Category: Speeches & Writings Page 1 of 7

Our Ongoing Commitment to Racial and Social Equity

To the Duke Community,

This year’s Juneteenth holiday marks the 159th anniversary of the end of slavery throughout the United States. As we observe this holiday and celebrate Black excellence, I also want to take the opportunity to consider Duke’s ongoing work to address the effects of racism and inequity that have continued to shape the experiences of too many people in America, including here at Duke.

In this moment when efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion nationally are being questioned—and in some cases curtailed—let me be clear in reaffirming Duke University’s unwavering commitment to attaining true excellence in our core missions of education, research and clinical service by advancing racial and social equity and living up to our values by being a welcoming and inclusive community that supports all people in reaching their full potential. 

Though we still have significant work to do in meeting challenges facing the Black and other underrepresented members of our community, we have made important strides. I am very grateful to so many committed colleagues across campus, including members of the Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC), the President’s Council on Black Affairs (PCOBA), Black Student Alliance (BSA), Duke Black Alumni (DBA) and the many other individuals and groups who have joined together to help Duke as we strive to become the diverse and inclusive campus community we need to be, and to ensure a strong sense of community, belonging, and commitment to shared success.

As part of our work to build our ever more diverse and talented community, we are committed to recruiting and retaining outstanding Black faculty, staff, and students in every school, department and program. I’m pleased to report our efforts are beginning to bear fruit:

  • Over the past five years, the number of Black faculty on campus has increased by 47%.
  • This fall we expect to welcome more than 220 incoming undergraduate students who are Black, representing 12.5% of the Class of 2028 and an increase over last year.
  • With support from The Duke Endowment, we recently introduced new support for graduate and professional students who earned undergraduate degrees from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions.

We are investing in building a campus community where everyone can thrive, using data to identify gaps in policies and practices and to improve the day-to-day experiences of staff, faculty and students in every unit across the campus.

  • The Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, affectionately known as “The Lou,” reopened in newly renovated space and celebrated its 40th anniversary. The Lou will now partner with the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and Fellows to offer support for research and internships, community building and scholarly programming that honors Black excellence through the new Reginaldo Howard Leadership Program.
  • Faculty seed grants support projects to cultivate collaborative networks and foster community. A dozen new grants awarded this spring build on impactful projects including the Black Think Tank and the Writing and ReseArch Productivity Group for Underrepresented Faculty (WRAP).
  • Duke Black Alumni and other affinity groups are playing an important role in the alumni experience by building community and supporting belonging and equity among our more than 200,000 alumni around the globe.
  • The Campus Culture Survey, first launched in 2021, helps us understand the lived experiences of members of the Duke community. Hundreds of campus leaders come together each January for a full-day work session to review survey findings and share lessons learned and best practices.
  • Our second Campus Culture Survey, completed this spring, shows improvements in some areas, but also a persistent gap between the experiences of communities of color and other members of the Duke community. A full analysis of the survey data is underway and will help identify areas where people’s experiences at Duke are not living up to our ideals and where new supports will be of most value.
  • The Duke Annual Report on Racial Equity (DARRE) tracks progress towards racial equity across the university. A dashboard highlighting unit-level data will be deployed to 40 university units this fall as part of a three-year university-wide rollout.

We are also advancing equity and inclusion through teaching, research, and patient care.

  • Since 2021, with support from The Duke Endowment, the university has funded 46 faculty research projects working to understand and address racism and its enduring impact in our state and region.
  • The Bass Connections Race & Society theme supports interdisciplinary projects exploring the ways race intersects with society and the lived experience.
  • Duke University Health System has established a DEIB strategic plan to ensure equity and inclusion in talent acquisition, talent development/education, supplier diversity, data analysis and support, and strategic communications. And the Duke Health Pledge Against Racism, Bias, and Hate serves as the foundation of a culture that stands up against racism and hate in all forms to create a more just and equitable experience for patients and employees.

Although I view these as significant gains, I also acknowledge that we have a long way to go as a campus, university, and society.

As we together mark Juneteenth, I give thanks for the many ways Duke community members support and sustain our commitment to advancing racial and social equity. In our sadly divisive world, surely we can come together around a shared hope that all members of our society, regardless of race, creed, or background, have the opportunity to thrive and enjoy lives of purpose and distinction. To this end, our work will continue, day in and day out, to live up to our shared values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence.

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price
President

2024 Commencement Remarks

A commencement marks an important moment in time, a point of inflection: today we mark the end of your studies at Duke, and the beginning of your lives as Duke alumni. 

Today’s commencement ceremony also marks another significant point of inflection. This year, as we celebrate our university’s centennial, we are also celebrating the one-hundredth class to graduate from Duke. Maybe you’ve noticed that many of our graduates are wearing blue robes as a special symbol of this milestone.  

This wonderful alignment of two profound turning points—our Centennial, and your graduation today—is both a moment of inflection and cause for reflection.

It’s an opportunity to reflect on all that we, together, have learned and achieved since Trinity College was transformed into Duke University. And it’s an opportunity to look ahead to the great promise of this university’s second century, to your great promise as a generation called to lead the way in an uncertain world.

Looking forward and looking back, I feel a sense of profound confidence that you are up for this challenge. Indeed, you’ve already seen and persevered through some unanticipated twists and turns in the road. Many of you saw your senior years of high school disrupted by the onset of the global pandemic and missed out on your graduation then, and all of you had to navigate several years of significant academic and social disruption. 

The undergraduate Class of ‘24 arrived at Duke before COVID vaccines became available, at a time when masking and social distancing were our best tools for protecting each other, even though they were antithetical to community building and the typical college experience. So, remarkably, this the first time you’ve all been together—in person—for a traditional, formal academic exercise. 

As you may recall, in August 2020 our new student convocation that opens the academic year took place virtually. So, you watched on YouTube—at least, I hope you did—as we welcomed you to this academic community. 

Despite the challenges, you have thrived. In the classroom and beyond you have taken advantage of all that Duke has to offer, expanding your understanding of what it means to be educated and engaged citizens of the world. During your time at Duke, you’ve built new connections and developed new traditions. 

And you absolutely have played more spikeball than any class before or since.

Looking forward, we have no idea what the world will bring. As the politically turbulent and violent events of this year have illustrated, we live in unpredictable times. 

But on this point our Centennial may be instructive, and encouraging.

A hundred years ago, the graduating class of 1924 similarly had no idea what lay before them. They didn’t know that, just six months later, James B. Duke would sign his Indenture of Trust that turned their alma mater, Trinity College, into our Duke University. That stroke of Mr. Duke’s pen not only transformed our institution, it also secured the Class of 1924’s legacy as the last students to graduate from Trinity. 

And in a fascinating turn of history, the Class of 24 also gave us our alma mater, Dear Old Duke. But again, they had no idea at the time.  

Indulge me a minute with the story.

Trinity in 1924 celebrated the completion of studies with a traditional lowering of the class flag. You see, LDOC has come a long way, from flag lowering to Swae Lee on the Quad.

Well, during their flag-lowering ceremony, the Class of 1924 sang a student-composed “Hymn to Trinity” that had been catching on around campus that spring. 

It began:

Trinity, thy name we sing. To thee our voices raise (they raise)

To thee our anthems ring, in everlasting praise.

As an aside: the May 14, 1924, issue of The Trinity Chronicle that published this hymn, also reported an interesting vignette of student life on campus:

“One student bet another that he couldn’t put a billiard ball into his mouth. Result. It had to be punched out with a cue stick.” 

Like I said, Duke students, you’ve come a long way in a hundred years.

Following the unforeseen creation of Duke University, an adaptation of the “Hymn to Trinity” was officially adopted in 1925 as our alma mater, but of course the word “Trinity” had to be replaced. And as “Duke” is just one syllable, and “Duke University” is six, they went with …? That’s right: “Dear Old Duke.” 

…at a time, let’s remember, when Dear Old Duke was not even a one-year-old. 

Although our traditions have evolved with time and we no longer raise and lower class flags to mark the beginning and end of the academic year, we do sing Dear Old Duke together at formal events and gatherings including athletic competitions. And we’ll sing it together today, at the end of this ceremony. 

