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Let’s Create the Next Generation of Innovators

A version of this op-ed was published in the Raleigh News & Observer on November 24, 2023. That version is available on the News & Observer’s website.

As a young professor at N.C. State, Jim Goodnight in the mid-1970s teamed with colleagues to build software to analyze agricultural data. That N.C. State team turned a good idea into a great one, spinning that innovation into a product line that birthed SAS, the Cary-based software giant that recorded $3 billion in sales last year and employs more than 12,000 people. 

That’s the sort of success story we need more of here in North Carolina, which is why the CHIPS and Science Act is so important. The Tar Heel State and rest of America are on the precipice of a transformational era for our nation’s research and innovation enterprise, spurred largely by the work of our research universities. The CHIPS and Science Act signed into law last year included a $52 billion boost to the semiconductor industry – a sector where North Carolina companies are well positioned to create new jobs and boost the economy. It would also provide $200 billion to further strengthen the nation’s competitive advantage in other fields such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, energy sciences and bioengineering. This money has been approved but not yet distributed, and time is wasting. 

North Carolina is well positioned to capitalize on this investment, but Congress must prioritize this funding in the current and future budget cycles to ensure the nation stays ahead in the increasingly competitive race for global leadership in science and innovation.

The universities in North Carolina are extraordinarily successful in winning research funding; Duke ranks 9th nationally in federal research funding and brings in about $776 million of the more than $2 billion of federal funds that support university research in our state each year.  These dollars fuel discoveries that become solutions we all need.  The funding attracts and retains talent to our state, provides jobs and prosperity for North Carolinians, and generates long-term and sustainable benefits when companies that are born here decide to stay here. In the last 5 years, Duke researchers have launched 75 companies around Duke intellectual property; 55 of them, including Sparta Biosciences, which has developed a new chemically engineering cartilage to help people with cartilage degeneration, have stayed right here in North Carolina. 

Building this economic engine doesn’t occur overnight or even over a few years. It requires long-term and sustained investment and a highly trained workforce.

We face increasingly tough competition for talent as other countries, both allies and adversaries, are substantially increasing investments in science and technology and other STEM fields. Full funding of the science portion of the CHIPS and Science Act will expand opportunities for North Carolina and the country to cultivate and retain homegrown talent and continue to attract the very best from across the globe.

One example of this is the National Science Foundation (NSF) Regional Engines program, which seeks to build innovation capacity across the country. Duke is a partner on a proposal led by UNC Wilmington to unite universities, community colleges, non-profits and businesses to build and sustain coastal and climate resiliency in Eastern North Carolina. This program has great promise to transform regions in North Carolina, and across the country. But NSF currently only has enough funding to support its current round of applicants.

Similarly, our Duke Quantum Center, in downtown Durham, is a major player in large-scale information processing, building ever-larger quantum computer systems. North Carolina could be well positioned to be a leader in quantum computing if the promise of CHIPS and Science is realized.

We’re ready for the next step.

Academic research and development is a federal partnership that has galvanized the state’s economy for more than 60 years and one that must remain robust if we want to continue that momentum. The CHIPS and Science Act will further catalyze North Carolina’s leadership in discovery-based research, but current projections show a $7 billion funding shortfall from the original spending targets. If not fully funded, we will see further stagnation of the nation’s economic growth, defense capabilities and global competitiveness.

If we want the great innovations to grow from our soil and benefit our citizens, we need Congress to start distributing the money it approved for use a year ago. Let’s create the next generation of innovators.

Vincent Price is president of Duke University.

2023 Undergraduate Convocation Address

Good afternoon, Class of 2027! On behalf of the administration, faculty, and staff, I’m delighted to welcome you formally to Duke University.

Today is the beginning of a new journey, and you’re joining us at an exciting time.  Yes, this is the start of a new era for each of you; but it’s also the start of a new era for Duke. 

We’re proud to welcome our new Provost and chief academic officer, Alec Gallimore, along with several other new members of our leadership team. And beginning in January, we will celebrate Duke University’s centennial, reflecting on what we’ve accomplished in the past 100 years and setting our sights on what’s ahead.

You see, 100 years ago, a new class of students was entering the last full academic year of Trinity College, housed on East Campus. And the magnificent and stately Chapel where we are now gathered was still farmland.

The Class of 1927 was, like you, facing a rapidly changing world. Although they had nothing like ChatGPT in their midst, they were poised to enter the Roaring ‘20s, after their years in high school had been scarred, stolen in a way, by the recent world war and the terrible Spanish flu pandemic. 

The first issue of The Chronicle that year noted the ways Trinity College was transforming, even with no hint then that, by the time the class of 1927 would graduate, they would do so as alumni of Duke University. 

