Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University Program II

A Brief History of Program II

Program II emerged in 1968 as an initiative proposed by a committee with sufficient foresight to appreciate that there will always be undergraduates whose academic interests fall outside or cross the disciplinary boundaries associated with existing majors in Program I.  While Program II has evolved considerably over the 46 years of its existence, it has continuously served students who seek a truly individual undergraduate experience, one that enables them to explore a theme or intellectual question without the restrictions that naturally attend the study of a single academic discipline. Generations of Program II students have drawn more or less freely upon the academic resources of the University to design and pursue a unique course of study. 

When Program II admitted its first students in 1969 it reflected its creators’ vision of a program of study with very few academic requirements.  Students were guided by an academic advisor in a department closely associated with their theme.  The advisor assisted the student in the selection of appropriate course work.  When a student’s application was ready for review, it was the department, not the student, who submitted the proposal to a newly-created Arts & Sciences Program II Committee for screening and approval.  After approval, programs of study were administered loosely through the academic department or program of the advisor.  Applicants to Program II were encouraged to explore subfields within individual academic disciplines and to explore the points of intersection between related fields.  Study abroad and course work taken at other American colleges and universities could also be incorporated into a Program II.  The considerably greater flexibility afforded by Program II made it attractive to students interested in emerging fields such as women’s studies, environmental studies, and primatology, as well as various topics within the arts and history. 

In 1980 the Special Committee on Educational Policy and Programs was formed and charged broadly to examine the undergraduate educational experience of majors in Program I as well as of Program II students.  The Committee issued a report, entitled A Climate for Liberal Learning, that (among numerous other recommendations) called (on p. 35) for Program II students to “complete the freshman/ sophomore requirements of Program I.”  At that time the freshman/sophomore requirements included a writing course, two courses outside the division of the major, and two General Education courses.  This new requirement was justified by the view that “Program II should not be used simply to escape requirements that an individual may find onerous.”  It was also justified as a means of insuring that Program II students received a liberal arts education at Duke. 

The Climate report also called for the consolidation of Program II under an academic dean, who “would be more easily accessible and provide a permanent home base for the Program that students would be aware of and tend to make use of.”  This proposal sought to bring continuity to and improve advising in Program II.  Both recommendations were put into effect in 1983 by action of the Program II Committee, with the Arts & Sciences Council’s blessing.  The changes resulted in a more centralized structure for Program II and produced greater consistency in a program of study that now included a breadth requirement like that of Program I.  Since 1983 the Program II breadth requirement has been modified from time to time as Program I breadth requirements have been revised.  Also since 1983 applicants to Program II have submitted separate lists of 1) courses related to the topic of their program and 2) courses that fulfill the breadth requirement. 

Centralization of Program II in the Trinity College Dean’s Office has led students since the early 1980’s to identify more with the Program than with the sponsoring department of their advisor.  This is reinforced by the fact that students now also submitted their applications not to the sponsoring department but to the Program II Committee directly.  Centralization of the Program in the Trinity College Dean’s Office was accompanied by the establishment of Graduation with Distinction in Program II in 1983. 

In the early 1990’s Program II came under the scrutiny of the ad hoc Curriculum Review Committee, established by the Arts & Science Council to assess the first four years of the curriculum revision implemented in 1988-89.   One of the Committee’s fifteen recommendations pertained specifically to Program II, namely that the dean create a review committee to evaluate whether Program II was functioning well and to address concerns about the low level of student participation in the program and about what was perceived as an overly “bureaucratic” administration of it. 

During the 1995-96 academic year the Program II Committee reviewed the fundamental mission of Program II and technical aspects of approving degree programs under it.  They reaffirmed the importance of curricular breadth within Program II but concluded that the breadth requirements of Program II need not necessarily be identical to those of Program I.  In other words, Program II should “permit greater flexibility in satisfying the requirement for breadth” by “considering applicants’ novel suggestions for breadth components.”   The Committee also wished to encourage but not require Program II participants to include a culminating (capstone) experience in the senior year, which they saw as an opportunity to weave together the various interdisciplinary strands that typically comprise a Program II.  In the interest of assessing the effect of participation in Program II on students, the Committee recommended that graduating seniors be asked to submit a retrospective summary of their experience in the program.  Finally, the Committee assigned greater responsibility to advisors in the evaluation of requests by students to adjust their programs, as for example when course offerings are changed.

Since its centralization in the early 1980’s, Program II has contended with two persistent unintended consequences.  The first of these is the Program’s relative isolation from faculty at large, many of whom know little if anything about the program and hence are not able to be as supportive of it as we might like.  Secondly, there has been a perception among students that the application approval process is overly bureaucratic, even obstructionist.

Both of these concerns reflect a need for better communication with faculty and students.  To this end, the Dean’s Office undertook in 2005 a thorough revision of the Program II Web site to make it more accessible, appealing, clearer, and easier to navigate.  The application process is now also considerably easier to follow and includes detailed instructions, examples, and tips for the benefit of students.  The Frequently Asked Questions page seeks to address directly a number of specific concerns about the Program and the application process, and students are encouraged to contact current Program II students if they have questions or would like their advice.   Program II is more effectively promoted and students are assured that their chances of being admitted to Program II are very good if they take care to follow the guidelines set for the preparation of applications.  The Director emphasizes that persistence pays off: if the initial application is not approved, in most cases students are given specific advice about how to improve it and encouraged to resubmit a revised application. The online application to Program II, introduced in the fall 2013, is structured in such a way that students are given greater guidance about what is expected of them in each module of the application.  This leads to greater consistency and applications that provide the Program II Committee with more, better, and more consisten information and can lead to a better program approval rate.

In 2010, the Program II Committee enhanced the senior capstone requirement to require a two-semester Senior Capstone Project. This, in turn, let to the introduction of the requirement that students complete a minimum of 15 courses in Program II.

For more information about Program II or to ask for an appointment with Dean Murphey-Brown 

phone: (919) 684-6217

or you can contact Dean Murphey-Brown with specific questions at: