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Remarks at Undergraduate Convocation

Good afternoon. As President, I am thrilled to welcome you as the newest members of the Duke University community.

Though I am coming to you today from Duke Chapel on the heart of our campus, you are part of the most global incoming class in our university’s history. Many of you are watching this opening ceremony from your new dorm rooms; some of you are connected to us virtually from places around the world. A few of you are even starting your Duke careers on our sister campus at Duke Kunshan University—a truly unprecedented feat.

As members of the graduating class of 2020 and the incoming Duke class of 2024, I suspect that you’re getting tired of that word, unprecedented. You will be glad to hear, then, that today is a moment with a great many precedents. 

We have been gathering for an opening ceremony since long before Duke was a university—all the way back in 1906, the Chronicle reported that the forty-eighth academic year of what was then Trinity College began formally with the President, in academic regalia, hoisting the American flag above East Campus while the students gave out a cheer. Things have evolved a bit since then.

This isn’t even the first opening celebration during a pandemic.  A century ago, Spanish flu raged through 1918 and 1919, and was still very much a presence when Trinity College welcomed the incoming class of 1924. It must have been an unsettling time—just as I know this is—the excitement of a new start tinged with apprehension about the world around us. 

Even then, though, students were focused on the important priorities: The Chronicle editorial board wrote with relief that in response to the epidemic, the manager of the basketball team had rearranged the scheduled contests against Carolina and State so that the Trinity team could still compete for the state championship—which, I should note, they went on to win.

For those basketball fans among you: while the state championship title exists today only in spirit, we still regularly win it over our foes at N.C. State and UNC.

Now, if you ask anyone who attended our opening celebrations between 1990 and 2014, I suspect they would tell you that what they remember is hearing from the late poet Maya Angelou, who spoke to incoming first-year students for 24 years. You may be familiar her extraordinary work, or read her memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

In an interview toward the end of her life, Professor Angelou was asked what advice she might give for living fully. Her answer reflected both her humor and her generosity of spirit. 

“Every day I awaken, I am grateful,” she said. “My intent is to be totally present in that day. And to laugh as much as possible.”

To be grateful. To be present. And to laugh

It occurs to me that these three guiding principles might be helpful for all of us as we begin the next academic year at Duke.

First comes gratitude. Amidst the uncertainty and frustration that many of us have been experiencing, it can be difficult to remember that we have so much to be thankful for—and this is a vitally important starting point as we set off on this year together.

We at Duke are certainly grateful that you are here. As Dean Guttentag described just a few moments ago, yours is a tremendously accomplished class. Each of you bring something distinct to the Duke community—a unique perspective, a life-changing experience, a talent that sets you apart. 

To borrow from another poet, Walt Whitman, you have come here to contribute your verses to Duke’s powerful play, to forever change the course of our university’s history for the better. We are so thankful for that.

But as remarkable as you all are individually, we know that none of you arrived here on your own. The support, love, and guidance of the people in your life—your parents, families, friends, and teachers, many who may be watching today—has fostered your extraordinary talents, has allowed you to grow into the accomplished people assembled here today. 

I hope that you will take a moment in the coming days to thank them—to let them know that you are truly grateful for all of the ways that have helped bring you to this moment.

In that spirit, let us awaken each day of this new academic year with gratitude. 

Next comes Angelou’s charge to be present. This has perhaps taken on new meaning in the age of social distancing. But what I think she was getting at was not so much physical presence, but rather being present in the mind and spirit. 

In a world filled with distractions, it takes conscious effort to remind ourselves to pause and pay attention. To slow down and really appreciate the opportunities and experiences before us. You have likely come to Duke, at least in part, to prepare for the lifetime that comes after graduation. But I can assure you, those days are coming soon enough. While you’re here, I hope you will take the time to be really present—in your friendships and in the Duke community.

Some of the most remarkable things that you will learn at Duke will be from one another, not in the classroom or lab but in conversations among friends on Zoom and in explorations in your free time.  It may be harder in the age of COVID, but you’ll have the rare opportunity to connect with classmates and colleagues from many different backgrounds and perspectives. 

We at Duke have made new commitments to equity, inclusion, and racial justice for all students—efforts that you will be hearing more about in the coming weeks. We invite you to join in building this richer, more inclusive Duke community. If you are willing to connect with your classmates, they will have a great deal to teach you about how to live in and experience the world.

Also, all of us—you, me, indeed every member of the Duke community—must be present to our obligations to do frankly unnatural things we must all do in this pandemic to keep each other and our Durham community safe and healthy.  We can’t let down our guard or give in to those understandable temptations to get back to our “normal” lives.  You and all of your classmates will have to steel yourselves against the inclinations to get on with typical Duke traditions and Duke social life.  

Not now.  Eventually, but not now. 

Instead you will build this semester new traditions

Those connections we make will have to be made from at least six feet away.  We’ll have to learn to back away if we are crowded; we’ll have to simply say no to misguided party invitations; we’ll have to make our face masks badges of Duke pride and wear them everywhere we go. 