Whether performed by the pep band, a choir, or as it rings from the Carillon every Friday evening, our alma mater symbolizes the enduring connections to Duke that unite us as a community, whether we are together or apart.  

And I hope it will always remind you, now that you know its origin story, that, while we can’t foresee the future — while we have no idea what our next day, year, decade, or century will bring — like Trinity College then, we can look forward to grander times ahead.

I hope that throughout your lives, however far fate may bear you, you will forever feel at home within this very special Duke community. 

Whatever the future brings — and I hope not swallowing a billiard ball on a bet — perhaps, when you hear the familiar melody of Dear Old Duke, you’ll pause to reflect on what this university, and its people, have meant in your life.

Congratulations, Class of 2024.

Remarks at High Point University Graduate Commencement

Following is the prepared text of President Price’s address at the High Point University Graduate Commencement on Thursday, May 2.

It’s an honor to be with you here today. Let me begin by offering my congratulations to the members of the Class of 2024! 

And in turn, class of 2024, will you please join me in a round of applause to thank your faculty members, families, and friends who have supported you throughout your studies? 

Thank you so very much for having me here today. Like you, I’m quite grateful for the degree this university is granting me. 

And like you, I’m looking forward to the end of this address and to celebrating your achievements. But sharing some thoughts with you today is the cost of my admission to this ceremony, so bear with me.

As you leave High Point today with your advanced graduate or professional training, you are no doubt ready to make a positive difference in the world.  You will shortly walk out of this celebration, and into a world of incredible change, a world in flux. 

You face some daunting challenges. Let’s be clear about that. 

The already rapid pace of technological change is about to accelerate dramatically, thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

The promise of breakthrough advances in biomedical sciences renders cures for the worst of human diseases within our grasp—even as our medical system groans under the weight of persistent failures in preventative healthcare, primary care and access to nutritious foods for much of our population. 

Our digital media have nearly perfected the art and science of getting, sustaining, buying and selling our attention—at the cost of driving us to extreme and polarizing worldviews, and at the expense of both sleep and common human decency.  

Our globe has never been smaller, thanks to communication and transportation—but growing international tensions, and the capacity for inflicting suffering upon those viewed as enemies, have perhaps never been greater. 

And as you have no doubt been reminded countless times, we face existential challenges due to climate change.  

We tend to use the word “unprecedented” a lot these days to capture this moment. Sometimes, it all feels pretty catastrophic. 

OK, so at this point you are wondering why Dr. Qubein thought to invite such a wet blanket to join this ceremony. Nido, you may be wondering the same.

My message to you today is this. Yes, you are entering a world of rapid and chaotic change. Yes, it may be turbulent and disorienting, but I’m not sure it really is unprecedented. 

And no, it need not be feared.  

Change can be powerfully positive rather than negative, should you choose to understand and influence it. You, with your advanced education and professional acumen, will lead the way to a better place.  

You commence today from this High Point, and you will probably find yourself in some low points in the days and years ahead. But I’m confident you will chart a course out of those low points and eventually to even higher points down the road. 

Let me first explain why I’m confident in your future. It’s not just me being optimistic. It’s the lesson of history. 

This year, both High Point University and Duke University are celebrating our centennials. 

And over the course of our histories, both universities and their surrounding cities have been buffeted by extraordinary challenges, fallen on some hard times, and emerged only stronger and the better for it.

When High Point College opened in 1924 with the support of the Methodist Church, it became the new home for many of the administrators, teachers and alumni of Yadkin College, a small college that had been struggling to survive in a rural area about 30 miles southwest of here, on the banks of the Yadkin River. 

Similarly, Duke traces its roots to a schoolhouse that was located only six miles south from here, in Randolph County. Also with the support of the Methodist Church, it became Trinity College, navigating the challenges of operating during the Civil War and Reconstruction before moving to Durham in 1892, and then becoming Duke University in 1924. 

So, by 1924, both High Point College and Duke University had already seen tremendous change and survived profound challenges. They had sought renewed life in thriving manufacturing towns, whose flourishing industries were grounded in North Carolina’s abundant natural and agricultural resources, including cotton, timber, and tobacco. 