Contributors to The Chronicle, noting with pride the expansive growth of the College, observed that so many women were on campus that the capacity of Southgate was strained, with 3 coeds in each of the smaller rooms and 4 in larger rooms. 

Ten new faculty were joining the College.  As today, key leadership transitions were celebrated. That year Alice Baldwin would be named Dean of Women, and become the first female granted full faculty status at Trinity. 

And let me tell you, the Class of 1927 was ready for a full schedule of lively welcoming events.  They thrilled to the annual opening of the academic year with the raising of the flag by the senior class.  And there was excitement building for a reception featuring music and ice cream—and appearances by a campus celebrity named Scab, the dog adopted by the sophomore class, who would soon be joined by a first-year Poodle named Cicero.

Those new students had little sense of what their century, the 20th, would bring, including the Atomic Age.  But Chronicle editors tried to be helpful: warning first-year students against slick sales pitches from boarding house operators and laundry services.

So here we sit, similarly with no clear sense of what our century, the 21st will bring.  And I’m mindful that any advice I lend you today might seem, by future lights, to be about as helpful as a warning against unscrupulous boarding house recruiters or collectors for laundry services.

But advice is a part of the convocation tradition, so with your indulgence, I’ll briefly give you mine. 

It’s my answer to the question many are asking these days: What can a university offer you in 2023? With more ways than ever before to learn and to disseminate knowledge, what is a university even for?

We are a learning community, dedicated to the pursuit of greater human understanding.

You’re here to learn, you know that. But we are all here to learn. 

Duke is a research university, which means your faculty are asking their own questions too. They design experiments, conduct interviews, run simulations, dig through archives, dig through the mud. Whatever form their work takes, they contribute new insights to their fields.

As you work alongside the faculty, not only will you grow in your own studies, but you’ll also help us grow in our understanding of the world.

We get to follow the evidence wherever it leads — and we are at our best when we do that together, as a diverse community with very different perspectives, disciplines, backgrounds, experiences, ideological orientations, identities, and religions.

That’s the exciting work of a university—but that’s also the hard part.

You’ve just been through orientation, which is wonderful; I’m here to say that the work ahead, if you do it right, will be disorienting as well.

Like physical training—which entails pushing us to the often-painful limits of our endurance in service of gaining strength—intellectual and moral training similarly come, inevitably, with discomfort. 

And more noxious even than physical discomfort is confusion.  It can be quite destabilizing, and exhausting. 

Take care to remember that nobody ever walked the path from not knowing to knowing without wandering over that difficult territory called confusion.

But my advice to you today is that you embrace disorientation and confusion, because on the other side comes greater moral strength and mental agility. 

OK, this is a celebratory gathering, and I don’t want to bring you down.  I also have some good news. 

You are not traveling this path alone, but as part of a larger, and  beautifully supportive, community.  A community you will live with, eat with, think with, argue with, learn with, win with—graduate with and grow with for the rest of your lives.   

This is the defining character of a university, and why it’s more relevant in 2023 than perhaps ever before in history.  In an era of machine learning and social media, the unrivaled power of a living, breathing, human learning community is real.

It is true blue.  It is Duke.

It’s an idea we would do well to remember: the sharpest thinking, the fullest understanding, emerges from communities — not individuals in isolation. 

We can and we must have faith in our ability to learn together, from each other. I know that’s hard to do sometimes, especially on topics where we might worry that we will say the wrong thing, or where we know others disagree with us.

But even in that discomfort, we need you to engage. We need you to speak up because you might see something that the rest of us have missed.

And equally important, we need—every one of us—to listen, without judgment, because your classmates may very well see something that you, and we, have missed. As I’ve said elsewhere, while we hold some truths to be self-evident, most are not.  And an excess of moral judgment may be one of the greatest threats to our still-new century.

Yes, this can be clumsy, and not without some pain as we grow more agile and stronger—particularly living in a world more likely to respond to challenge with indignance, where contradictions are met with quick and unreflective condemnation rather than conversation. 

Our Duke community can respond differently, though: listening to each other, assuming always the best in each other, and being open to changing our minds when the evidence leads us to do so.  The wise community, as suggested by experience across millennia, is humble in admitting what it does not know.

It’s daunting. But you are more than capable of having these tough conversations. With the support of good teachers and the accountability of a diverse community, you can do this.

Before I conclude my remarks, I will also offer you the same practical advice I share with every incoming class: please, make sure you get enough sleep. Life is too short and too beautiful to waste on doom-scrolling. Caffeine can only get you so far, and we all need adequate sleep to do our best work and treat each other with bright eyes rather than weary eyes.  In this aspect at least, I think our Trinity colleagues of a hundred years ago were perhaps our betters.