To do this for an entire day can be trying; for a week, truly challenging; for an entire semester, achievable only if we maintain our focus and help each other through.  Only if we remain fully present to each other. 

And at the same time, be present to your own needs. The transition to college can be jarring under any circumstances—and you may find it particularly so today. That’s okay—in fact, it’s to be expected. This moment will require great flexibility and resilience, and Duke has robust advisory and mental health resources to support you both as your get your footing here, and as you continue throughout your Duke career. I encourage you to take full advantage.  

And get some sleep.  Without it, none of us can be at our best.  A sleepy brain is not fully present.

So, with a good night’s rest behind us, let us next awake to this new academic year with presence. 

Finally, there is Angelou’s last piece of advice—to awake each day with laughter. 

One of Angelou’s great friends, the writer and theologian Frederick Buechner (BEEKner), told a story that they were both at a very formal ceremony in a cathedral in New York—a place at moment not unlike this one. Buechner noted that the assembled dignitaries were wearing “robes and tassels” and looking very serious.

Angelou smiled and explained to Buechner that enslaved people were not allowed to laugh, as their masters feared it was directed toward them. So they kept an empty barrel—and if any of them felt an urge to laugh, they would act like they were getting something from the barrel and let forth a laugh into it.

When Angelou saw all of these men in robes marching somberly into the cathedral that day, she said, her impulse was to run and find an empty barrel or an empty room and burst into laughter.

The point of the story is that laughter is a critical part of our humanity. And a healthy aspect of our lives: It can be a tremendously powerful antidote to uncertainty and tension. I encourage you, especially in these complicated times, to look for the daily moments of humor and joy that will offer themselves to you in your time here. 

You will undoubtedly experience stress at Duke—it’s a fact of life, and I’ll bet it’s been stressful already just to get here.  But you’ll also have a chance to watch a classmate do stand up in the Bryan Center, to laugh with friends on a suitably distanced walk in Duke Gardens, or to watch with awe as the sun comes up over this Duke Chapel. Such moments of joy are everywhere at Duke, and I hope you will take the time to find them.

In that spirit, let us also awake to this new academic year with laughter and joy. 

Class of 2024, once again, welcome to Duke. You have arrived at a time when things look very different than they ever have before. But in this unprecedented moment, there are great opportunities to be a Duke united in building an even brighter future for our university, the nation, and the world.

In that spirit, and with the words of Maya Angelou echoing in this Chapel where she spoke so many times, I encourage you to awake to this moment of profound opportunity. 

Awake each day with gratitude.

Awake and be present. 

And above all, awake to find the joy in your life as part of this academic community.

Cheers and congratulations.

Message From President Price Regarding Change in Fall 2020 Plans

July 26, 2020

To the Duke Community,

I am writing to provide an update on Duke’s plans for the Fall 2020 semester and to inform you of some important and necessary changes.

At the end of June, we reported that Duke was on track to reopen safely for the Fall 2020 semester with a significant number of residential students. We also said that we would continue to closely monitor local and national trends and modify our plans as necessary, based on public health considerations and our ability to protect the health and safety of Duke students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community.  

It is sadly clear that the persistence and spread of COVID-19 are trending in the wrong direction nationally, in North Carolina, and in Durham; and based on the latest guidance from Duke medical experts and public officials, we anticipate that matters may worsen in the weeks ahead. In light of these worrisome conditions and to address the increased prevalence of the coronavirus, we must further reduce the density of our campus residential population. 

Thus, we have made the very difficult decision to decrease the on-campus residential population by about 30 percent to ensure that we can provide care, support, and a safe and healthy environment for our students, faculty, and staff.  To achieve the necessary reduced density, Duke campus housing for the Fall 2020 semester will now be limited to first-year students, sophomores, and those students who have specific needs for campus housing because of their personal or academic situations and who have been approved through the process that will be available on Monday, July 27 at noon EDT at http://keeplearning.duke.edu.

Juniors and seniors who had planned to live in Duke campus housing will have the option of participating in the same Duke-quality remote-learning experience that will be available to all students who are not able to come to campus or live in the Durham area this fall, and will have first priority for campus housing in the spring. 

Our plans for the spring semester remain tentative and will be based on the continuing course of the pandemic, medical guidance, prevailing local and national conditions, and our ability to conduct a safe and successful fall semester. We expect to be able to provide campus housing to all juniors and seniors who desire it. Should conditions improve to the point that we can safely expand the number of residential students, we will include first-year students and sophomores as well. We are also making plans to expand our residential summer sessions next year to provide a full on-campus experience for those students who are not able to, or choose not to, attend Duke in Durham in either the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021 semesters.  

Graduate and professional schools are also reviewing their plans for the Fall 2020 semester to reduce campus density and will be contacting students directly with specific guidance about their programs.

We have already created a suite of courses that include in-person, online and hybrid instruction to optimize opportunities for students both near and far, and to maximize safety for students and faculty. With ample, high-quality remote course opportunities, students with concerns about traveling to or about living in Durham, or who would prefer to wait for a more traditional on-campus experience, may well find it desirable to take part in the virtual Duke experience, which will be a rich one. 