High Point, as you know, was the nexus of the furniture industry in North Carolina, which in the 1920s produced more wooden furniture than any other state. This city was known the “furniture capital of the world,” and the Southern Furniture Market was already drawing crowds of visitors to town.

Some sixty miles away on the railroad line, Durham in the 1920s had made a name for itself as the “tobacco capital of the world.” It was home to a thriving banking industry and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, which anchored a Black-owned business community known nationwide as “Black Wall Street.” 

Over the next century, these two cities—like so many others—experienced seismic social and economic ups and downs as they navigated the Great Depression, a world war and a subsequent baby boom, the Civil Rights movement, and the powerful forces of technological change and globalization.

The latter part of the 20th century would usher in a period of particular hardship for both High Point and Durham, as the furniture, textile, and tobacco industries on which the cities were built all met existential challenges, leaving factories shuttered, livelihoods upended, and communities shattered. 

Although the costs of this transition were traumatic—and can still be seen and felt today throughout our state—both Durham and High Point have worked to understand and come to terms with these forces of change. And both have found new paths forward, reimagining their roles in the economy and in our region. 

Today in Durham, former tobacco warehouses and cigarette factories are now home to science and technology research facilities, vibrant arts and entertainment offerings, and housing for residents who are powering the city’s future.  

In High Point, the furniture market is a powerful economic engine, connecting exhibitors and buyers from around the world. Drawing on the city’s rich history of craftsmanship and manufacturing, the “reborn and transformed” Congdon Yards is supporting entrepreneurs and innovators. High Point, and the greater Carolina Core region, are ideally situated to attract new investments that will enhance our state’s standing and prosperity in a global tech-based economy. 

And here on campus, who—except perhaps Nido Qubein—would have foreseen the tremendous transformation we’ve all witnessed over the past twenty years? Thanks to his vision, this university has been renewed, transformed and positioned well for the future, both in terms of the physical campus and through the scope of its educational programs and mission. 

Indeed, today’s commencement—the first standalone ceremony for High Point’s graduate and professional programs—is a testament to Dr. Qubein’s leadership and investment in post-graduate education.  

So, the very history of this institution—like Duke’s—is an eloquent testament to the way that change, while deeply challenging, disorienting and even at times traumatic, can fuel greater works and propel success.

Take the lesson of history to heart. 

Just as our universities and hometowns have adapted and evolved in response to a changing world, each of you, over the course of your professional lives, will face profound challenges and opportunities that will require you to make adjustments—and sometimes even question your fundamental assumptions about your work and your role in society.   

As educated individuals with advanced degrees in your fields, all of you are well equipped to serve as leaders, working to fulfill the highest aims of your chosen professions over the course of your careers. 

History testifies, then, to the possibilities before you; but how exactly will you seize your opportunity and meet your responsibilities?

Let me leave you with a little advice, based on what I refer to as “the four H’s” that might serve as guideposts throughout your careers, to help inform your leadership and your sense of direction. 

The first “H” is humanity. Amidst so many dehumanizing, divisive and distancing forces in our environment—from social media to the increasingly narrow ideological, political and economic interests they promote—we all need to maintain a deep sense of humanity, recognizing that we are all people with diverse life stories, perspectives, talents and aspirations. 

You will encounter this diversity every day in your careers: in the colleagues and clients with whom you interact; in the students you teach and families you serve; and in the people for whom you provide healthcare or other professional services. If you see them first as people, every bit as human as you, you will be less inclined to categorically reject their ideas or practices, and more inclined, when you disagree, to extend the grace required for understanding. 

The second “H” is humility. To me, humility means recognizing that we know a lot less than we’d like to admit. Only one out of every seven adults holds an advanced degree like the one you’re receiving today. But if you are truly learned, you will know what you don’t know. 

We must be open to truly listening to other perspectives; giving fair-minded consideration to ideas that might initially seem outrageous; and learning from one another as we address the hard truths of life. 