Class of 2027, I thank you for choosing Duke. Your presence makes our community stronger, and in your hands our future will be as well.

Recent Supreme Court Decision

To the Duke Community,

I write with an update following today’s Supreme Court decision regarding the race-conscious admissions plans at Harvard and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Duke’s position continues to be that diversity is absolutely vital to our educational mission–everyone in our community, and the work they do, benefits from differing perspectives, opinions, and life experiences.

We remain steadfastly committed to cultivating a racially and socially equitable Duke to the fullest extent permitted by the law.

Over the coming weeks we will review the decision closely and determine what, if any, changes need to be made to our admission processes.  We have already been planning for the many potential procedural implications. As this process unfolds, we remain committed to doing everything we can to foster a vibrant and diverse academic community.

As always, I am grateful for your support as we continue this important work.

And let me say to any current and future members of the Duke community who may now wonder whether Duke is the place for you, let me be clear—we see you, we welcome you, and we will support you.

Sincerely,

Vince

Our Commitment to Inclusive Excellence

To the Duke community,

As we enjoy the longer days of summer that mark the transition from one academic year to the next, I would like to offer my sincere thanks for the outstanding year we’ve just concluded, and for the unique expertise, ideas, and talents each of you brings to our campus and Health System.

Yet, as we celebrate the accomplishments of the past year, many of us are anticipating with apprehension potential changes in federal law, and noting shifts in the local landscape that could adversely affect our community.  

The U.S. Supreme Court will issue a decision this summer that addresses the legality of race-conscious admission policies at colleges and universities. Other public officials have questioned the value of programs that enhance and support diversity, and recent legislative actions have generated concerns among some members of our community regarding safety and belonging.

Duke is firmly committed to our values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence, and to continuing our work to be an equitable and inclusive environment for all.

Duke is an extraordinary community of faculty, staff, and students because of the wide range of backgrounds, lived experiences, and perspectives that you bring to your work and studies every day. That inclusive excellence is also what continues to propel us to greater strengths and positions of global leadership.

We will always work to foster an equitable and inclusive environment. I cannot promise we will immediately have answers to all of your questions or concerns in the coming days and weeks. However, I assure you that our work to advance racial and social equity—at Duke, in our local community, and beyond—will not be deterred. 

I urge you to learn more about the impactful work of Duke’s Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC). And I also encourage you to reach out to the Office for Institutional Equity with questions, concerns, or to find additional resources for supporting inclusive excellence.

My thanks to you for everything you do to advance our mission and make Duke an institution in which we all can take pride.

Sincerely,
Vince

An Update on the Duke Climate Commitment

To the Duke Community,

I am writing today with an update on the Duke Climate Commitment, the university-wide initiative launched last September to harness Duke’s extraordinary strengths and resources toward the goal of addressing climate change.

Duke is in a unique position to deliver solutions that will place society on a path to a more resilient, sustainable, equitable, and healthy future, and the Climate Commitment offers us a new model for collaborative action. As highlighted today in stories from across the university, we seek to unify our efforts and amplify interdisciplinary climate and sustainability work, offering every member of the Duke community an opportunity to engage in these efforts. I am very grateful to Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment Toddi Steelman, Interim Director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability Brian Murray, and Executive Director of Climate and Sustainability Tavey Capps for their leadership.

Today, I am pleased to announce specific, measurable commitments on climate, embedded into the five areas of Duke’s strategic framework: empowering the boldest thinkerstransforming teaching and learningrenewing our campus communityforging purposeful partnerships in Durham and the region, and engaging our extraordinary global network.

As we empower the boldest thinkers, we commit to

As we transform teaching and learning, we commit to

  • build on the success of UNIV102 and partner with schools across the university to infuse climate and sustainability into educational programs, preparing Duke students to lead in the 21st century;
  • launch a teaching fellows program to support instructors in incorporating climate and sustainability in their courses;
  • offer workshops to students, faculty, and staff to deepen their knowledge and agency on issues related to climate and sustainability;
  • explore resource needs for career services to better prepare students for entering the workforce with the goal of contributing to climate change solutions;
  • expand the Campus as Lab program to use Duke’s campus as a living laboratory.