While students who live off-campus will be able to attend classes and will have very limited access to campus facilities for academic purposes, it is likely that all students, regardless of their location, will complete much of their course work remotely.  Our on-campus co-curricular and extra-curricular activities will likewise be significantly limited this semester.

We are also expanding our COVID-19 testing program. In addition to initial testing for all returning students (undergraduate, graduate and professional, whether residing on or off campus), we are also implementing regular pooled community testing to identify and address any potential outbreaks among students, as well as faculty and staff who have frequent contact with students. We also have a robust system of daily symptom monitoring and follow up diagnostic testing for all students, faculty, and staff.

I want to reiterate that the on-campus experience this year will be dramatically different than in the past: 

  • All classes will be offered in a variety of formats, including in-person (with online backup), online-only and hybrid online-in person. Our faculty have been working intensely over the past several months to develop rich and innovative online courses that will take full advantage of state-of-the-art interactive technologies and will be accessible to students anywhere in the world.
  • In addition to the comprehensive testing protocol described above, we have a contact tracing program that will be required for all students, along with enhanced capabilities for Student Health in partnership with Duke Health’s world-class hospitals and clinics, quarantine spaces, and increased support services.
  • Campus facilities have been reconfigured to promote physical distancing and enhanced cleaning and hygiene protocols. For the safety of all, there will be no public events or visitors permitted in campus buildings and residences, and access to campus buildings will be very limited for all students.
  • All members of the Duke community – students, faculty, and staff – will have to commit to The Duke Compact and agree to wear face coverings in any public setting, track and report symptoms through the designated app, avoid large gatherings, get a seasonal flu shot, and observe health and travel restrictions to protect each other and the most vulnerable members of our community.

More information regarding the Fall 2020 semester at Duke is available at https://returnto.duke.edu. 

This change in plans is deeply disappointing for all of us. The connections we make and the ideas we create when we are together in classrooms, commons rooms, and across campus are what make Duke such an extraordinary place, and it will be difficult to have those experiences so significantly curtailed and constrained this fall.

At the same time, the challenges we face together are temporary, and we are working to ensure both that the Duke experience we are offering this fall lives up to our extraordinary potential and that the Duke of years to come is an even stronger, more vibrant community. 

I am so very grateful for your flexibility and commitment as we rise to meet this unprecedented moment for higher education, and I have never been prouder to be a part of the Duke family.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price
President

Statement to the Community Regarding Anti-Racism

To the Duke Community,

On Friday, we celebrate Juneteenth, the day when enslaved people in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation that had been issued by President Lincoln more than two years earlier. We do so at a somber and sobering moment in our history, as our nation confronts the horror of police violence against Black people, amidst the backdrop of systemic racial inequities and injustices that have been laid bare by the pandemic.

In recognition of Juneteenth’s message of liberation from oppression, and out of respect for the anger, sadness, exhaustion, and courage of our Black friends and neighbors, this Friday, June 19, will be a day of reflection for the entire Duke University community. I encourage you to pause from your regular work and reflect both on the ongoing history of systemic racial injustice and how it manifests in our neighborhoods, our places of work, our families, our faith communities, and at Duke.  To the extent possible, managers should provide employees with time to take part in programs and observances for this day of memory and contemplation.

I hope that this opportunity for reflection will prove valuable for you, as I know it will for me. I cannot as a white person begin to fully understand the daily fear and pain and oppression that is endemic to the Black experience. Instead, I have been seeking to listen, and to learn. I’ve been meeting with my colleagues and reading Black authors and theorists, some here at Duke. And I’ve been reflecting on our national, and regional, and institutional history. 

Those of us who are not subject to the daily oppression of racism must engage deeply, and with humility, with humanity, and with honesty. We must commit to do doing so in a sustained way and not only in response to a moment of national crisis. We live with overwhelming evidence of systematic differences in life chances. They are there to be seen. And yet ​too often those of us not burdened by racism choose not to see, or we choose to explain away these disparities rather than move to correct them.

Here at Duke, we aspire to be agents of progress in advancing racial equity and justice; but it would be more than fair to say that we have often not fully embraced that mission.  Our history makes that clear. We have accomplished so much in which we take pride, and yet we have often been slow to do the right things, the hard things, the transformative things. 

We must take transformative action now toward eliminating the systems of racism and inequality that have shaped the lived experiences of too many members of the Duke community. That starts with a personal transformation, and I’m prepared to do that work. It must end in institutional transformation, and that is the hard work before all of us. And that is my responsibility: to put my full energy as president behind that effort.

That work begins today. I commit the university to the following actions, which, in recognition of anti-racism’s vital importance to every level of institutional activity, are embedded within all five core aspects of Duke’s strategic framework, Toward our Second Century.