Our age suffers from an excess of righteous indignation, often rooted in false, if sometimes comforting certainties. But the veil of certainty blinds us to much of what is actually before us. A humble posture doesn’t deny us the feeling of pride in what we know or what we have achieved, it merely opens us up to the notion that, good as we are, we might still be better.

Third is honesty. In a world that is turning away from facts whenever they prove inconvenient, we must commit to an honest appraisal of the best available evidence, working to discover and debate our way to a clearer understanding, both of ourselves and of the world around us.  

Too often we are tempted to turn away from an honest and open encounter with evidence, clinging to cherished ideas that do not withstand close scrutiny, surrounding ourselves with self-serving biases, or acquiescing to the loudest voices out of convenience or fear.  

In a world that follows the crowd and confuses leadership with tribalism, we should remember that true leadership follows the real world as best we can honestly understand it.

And fourth, perhaps most important, is hope.

Moving our world to a better place requires a belief and an expectation that we do indeed have the power, individually and collectively, to address complex challenges, and to change our circumstances for the better. 

We, all of us here today, are beneficiaries of the work done by our forebears—including the founders of this very university—people motivated by their hope that our circumstances would be better than theirs.  

Hope animates our efforts, gives rise to our confidence, and provides the light by which we see our way forward, even in the darkest of times.

As you leave here today, and as you advance through your lives and careers, may you always be guided by these four “H’s”— humanity, humility, honesty and hope.  

And, in recognition of what brings us all together here today, let me add a fifth “H” to this list: High Point. 

Just as I am counting on you to harness the change around us for the better, to lead this community, and our state, nation and world to ever greater heights, I am counting on you to carry this place and its people forward with you from this day on, in all you do. 

I’ve no doubt that HPU has instilled in you the humanity, humility, honesty and hope to lead lives of purpose and accomplishment.

And I am proud to be your 2024 High Point classmate.

Response to Academic Council Anonymous Question, March 21, 2024

Following is the text of the President’s response to an anonymous question presented during the March 21, 2024 meeting of the Academic Council.

Question: In light of the February 2024 ACIR report to the President recommending that DUMAC not be required to divest from fossil-fuel investments, will Duke at least commit to accounting for the carbon emissions associated with its fossil fuel-related investments in the context of its carbon-neutral-by-2024 pledge?

Well, thanks for the question, and I’d also like to thank Professor Emma Rasiel, who is here as chair of the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility, the ACIR, and her colleagues on the committee for their thoughtful February report and for the work more generally of that committee. 

As part of their work, of the ACIR, back in 2019, the committee suggested that we investigate the feasibility of creating a carbon tax on selected investments, and that recommendation was considered then and remains under consideration. However, it’s presently not practical for DUMAC to account for the carbon emissions in its portfolio, and that is for two primary reasons. 

The first reason is that data bearing on the allocation of carbon to selected investments are generally not reliable, and so the accounting itself is highly problematic. DUMAC has over 12,000 companies, private and public, represented in the portfolio. Data are not available for many of the private companies and in the case of the public companies, what data are available are generally incomplete or inaccurate.

The second reason is that while DUMAC could conceivably do their own accounting in house, for the sake of reliability, it would be incredibly labor intensive to do that work. Estimates are that it would require hiring considerable additional staff, more than 20, which would amount to almost doubling, frankly, DUMAC’s staff, to faithfully represent carbon emissions across the entire portfolio.

What is practical, and in keeping with our climate commitments, is what DUMAC has undertaken since 2019. First, DUMAC has invested in “positive impact” companies, those that are promoting UN Sustainable Development Goals, and does their own due diligence on this by using machine learning and artificial intelligence. At present, $2 billion in the portfolio are invested to have these “positive impacts.” It’s not a perfect accounting, I will tell you, but the attempt is made, and this represents about 15% of our long-term pool. So, by directing investments to these “positive impact” companies, there’s an attempt to make a positive difference in line with our climate commitments. 

This approach has been judged to be more feasible, and frankly more impactful, than deployment of an internal, investment carbon tax, which would also likely have a negative impact on our long-term returns. And as I noted in 2019, I and I’m sure my colleagues at DUMAC remain open if others are able to present DUMAC with a more developed and implementable version of a carbon tax recommendation.