As we renew our campus community, we commit to

  • continue progress towards Duke’s goals for carbon neutrality, outlined in the 2019 Climate Action Plan Update
  • build on the 43% greenhouse gas emissions reductions to date as we navigate challenges from the pandemic, with a focus on campus energy efficiency, off-campus solar, renewable natural gas, and opportunities to retain the significant emission reductions realized in employee commuting and air travel over the past two years;
  • continue to work with a staff, faculty and student advisory committee to evaluate potential carbon offsets projects that meet our high standards;
  • seek new opportunities to directly engage staff in Duke’s sustainability efforts, including through workshops, workplace certifications, and educational resources;
  • develop a Duke Sustainable Fleet and Electric Vehicle (EV) Charging Plan to reduce the impact of campus vehicles and expand EV infrastructure;
  • continue working with DUMAC to support endowment investments in sustainability, in accordance with the Guideline on Investment Responsibility adopted by the Board of Trustees;
  • expand efforts to infuse sustainability further into Duke’s supply chain through campus policies and contract language;
  • explore opportunities to support and increase sustainability efforts in the Duke Health system.

As we partner with purpose in Durham and the region, we commit to

  • strengthen our relationship with the City of Durham and promote regional sustainability through the Strategic Community Impact Plandeveloped by the Office of Durham and Community Affairs;
  • engage local, state, and federal policymakers regarding equitable climate and sustainability solutions;
  • deepen our involvement with green entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders in the Research Triangle and beyond.

As we engage our global network of alumni, we commit to

  • convene climate leaders on campus to share their work and engage with the Duke community, including these events in Spring 2023, among others:

Sustainable Business and Social Impact conference,
Blue Economy Summit, hosted by Oceans@Duke,
Climate Change, Decolonization, and Global Blackness series at the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, and
Histories and Society in the Hydrosphere conference, hosted by the Center for International and Global Studies;

  • develop opportunities for alumni who are invested in climate and sustainability work to connect with our education, research and engagement efforts on campus and beyond;
  • provide climate and sustainability literacy and fluency opportunities for alumni through lifelong learning and digital education partnerships.

Over the coming months and years, we will track our progress on these commitments on the Climate Commitment website. We recognize that this initiative may evolve and will take time to implement, and we will only succeed through the collective action of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends.

These commitments are both aspirational and inclusive. They allow us to think about the kind of university we want Duke to be.  I invite you personally to be a part of this important effort.

The Duke Climate Commitment marks a hopeful moment—when we seize the opportunity to lead toward a brighter future. I hope you will join me in this transformational undertaking.

Together, Duke is in it for life.

Cheers,

Vince

Voting at Duke

To the Duke University and Duke Health Community,

We are writing today to encourage you to cast your vote in the upcoming elections, either during early voting or on election day, November 8. Voting is perhaps the most important—and easiest—way to participate in our democracy and shape the future of our local communities and our nation, and this year Duke is offering a number of opportunities to make your voice heard.

Through November 5, anyone eligible to vote in Durham County can use the early voting site at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center, 2080 Duke University Road. The polls will be open from 8 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Early voting will close at 3 p.m. on Saturday, November 5. The Karsh Center is a short walk from West Campus, and ample free parking is available. Note that during North Carolina’s early voting period, you can visit any polling place in the county where you are registered.

Duke Votes is an excellent resource for all things related to voting. Here you can check your current voting status, how to vote by mail or in person on election day and also find resources for voting in your home state, if you aren’t voting in North Carolina.  

In order to allow Duke employees flexibility in casting their vote, Duke University and Duke Health encourage supervisors to cancel nonessential meetings on November 8 and be flexible with scheduling to enable staff members who are unable to vote outside normal work hours to do so before, during, or after their assigned shifts. 

We are proud of the many ways that members of the Duke community provide real leadership in our community and nation. Thank you for making your voices heard and participating in our democracy.

Best wishes,

Vincent E. Price

President

A. Eugene Washington

Chancellor for Health Affairs

Climate Commitment Launch Event

On September 29, the campus community came together in Page Auditorium to celebrate the launch of the Duke Climate Commitment, our university-wide effort to address climate change.

This is a transformational initiative for Duke, one that is unprecedented in our history and in higher education.

Never before have we committed to marshaling every part of our enterprise—our collective resources, talents, and passions—toward solving a global problem in such a focused way. The scale and importance of our climate-related challenges call for nothing less: creating sustainable and equitable solutions that will place society on the path to a resilient, flourishing, net-zero-carbon world by mid-century.

Our history has prepared us well to rise to this moment—indeed, at a time when some of our peers are launching new climate schools, we have been leading in this work for as long as we have been Duke.