First, as we commit to empowering our peoplewe will

  • significantly and measurably expand the diversity of our faculty, staff, and students, with particular focus on Black, Indigenous and people of color;
  • expand our need-based student financial aid, at all levels, and increase faculty support for Black, Indigenous and people of color, through chairs and other means;
  • seek and support a diverse community of staff, through robust workforce development and pipeline programs for underrepresented populations; and
  • ensure salary equity and promote excellence by increasing diverse leadership opportunities at every level of our organization.

As we commit to transforming teaching and learningwe will

  • incorporate anti-racism into our curricula and programs across the university, requiring that every Duke student—in undergraduate, graduate and professional programs—learns of the nature of structural racism and inequity, with special focus on our own regional and institutional legacies;
  • assess and remediate systemic biases in the design of our curricula;
  • amplify our student success resources to ensure that all students are able to take full advantage of Duke;
  • fully mobilize and expand Duke’s research capacity to address and help overturn racism and reduce racial disparities and inequities in policing, justice, health, housing, education, labor and other domains of life, including new avenues of support for scholars who examine these issues; and
  • establish and support Duke as a global educational and research leader in anti-racism.

As we commit to building a renewed campus community, we will

  • require anti-racism and anti-bias training for every member of our faculty, student body, and staff in an effort to foster a more inclusive environment for all members of the Duke community;
  • enhance support for our students, faculty, and staff who are experiencing pain or trauma related to racial injustice;
  • establish a program of coordinated surveys of our faculty, students and staff to assess and inform our progress in addressing bias and promoting respect, meaningful inclusion, and true equity in our community;
  • highlight Black excellence throughout the campus community and increase the visibility of Black scholars, students, staff, and alumni; and
  • hold leadership accountable through the annual review process for promoting a more inclusive, equitable Duke.

As we commit to forging purposeful partnerships in our city and region, we will 

  • strengthen relationships with the City of Durham and support the empowerment of underrepresented communities;
  • create internships for local students, expand local workforce-development programs, and elevate mission-consistent employment and engagement opportunities throughout the community; 
  • deepen our engagement with North Carolina Central University and Durham Technical Community College, as well as Johnson C. Smith University, with whom we share a historic relationship through The Duke Endowment; and
  • support an expanded pipeline for transfer, graduate, and professional applications from students at community colleges and HBCUs.

Finally, as we commit to activating our global network, we will 

  • redouble our efforts to support our alumni who are Black, Indigenous and people of color, including expanded opportunities for networking and professional mentorship;
  • provide opportunities for alumni who are Black, Indigenous and people of color to connect with students on campus;
  • reach out with educational programs for our alumni on racial inequities and injustices; and 
  • assist in mobilizing Duke alumni to be agents of positive change in their communities.

These actions are only a starting point. Righting the wrongs of history will take time, and our efforts will need to be focused and sustained. We must also be far clearer about our goals and transparent as we work toward them. 

To that end, I have charged our executive leadership—our Provost, Executive Vice President, and Chancellor for Health Affairs—to develop and implement a structure for rigorous assessment, accountability and reporting on our progress. I have also asked for a preliminary implementation proposal from the university’s senior leaders and the deans of each school by September 1; I will update the university community on our progress by October 15.

Ultimately, real progress will require an embrace of both personal and institutional humility, admitting to our blindness, our lack of understanding, and confusion.

Real progress will require an abiding commitment to humanity, to actually and deeply caring about each other’s life chances—enough to change them for the better.

Real progress will require both personal and institutional honesty, as change will only come if we seek, confront and own our truth.

As a Duke community, we want to lead the way: on a campus that has had its share of painful moments, and here in the American South, with its legacies of enslaving Black people, undermining Reconstruction, enforcing segregation and resisting integration through Massive Resistance and other means, and brutally suppressing and even to this day frustrating at so many turns the life chances of our Black neighbors and colleagues. We want to lead because when we commit to an anti-racist mission and truly lift up, and support, and celebrate Black lives and Black excellence, we will become a better and more perfect version of the great institution I believe we are.

We cannot, on this Juneteenth, bring news of true freedom—freedom from oppression, violence, and systemic racism. In many ways, even after a century and a half, that goal sadly remains elusive. But today, we can bring news of Duke’s commitment to be partners on the path to achieving it, and to resolutely turn our attention toward the mission of anti-racism.

Sincerely,

Vince

Statement to the Community Regarding Minneapolis

Dear Colleagues, Students, and Friends,

This week, as the United States passed the grim milestone of 100,000 lives lost to the coronavirus, the horrifying death of George Floyd has drawn national attention to fundamental and systematic disparities of justice in our nation. The events in Minneapolis have occurred on the heels of the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, the shooting of Breonna Taylor and in the context of the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color, including here in Durham. For many people at Duke and elsewhere, the pain, trauma and sense of hopelessness is overwhelming.

Every day, throughout our country, African American and other marginalized communities have their safety and dignity threatened—in their places of work, in public spaces, and in their homes and neighborhoods. This ongoing history of structural and sustained racism is a fundamental and deeply distressing injustice, here as elsewhere.

But we as a university must do more than recognize and grieve these circumstances; we must work together to change them.  In our Duke statement of values, we affirm our commitment to trust, respect, and inclusion. In that spirit, Duke University will continue the work of addressing generations of racism and injustice, of seeking ways to approach one another with respect, and of building communities that are truly safe, supportive, and inclusive for all.

