any one time and who come here for four years or so and then leave. Actually, a lot of them don’t leave when they’re done and adopt Durham as their own.

The impact of Duke goes way beyond all those salaries. Besides the two campuses Duke leases over 2 million square feet of office space in the community. Through early commitments to lease space, Duke insured the feasibility of a number of the major projects that have been part of the city’s revival including the American Tobacco Campus, Brightleaf Square and Erwin Plaza. Duke has worked closely with others in the community to provide affordable housing and annually contributes millions to indigent health care through the medical center. Faculty and staff are active in civic clubs and other aspects of the community.

Early during the lacrosse troubles, many outside the community jumped to the conclusion that all Duke students and especially the athletes were binge drinkers with no respect for property or the rights of others.  Of course, boorish behavior is not limited to Duke athletes or even students in general but some does surface around almost any college campus. Often unheralded are the students that volunteer in the community in many ways including tutoring disadvantaged kids.

Events where hundreds of students from both Duke and North Carolina Central University join with organizations like Rotary and a local organization called Stop Hunger Now work to  prepare and package thousands of emergency meals for shipment to underdeveloped countries like Haiti. These were all great kids, mature, aware and comfortable in their own skins…regardless of color.

Duke’s contribution to the cultural life of the community is also remarkable. One of the catalysts for the new Performing Arts Center in Downtown Durham has been the desire to have a permanent home for the annual American Dance Festival sponsored by Duke. The Nasher Art Museum on the southern edge of the campus in deeply involved in the community. The Duke Gardens are also highly used by the community. The Duke Chapel not only serves the Divinity School and the campus but has a congregation that attracts members from all over the region.

Duke sports are followed as closely by the community as they are by the students. Basketball tickets are impossible but most games are televised. The women’s basketball team is also competitive nationally and also getting to be a tough ticket. I graduated from Notre Dame, a football mecca, but I’d rather attend a Duke football game in person.  You seldom need a coat, never have snow in the stands, can easily get to the concession areas or a restroom and sometimes you see some good football teams. Lately that hasn’t been Duke but that is changing. The rivalries among the three ACC universities in the Triangle are very entertaining to follow.nccu01

North Carolina Central University is our historically black university. It is part of the University of North Carolina system and also a vibrant part of the community. It provides good undergraduate programs to students of all races and a number of excellent graduate programs including one of the best law schools in the state that includes among its graduates our former governor, Mike Easley. It has strong leadership, is growing rapidly and is carving an academic niche out for itself in biotechnology.

It has been interesting  over the last 25 years to see a succession of strong leaders at NCCU grow the role of the University from its roots as education oasis for black students to a much fuller role both in the community and the North Carolina University system.  In 2009, NCCU’s athletic program moved up to Division A and has challenged Carolina on the basketball court and Duke on both the basketball court and the football field.  No wins yet, but who knows what the next decade might bring in the rich stew of Triangle collegiate rivalries.