Second, DUMAC has also divested from direct cash equity holdings, meaning that we have divested of the carbon 200 companies. And we do have exposure, though, in indirect holdings and derivative positions that are held for risk management purposes and those do not necessarily represent either direct or indirect investments in fossil fuel companies. It is very difficult to divest or extract ourselves from these just because of the embedded nature of energy and energy services companies associated with fossil fuels. 

Now, we could claim from our direct investment management that we have divested optically at least, but that would be disingenuous. A thorough-going, complete divestment of all investments connected to fossil fuels would limit discretion among the managers for investment choices without either the requisite confidence in the data or the confidence that we’re actually having the desired impact. Complete divestment would also significantly reduce the pool of available investments related to clean energy transition and production, since investment managers in the energy space are often invested across the spectrum of clean transitional and fossil fuel energy. And finally, such a complete divestment attempt would be a serious impediment to sound financial returns, and that is the primary charge for DUMAC. 

President’s Annual Address to the Faculty

Thank you, Trina. And let me begin my offering my thanks to you and to ECAC for your leadership, and to all of the members of this Council for your dedicated service to the university’s academic mission. 

This year we are celebrating Duke University’s centennial. Nearly 100 years ago, in December of 1924, James B. Duke signed the Indenture of Trust that transformed Trinity College into Duke University. 

In his indenture, Duke made clear that he saw higher education, and especially the advanced professional training a research university can provide, as critical to the social and economic development of our region, as a means “to develop our resources, increase our wisdom and promote human happiness.” 

Though he could not have foreseen then the great advancements and possibilities the next century would bring—certainly nothing like advanced biomedical engineering or generative artificial intelligence—James B. Duke’s vision of the university as a catalyst for societal progress was forward-thinking. North Carolina in 1924 was still primarily rural, with rigid racial segregation enforced by Jim Crow laws, and one or two of every 10 adult residents were not able to read or write.

Fittingly, our Centennial Celebration is also forward-thinking. Following the recommendations of a trustee strategic task force that included students and faculty, including council chair Trina Jones, we have three goals in mind: we seek to deepen our understanding of our history through informed self-reflection; we hope to inspire our community by honoring the people who have contributed to Duke’s growth and success; and, looking forward, we seek to build on our momentum and advance our strategic vision for the future. 

These three goals are now being brought to life through a yearlong series of events and activities organized by individuals and units across campus, in coordination with our Centennial Executive Director Jill Boy. 

First, we have the opportunity to engage this year with our institutional history, in candid reflection as we learn from our past. Examples include the “Our Duke” historical exhibit in Perkins Library or the bilingual exploration of the history of Latiné students at Duke, housed in the Classroom Building on East Campus. Both exhibits were curated by students with guidance from faculty and the Duke Archives. 

This year, as well, several Bass Connections project teams are studying defining features of Duke’s first century. In addition, an oral history project, a book, and documentaries—including a history of the Blue Devil that was released earlier this week—will explore and preserve the achievements—and the struggles—of our first 100 years.

These are but a few of the many ways our community has embraced Duke’s Centennial as an opportunity for teaching and scholarship about our own history, and I hope you will join me in generating, promoting, and taking advantage of these resources.

Second, we have the opportunity this year to honor and recognize some of the many people who have made Duke University’s accomplishments possible, as well as the people—including you—who are shaping the institution today.

Throughout the year we are shining a spotlight on both well-known and under-recognized individuals who have contributed to the university’s growth and success. 

These include, to name just a few:

Alice Mary Baldwin—who was named Dean of Women 100 years ago this month—and who worked to advance opportunities and recognition for women students, faculty and alumni.

C.B. Claiborne—Duke’s first Black student-athlete—who went on to build a distinguished academic career, and who will be awarded an honorary degree at this year’s commencement.

And—as we announced last month—we are recognizing two of Duke’s most dedicated early staff members with the naming of the George and George-Frank Wall Center for Student Life. 