My very best wishes to the entire Duke family in this troubling time.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price

President

Message from Duke President Price About Fall 2020

Dear Duke Students and Families,

I hope this note finds you and your family well despite the complications to life caused by COVID-19. The past few months have brought us many new challenges, but also daily reminders of why we are all so proud to be members of the Duke University community. 

I write today because I know the question on everyone’s mind: what will happen with the fall semester?

There’s a lot we still don’t know.  Like every family, community and business, we are trying to make the best decisions with only partial information that changes by the day.  A month ago, we established several planning teams to prepare for the next academic year.  These teams have worked closely with our faculty, our physicians and public health experts to develop a range of options that start with protecting the health and safety of the Duke community and focus intensely on ensuring the continued excellence of our education, research, public service and patient-care missions.

That work continues, but here’s what we do know right now:  

First, Duke University will be open in the fall, with the specific details of attendance and schedule to be determined soon. Throughout the pandemic, our education and research programs continued, so in a sense we’ve never closed.  We completed the spring semester, awarding almost 6,000 degrees earlier this month to the extraordinary Class of 2020.  We started a virtual Duke Summer Session with five times as many students as last year.  Our hospitals and clinics continue to care for patients, and research on COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics has only expanded.  And we’ve now begun the very careful process of reopening our facilities in phases. This week, hundreds of additional Duke researchers and scientists are returning to campus to continue their vital research with new protocols for social distancing, daily monitoring, and testing, contact tracing and medical supervision.

Second, we expect to make decisions about the structure of the coming academic year by the end of June.  Why not decide now?  We are committed to getting this right, and responsible decision making must be based on a clearer understanding of public health and safety issues than is now available. Our decisions also have to be informed by our experience from these early campus restarts. Making choices now in the absence of this vital information would jeopardize safety of our students, faculty, staff and the wider community, even if it seems to provide the certainty so many of us desire. 

Consider for a moment where we were as a country just six weeks ago: you can see how quickly medical guidance has evolved, how rapidly legal and regulatory guidance developed, particularly around matters like testing and tracing, and how much local conditions have changed.   The next six weeks should give us far more reliable information upon which we will base our decisions.

And finally, we know enough to say that next academic year will not look anything like the past.  As we work toward coming back to school safely in the fall, we are innovating every part of the Duke experience—from the academic calendar to residential living—to provide students the best and safest possible configuration of on-campus and high-quality remote teaching.  We are dedicated to adapting the life-changing experiences that make the Duke experience so special, and to creating new ones in areas like career planning.

To be sure, there will be necessary changes in how our spaces are configured and classes are delivered, as well as in the many campus activities that make Duke so enriching and exhilarating; but, like every other part of society, we will be resilient and adapt to the new reality.

Looking beyond next academic year, we are building the Duke of the future. This too will take time, but will only be improved by the knowledge we all gain as we move through the months ahead.  Our present circumstances may be daunting; but they call upon us to determine, together, how we empower the finest scholars, redefine teaching and learning for the 21st century, deepen our commitments to community, strengthen our partnerships in the region, and engage as never before our global network of Duke alumni, families, and friends. 

So, while I may disappoint those of you who are looking for certainty now, this is where we stand today. We’ll be in touch with you directly as soon as we have more specific information about our programs, and the actions you can take to prepare for the fall semester. 

In the meantime, I can tell you that the Duke you know and love is alive and well.  The education you receive at Duke will prepare you for lives and careers of meaning and fulfilment.  Whether you are a first-year or a senior, your Duke experience will be memorable for life. And wherever you are, near or far, you can follow what is happening through The Duke Daily, our daily e-mail newsletter.  Our students receive it each weekday, and parents and families can sign up here

I offer my best wishes to you and your family, my deepest thanks for your commitment to Duke, and my appreciation of your confidence in the enduring value and promise of our great university. 

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price
President

An Update on Securing our Financial Future

Dear Colleagues,

Over these past few months, the world has seen the best of Duke. Every member of our community has risen to meet extraordinary difficulties that none of us expected when the academic year began with such promise last August. For all that, and on behalf of your colleagues around the world, I thank you. I have never been prouder to be a Blue Devil.

Even as we rise to meet the public health challenges and navigate this new world of social distancing and working from home, we must also rise to meet the financial headwinds now confronting us, both individually and collectively. As I noted last month, the fallout from the pandemic has had a significant negative effect on almost every aspect of our operations. Indeed, as predicted, every one of our sources of revenue—tuition, research grants, clinical and patient care services, private philanthropy and income from our investments and endowment—has already suffered large reductions or is expected to be quite substantially diminished in the months ahead. 

At the same time, many of our costs continue to rise as we grapple with expanded needs precipitated by the pandemic. The full impact will not be known for several months, but we can estimate that the total decline in revenues will be somewhere in the range of $250 million to $350 million next fiscal year and could range as high as 15% of our annual operating budget. 

