Sunday, December 14, 2008


I know a good number of Duke University graduates read this blog (Duke is my alma mater, 1999). I am happy to present a story about Duke from fellow Duke grad Bob Williams. Bob wrote this great account of his experience with Duke physical education in 1966. Enjoy.

FLUNKING LUNCH by Bob Williams

There were many things about college life that puzzled me: micro-economics; the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins; calculating water potential in plants; identifying meat in the cafeteria – to name just a few. But of all the institutional curiosities, none was more bewildering to me than physical education. I mean, what was the point? At the time, I thought the only reason for requiring it was to justify all the coaches that were necessary for one sport or another. But now, looking back, I wonder if p.e. was in the curriculum for another purpose altogether. Perhaps it was there as a Machiavellian ploy to intensify the intellectual experience by contrast, if you will. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, the Physical Education Department at Duke in the 1960s offered ample opportunities for us to forget, at least for a while, that we were in a place of higher learning.

When I entered Duke in 1966, students were required to pass four semesters of p.e for graduation. The only exceptions to that rule were the jocks. All other freshmen were given a physical aptitude test and, according to the results, were placed in either the regular p.e. class or Individual Development. The regular class comprised a sampler of activities, including swimming, rebound tumbling, volleyball, and wrestling. The Individual Development course was designed for those who were physically challenged by injury, birth defect, or an inability to walk and chew gum at the same time. Its main objective was to keep students from hurting themselves or each other.