Third, and in some ways most importantly, we have the opportunity to frame these hundred years as the foundation for advancing our strategic vision for Duke’s next century of excellence and leadership. 

Just as James B. Duke, President William Preston Few, and the faculty, staff and students of Trinity College together set this institution on a path then to realizing our current success, we now have—all of us here—the ability to ensure we are on a path to an even brighter future. Yes, we face the challenges of a turbulent and changing world, one that seems unusually unsettling for higher education, for academic medicine, for intercollegiate athletics, for much of what we do today. But the 1920s were unsettling in their own ways, as the world transitioned out of the Great War and a deadly flu pandemic and would face, within the following decades, the Great Depression and the Second World War.  

They found opportunity in their moment. We will find opportunity in ours, as well.

How do we do that?  

We start by recognizing that our success, like their success, derives entirely from Duke’s people. At our core, we are in the business of identifying and developing human talent. It is through our people—our faculty, staff, students and alumni—that we make a positive difference in our region and the world.  

James B. Duke clearly recognized this, calling on Duke University, in his Indenture of Trust, to recruit people “of such outstanding character, ability and vision as will insure its attaining and maintaining a place of real leadership.”

And that is precisely what we’re doing. Through the Duke Science and Technology Initiative, we’ve hired 35 new faculty members, significantly enhancing Duke’s standing in the areas of computing, materials science, and brain and body resilience. 

We’re also enhancing the infrastructure that supports faculty research, and beginning the long-overdue process of renewing key academic facilities to ensure they support 21st century learning and scholarship. 

The result is an increasingly diverse and talented faculty, with more members than ever before in the national academies, a faculty that last year enabled Duke to spend $1.4 billion on research and launch 15 new companies. And as we announced earlier this week, this year we have the pleasure of recognizing 32 members of our faculty with Distinguished Professorships.

We are investing as well in our students and alumni. Student financial aid remains among our highest priorities, reflecting our commitment to equitable access to a Duke education with enhanced financial support for undergraduate and graduate students alike. Last year, with the support of the Duke Endowment, we launched our new initiative for students from North and South Carolina. The proportion of students in the undergraduate class of 2027 who come from Pell-eligible families rose to an all-time high 17 percent, and we are launching new initiatives to help graduates from HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions in our region to attend Duke’s graduate and professional programs.

We’re transforming teaching and learning for our students as well, leveraging experiential and team-based learning opportunities, and fusing our educational and research missions ever more closely as we pursue creative solutions to the challenges of our day.  

And recognizing the critical work of our staff—and Duke’s role as a major employer in Durham and the Triangle region—we’re focused on ensuring pay equity, and this July we will raise our minimum wage to $18 an hour. 

We do this because we know the deep and transformative value of bringing to Duke an ever more diverse collection of people that truly reflects the society we live in. 

But we also know that, to realize the full potential of Duke’s people, we must cultivate and maintain a campus community where every person—especially those whose viewpoints or backgrounds may be in the minority—feels a strong sense of belonging and support for their work. We must work to create a culture that clearly reflects our core institutional values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence in all we do.

To that end, we have just concluded our second Campus Culture Survey, which seeks to understand the ways our students, faculty and staff experience Duke. The results of this survey will be used to identify areas where members of our community may not feel included, supported or valued for the work they do—and to introduce and share new practices to address those areas of concern. 

In the first such survey, we learned that staff members felt an acute need for clearer pathways for career advancement, and in the time since we’ve been working to address that need, and others, identified through the survey.

As a university community, we seek to advance discovery and excellence through honest, open inquiry while maintaining mutual respect and trust. As the world around us becomes even more polarizing, it is imperative that our Duke community be one in which we foster open and civil discourse, express our differences in productive ways, and build mutual trust and respect for others in all that we do. 

We’ve seen the intense need for this on a global scale this year, as the Israel-Hamas war has caused profound suffering and conflict, both for those directly affected by the violence, and for countless others worldwide. 

Although our campus has not been immune to conflict regarding this situation, our response throughout has been guided by our commitment to community, and to the safety and well-being of all community members. Provost Alec Gallimore has launched an Initiative on the Middle East to foster constructive dialogue, leverage academic expertise, and enhance learning opportunities. I’m grateful to Professor Bruce Jentleson for his leadership of this initiative, as well as to the many other members of the faculty who have already engaged with this work. 