In anticipation of this downturn, we implemented last month a series of steps to mitigate our worsening financial circumstances, which—except for the Duke University Health System (DUHS)—apply to all of Duke University:

Reducing expenditures: All schools, units, departments and programs have suspended all new non-salary expenditures, with any ongoing expenditures greater than $2,500 requiring pre-approval by the Executive Vice President, Provost or Chancellor for Health Affairs or their designees.

Hiring freeze: All staff hiring has been paused until further notice, except for those positions deemed essential and approved by the Executive Vice President, Provost or Chancellor for Health Affairs, or their designees. 

Suspending salary increases: For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, there will be no salary increase for university employees making more than $50,000 per year. Employees earning up to $50,000 who earn satisfactory performance evaluations will receive a one-time, $1,000 payment. The only exceptions to this policy will be certain academic promotions and positions governed by the terms of contracts with collective bargaining units.

Holding construction: All new university construction projects are on indefinite hold, except those related to safety, repairs, infrastructure, virus research and a small number of obligations to new faculty. 

These cost-saving measures are helping to meet part of our shortfall. However, since salaries and benefits for our employees represent about two-thirds of our overall operating budget, a deficit of the magnitude we are anticipating cannot be addressed without curtailing some of these costs. We continue to believe that our health insurance programs must remain intact, especially at this time. However, we have reluctantly determined we must also reduce our salary and benefit expenses in order to weather successfully the financial storm. 

Duke is only as great as our people, and as we adapt to this new reality, we must never lose sight of our commitments to our people and our purpose. Every university employee continues to be in a fully paid status regardless of their current location and duties, and we intend to keep that in place as long as it is financially feasible and responsible. But doing so will require some changes and sacrifices that, while uncomfortable and unpleasant, will help secure continued employment and retain vital economic resources in the Durham community. 

Consequently, the following will apply to all university employees. (DUHS employees will receive separate communications.)  Effective July 1, 2020, we will:

Temporarily suspend university-paid retirement contributions.  To avoid cutting direct compensation, we will instead temporarily suspend all employer contributions to the Duke Faculty and Staff Retirement 403(b) plan for a period of 12 months. This action does not affect any employee investments—that is, anyone enrolled in Duke’s retirement plan can continue to make contributions from their salary—only the university’s separate contributions to these plans will be temporarily suspended. Nor will this impact the Employees’ Retirement Plan for our nonexempt employees, which is administered separately. 

We take this step only after very careful study and deliberation. While painful, it appears our best way forward for two reasons. First, it affects only deferred income and only for one year, meaning that regular salaries will continue to be paid throughout this temporary period. Second, this will ensure that Duke can continue to support our employees, their families, and the Durham economy. 

This action, and the other cost-saving efforts noted earlier, will result in an estimated savings of approximately $150 million to $200 million next fiscal year and provide, we hope, the necessary resources to sustain and advance our academic programs for the near-term.  

We are also taking additional steps to that will affect the approximately 300 university employees earning above the retirement-contribution threshold: 

Temporary reduction of salary for highly compensated employees.University employees who earn more than the federally mandated 403(b) contribution threshold ($285,000) will also see a temporary reduction of 10% in the portion of their salary above that threshold, for a period of 12 months. Specific details will be communicated before June 30 directly to those who will be impacted. 

Additional voluntary contributions by senior leadership.  As President, my reduction above will be doubled to a total of 20%, and the Provost, Executive Vice President, and Chancellor will have a reduction of 15% for this period. The deans and vice presidents will also make additional contributions to support our highest priorities in addition to the mandated reductions.

We take these steps only after considerable study of all the options, and with confidence that this is the best and most equitable path for us at this difficult moment. We will continue to monitor our circumstances carefully, and have engaged a comprehensive Team 2030 Strategy process to determine what further actions may be needed.

Some may wonder why we don’t simply draw additional funds from Duke’s endowment to address these deficits. You are probably aware that the endowment, which in times of growth is a source of funding for priorities such as student financial aid and faculty chairs, is not a “rainy day” savings account. Rather, it is a permanent fund intended to provide ongoing support over the life of the university, and most of it is legally restricted for specific purposes. The steps we are taking to secure Duke’s financial future are already predicated on spending as much as we responsibly can from our endowment. Indeed, even with the actions outlined here, we expect in the coming year to spend from our endowment—which has suffered considerably by recent declines in the market—at rates that will not be made up for by investment growth, thus further reducing this vital source of long-term income.

Our circumstances today are daunting, but we will get through them. We are a strong and resourceful community guided, especially in challenging times, by our shared values of mutual respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence in all we do. Our work is great and good, and it continues in the face of the pandemic. Last weekend, we conferred degrees on almost 6,000 new Duke graduates. And while we could not share their joy on campus, thousands of you, joined by alumni, friends and families around the world, came together to mark the moment of their transition from citizens of Duke to citizens of the world. It is for them, and their succeeding generations of scholars and doers, that we take these steps now to secure our future.