The School of Forestry and the Marine Laboratory were both founded more than eighty years ago, in the early days of our university. More than thirty years ago these entities came together into one school—and thanks to a foundational gift from the Nicholas family, we now have the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Seventeen years ago, we launched what is now the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, which elevates our environmental work through education, sustained engagement, and convening of stakeholders and policy experts. A dozen years ago, we launched our plan to achieve carbon neutrality, and we have operated with a broad strategic plan to achieve sustainability in areas such as energy, water, food, and land use.

The Duke Climate Commitment builds on and concentrates these many complementary resources. Our research will advance core areas of expertise in transforming energy, creating climate-resilient communities and ecosystems, and developing data-driven climate solutions—all with a focus on more equitable solutions. Our teaching will infuse climate and sustainability into programs across the university, improving the lives of our students and preparing them to lead as alumni.

But the reason that this can only happen at Duke is our distinctive excellence in interdisciplinary collaboration. While the Duke Climate Commitment will have the Nicholas School and Institute at its heart, it will encompass research and teaching across all of our schools and institutes, guide our campus operations, and help us foster stronger, collaborative relationships with partners in our community, state, nation and around the globe.

To that end, we’re launching data expeditions with an initial focus on climate and health and collaboration grants to drive creative research across disciplines. We’re committing to making climate and sustainability fluency foundational to the curriculum for every student at Duke and extending our reach to our alumni. As we continue to work toward our goal of carbon neutrality in 2024 and to lead the way in sustainable operations, we’re developing Duke as a living laboratory to study and solve climate and sustainability issues. And perhaps most importantly, we’re supporting environmental sustainability in the community and advancing our understanding of the critical impacts of climate change on social and racial equity.

The Duke Climate Commitment marks a hopeful moment for us—when we seize the opportunity and step up to our responsibility to lead toward a brighter, healthier future. I hope you will join us in this transformational undertaking. Duke is in it, together, for life.

To learn more, visit CLIMATE.DUKE.EDU.

Statement Regarding 20-Week Abortion Ban Reinstatement

President Vincent E. Price released the following statement regarding the reinstatement of North Carolina’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks.

Abortion is both a health care procedure and a profoundly personal and highly political issue that prompts deeply held and conflicting convictions on our campus, in our community, and across our country. With that in mind, I want to reaffirm Duke’s core responsibilities to serve our students, faculty, staff and patients.

As an educational institution, Duke has a responsibility to advance learning within an environment of respect and inclusion. We must recognize that many of our students, faculty, staff and neighbors have experienced fear and uncertainty about their future access to reproductive health in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June—anxieties that this reinstatement are likely to deepen. Let us remember to approach one another with compassion in this uncertain moment.

As a health system that serves tens of thousands of residents of North Carolina and the southeast, Duke has a responsibility to provide high-quality and often lifesaving patient care, promote health equity, and support patients in making health decisions with their doctors. Duke Health will continue to provide reproductive health services, including abortion, in compliance with state law.

Finally, as an employer and campus community, Duke has a responsibility to support the wellbeing of everyone who comes here to learn, work, teach, and live. We remain committed to providing access to reproductive health services, including abortion, to our students, faculty, and staff. We do not plan or anticipate any changes to this commitment following  the reinstatement.

Duke is above all a community of extraordinary people: colleagues and classmates who deserve our respect, empathy, and care. In the months and years ahead, these principles will continue to guide us on this issue and many others.

Celebrating Juneteenth

To the Duke Community,

As we mark the 157th anniversary of Juneteenth and the abolition of slavery, the Duke University community celebrates the vibrancy of Black lives and Black excellence and honors the courage and commitment of those who have sought a world free of oppression and violence. Juneteenth also presents an opportunity for reflection on the legacy of racism at Duke, in the American South, and across our nation—and the many systemic inequities and injustices that persist for our Black classmates, colleagues, and neighbors.

Two years ago, I announced that racial equity and justice would be foundational priorities for Duke University moving forward, at the heart of all that we do in education, research, patient care, student and staff support, and community engagement. Today, we are more committed to this goal than ever. The Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC) released a comprehensive reportearlier this week on its first year of driving these efforts, including many new initiatives in the focus areas of communications, campus climate and assessment, education, and infrastructure and policies. I encourage you to read the report and other updates on the Racial Equity website.

I am very grateful for the leadership of REAC’s co-chairs, members, and the many Duke University staff, faculty, students, and neighbors who have contributed to our progress thus far. The work of REAC is only the very beginning of our broader university commitments to address racism and inequity in the decades to come. And as we mark Juneteenth, we are reminded that racial equity and justice are not end goals to be reached or achieved—they are ongoing institutional and personal principles that must guide all that we do as a university.

Very best wishes for this weekend’s celebration, and thank you for your steadfast support of the work still to come.

Sincerely,

Vince

Strategy Team 2030 Report

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