Thank you for all you do to make us the Duke we have always been, and the Duke we are destined to become.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price
President

Securing our Financial Future

Dear Colleagues,

What sets Duke apart are our people and our purpose, and both have been tested over these past few weeks.  We have all lived through what for many has been the most tumultuous and unsettling period of our lives.  The combination of understandable concern for our health and safety, and those of our loved ones, with massive disruptions to society, education, business and even our ability freely move around our communities, is deeply unsettling.

But we have as a Duke community met these unprecedented challenges with an extraordinary outpouring of creativity, commitment and courage from thousands of people spanning the globe.  Each of you has contributed in your own way, through actions that have saved lives, supported our students, faculty, staff and patients, and ensured that our important work continues despite the challenges we confront every day.  Many of you have done so while balancing health concerns, caring for family members, and navigating the mental and emotional challenges of an uncertain and isolating time. 

Your extraordinary effort brings home the truth that we can only do great works through great people, and that ensuring the well-being of our people is critical to our purpose of seeking knowledge in the service of society.

Even as we confront present challenges, we must be clear that the pandemic will also produce profound and lasting effects, including severe and negative effects on our operations and finances.  Duke is not alone in this, of course: every business, government, nonprofit organization and family is now making difficult choices. While it is too soon to determine with precision the magnitude of disruption to our finances, it is clear that the impacts will be both severe and prolonged.  All of our formerly reliable sources of revenue – tuition, research grants, clinical revenue, private philanthropy and income from our investments and endowment – will almost certainly be significantly and adversely affected, even as we face increased expenses in our education, research and patient-care services. 

The responsible institutional course is to engage in a thoughtful, comprehensive, and strategic review of our operations and finances, and we are initiating exactly that.  In the meantime, we must also act responsibly now by taking immediate steps to mitigate our deepening financial challenges.  As a result, we are today either confirming (in the case of actions that were announced earlier) or implementing the following Duke University policies, which do not apply to the Duke University Health System:

Expenditures:  All schools, units, departments and programs will need to pause new non-salary expenditures, including (but not limited to): contracts, service or consulting agreements; computer, office and laboratory equipment; renovations; furniture; travel and entertainment; meetings and conferences. Any ongoing expenditure of university funds (including grant, gift and endowment funds) greater than $2,500 will continue to require pre-approval by the Executive Vice President, Provost or Chancellor for Health Affairs or their designees.  There will be additional guidance forthcoming regarding information technology services, including software licenses.

Hiring:  All staff hiring is paused until further notice.  Requests for exceptions for positions that are essential to the operation of the university can be made through the vacancy management process, which requires the approval of the Executive Vice President, Provost or Chancellor for Health Affairs, depending on the unit.  Subject to the approval of the appropriate dean, ongoing faculty searches may continue provided that all salary and startup funds are identified.  Likewise, searches for staff positions that are fully funded by external research grants that have already been received by the university may continue, subject to review through the vacancy management process.  

Salaries: For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, there will be no salary increase for University employees making more than $50,000 per year.  Employees earning up to $50,000 who earn satisfactory performance evaluations will receive a one-time, $1,000 payment.  The only exceptions to this policy will be certain academic promotions.   Positions covered under collective bargaining agreements will be governed by the terms of the contract.  This action also does not cover Duke University Health System (DUHS) employees.  DUHS administers compensation on a different calendar from the University, and guidance for the next year will be provided to DUHS employees at a later date.

Benefits: At this time, we do not anticipate making any changes in our insurance programs (health, dental, vision and disability).  We are reviewing our 403b program to determine whether adjustments are now appropriate.

Construction:  All new construction projects are on indefinite hold, except those related to safety, repairs, infrastructure, virus research and a small number of obligations to new faculty. 

As we adapt to this new reality, I pledge to you that Duke will never lose sight of our highest commitments, to our people and our purpose.  We remain firmly committed to meeting the financial aid needs of our students, which are likely to rise.  Our decisions will be guided by and aligned with Duke’s overarching strategic framework, Toward our Second Century.  We will be mindful of the needs of the most vulnerable among us and committed to the health, safety and security of our students, faculty and staff.  And we will be true to our shared values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence.

We will get through this, together, by supporting one another and our shared mission as a university.  Thank you for all that you are doing for Duke. I am proud to call you colleagues.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price
President

The Importance of Inclusion

Dear Colleagues,

I have been deeply disturbed by recent reports of bias incidents targeting Chinese, Chinese-American, and Asian individuals throughout the United States.  Meeting the global challenge of COVID-19 calls perhaps as never before on our common humanity and regard for others; it cannot be allowed to become a cause for scapegoating, bias, or hatred.

Duke has benefitted from a vibrant relationship with China since well before we became a university. Our very first international student, Han Jiaozhun, or Charlie Soong, came to what was then Trinity College in 1880 from Hainan province.  And we take pride in Duke Kunshan University, our innovative joint venture in Jiangsu province. Over the decades, thousands of Chinese and Chinese-American students, faculty, staff, and visitors have come to our campus to study, work, conduct research, and treat patients. These colleagues, classmates, friends, and neighbors are a vitally important part of our university community.

The recent spate of bias incidents across America not only reflects the most misguided, distorted, and base biases about the coronavirus, it is also thwarting the public health response to the virus’s spread. I want to be quite clear: Duke resoundingly condemns any discrimination or bias against our Asian or Asian-American neighbors, and we pledge to continue advocating for our shared values of inclusion, mutual trust, and respect.

To that end, Duke is prepared to provide assistance to students, staff, and faculty who may need it. If you believe you have experienced discrimination or harassment based upon your race, national origin or other protected identity, please contact the Office for Institutional Equity for assistance at 919-684-8222 or oie-help@duke.edu. You may also consider other Reporting Resources to address additional concerns.

In these unsettling times, I encourage every person associated with Duke University to join me in supporting those among us who might need a kind word or some assistance—and to remember to take care of ourselves and one another as we meet the challenges ahead.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price

An Update about Commencement

Dear Members of the Class of 2020,

You have heard from me many times in the past few days, and I wish that today I were writing with better news. In light of the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the latest public health advisories on travel and large gatherings, we have made the very difficult but necessary decision to postpone commencement for the Class of 2020, including departmental ceremonies and other associated events.

I know firsthand that commencement is one of the highlights of the Duke experience—an uplifting and inspiring celebration of our graduates and their accomplishments, and a memorable occasion in the life of our great university. I also know how disappointing this turn of events will be for you and your families, at a time when we are all sadly engulfed in disappointing and disheartening news.

Over the next few months, we will face unprecedented disruptions—both as a university community and in our personal and professional lives. These circumstances will be particularly distressing for the Class of 2020, who have been robbed of your final few months with classmates and friends at Duke. I share your disappointment—and sadness—that our campus will remain quiet this spring, without the joyful celebration that marks the passage of another year.

For all of these reasons, I am resolutely committed to an in-person recognition of the Class of 2020.  Commencement will surely take place, and here on campus.  And while we are still in the early stages of exploring possible dates and details of this ceremony, rest assured that it will reflect the indelible mark that this class has left on Duke.

In the meantime, I am very pleased to report that Ken Jeong (T ’90), who was to deliver the commencement address on May 10, has generously agreed to work with us on an online celebration to mark that moment—albeit remotely—while we await the opportunity to assemble with him in person.

Also, in the meantime, I hope you will take care of yourselves and those around you, by heeding the advice we are all receiving about practicing social distancing and regular hand washing—while at the same time carving out time for a walk or a hike, or a good book, and plenty of rest.  We’ll get through this, together.

Thank you again for your understanding and support in these most unusual times. I am proud to be a member of the extraordinary Duke community, and particularly proud of our Class of 2020 as you rise to the challenge of completing your courses of study in the coming weeks. My very best wishes to you all.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price

Urgent Message Regarding Campus Activity

Dear Colleagues, 

As we confront the challenge of trying to contain the spread of COVID-19, we need your leadership and support to curtail the number of individuals on the Duke campus and in Duke facilities. 

These are unusual circumstances.  The most important thing we can do as a community is to follow the directives from local, state and federal public health officials to minimize to the extent possible the opportunity for community exposure.  This will serve to protect our health care providers, hospitals and clinics, and help us continue to fulfill our educational and research missions.  

For all university faculty and staff, we ask you to cease small-group and individual meetings effective immediately, transition to remote access for these activities, and follow the guidance for social distancing whenever on campus. We know this is challenging, and maybe even painful, but we have to do it.  And now. 

For our healthcare colleagues, we thank you for being on the front lines and continuing to work during these unprecedented circumstances. We encourage those who are able to be mindful of your friends and neighbors who are health care providers and frontline responders and to do what you can to support them. Helping with childcare, providing a meal, and other small gestures can make a big impact on those working long hours to care for our community. 

For managers, we call on you to be creative and resourceful in helping all of your colleagues who are able to transition as soon as possible to working remotely. You should use your discretion regarding who absolutely needs to be on-site and what work could be done remotely. Specific guidance on laboratory and research activity will be forthcoming. 

All Duke faculty and staff will continue to stay in a paid work status regardless of the work location or work schedule and should record their normal work hours. 

We are doing our best to respond to the numerous questions about operations, workplace issues, and health matters. You can find an updated list of Q&As on the official Duke Coronavirus website.  In addition, we have the following dedicated websites that provide key resources for working remotely, including access to virtual workshops on using communication tools, such as Zoom Meetings, and how to access Duke’s network using VPN (Virtual Private Network): 

  • Keep Working provides a central repository for all tools, resources and information for work-related issues during this time.
  • Keep Teaching is the source for all faculty and teaching resources as we transition to remote delivery of courses to students around the world.
  • Keep Learning provides information for students on academic, residential and support services. 

This is an extraordinary situation for everyone.  We expect that there will be further announcements regarding additional steps that Duke will have to take in order to adapt to this new reality, and to do our part in taking care of ourselves, our patients, our students, and our community.  I thank you in advance for your tireless dedication and boundless creativity. 

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price

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