So, investing in people, and investing in community are two fundamental ways we position Duke well for the future. To this list, I will add a third: investing in purposeful partnerships.  

The challenges we now face—from divisive politics and souring international relations, to threats to human health from natural and man-made factors, to the existential threat of climate change—these all require unprecedented levels of interdisciplinary collaboration and coordination, both within Duke and with external partners. 

We enjoy a well-deserved reputation for interdisciplinary collaboration, thanks to your work as faculty and traditions established over the years, and now we’re building on that in quite significant ways. 

A few notable examples include our work on advancing racial and social equity, supported across campus by every one of our schools and our Racial Equity Advisory Council; and the Duke Climate Commitment, which is mobilizing all of our operational, research, and educational assets to seek sustainable and equitable solutions that place us on a path toward a resilient, flourishing, carbon-neutral world.

We’ve also renewed our commitment to Duke’s hometown of Durham—and to our neighbors throughout the Carolinas—as we thoughtfully draw on our educational and research missions to advance our Strategic Community Impact Plan, designed to help address our city and region’s most pressing challenges. 

At Duke Health, we have proceeded with an historic integration of the Duke University Health System and the Private Diagnostic Clinic, our former physician practice. While our new Duke Health Integrated Practice is still very much a work in progress, it promises new opportunities for our academic medical enterprise.

Through Duke Health, we’ve recently partnered with Durham Public Schools and Durham Tech to establish an early college high school that will prepare local students for careers in healthcare, while simultaneously addressing crucial workforce needs at Duke and elsewhere. 

At the same time, we are also enhancing our connections to Duke’s global network of alumni and friends, leveraging our centennial to deepen alumni engagement through personalized experiences online, on-campus, and around the world.

These reinvigorated forms of local and regional engagement complement our exceptional global presence, through Duke-NUS in Singapore, Duke Kunshan University in China, and through the worldwide scholarship and engagement of our faculty and students. Over the course of the next year, the Board of Trustees, the Provost, and I will be engaged in regular conversations with you, the faculty, regarding our global presence and our aspirations for global impact.

Indeed, as we consider the challenges and the opportunities of artificial intelligence, climate, and global health, I believe no other university is as well situated as we are, as James B. Duke hoped we would be, to serve society and uplift mankind. 

As we celebrate our first century, and approach our second, I’m confident that our strategic vision—to invest in people, strengthen our community, and multiply our impact through purposeful partnerships—will build on our remarkable past and ensure an extraordinary future.

I thank you—my faculty colleagues—for supporting the Duke we have always been—and the even more remarkable Duke we are destined to become. 

And I would now be happy to take questions.

Duke’s Centennial Year

To the Duke Community,

I hope you were able to find time for rest and renewal during the holiday break. I would also like to share my deep gratitude for those of you who worked over the holidays, caring for our patients, maintaining essential operations, and advancing our mission in other ways. 

As you return to campus, you’ll notice new banners and signage marking the beginning of an exciting milestone in Duke University’s history – the 100th anniversary of the transformation of Trinity College into Duke University.

I hope you will join me in launching our Centennial on Tuesday, January 9, at the Centennial Celebration Kickoff and Winter Chill reception. 

Our Centennial is ultimately a celebration of people: those who have made Duke University’s first 100 years possible, and the people—including you—who will shape our next 100 years.

It will feature more than a year of events and opportunities to deepen the understanding of our history and learn from our past, to honor the people who have made Duke’s extraordinary achievements possible, and to look toward the great potential of our future. 

As we begin both the new semester and our Centennial celebration, I thank you for being part of our extraordinary Duke community, I wish you all the best for the semester ahead, and I look forward to partnering with you to create this great university’s future. 

Cheers,

Vince

A Message of Gratitude

To the Duke Community, 

As we prepare to break for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’d like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt gratitude for each of you and for this extraordinary academic community we together form. 

I especially appreciate the many ways Duke faculty, staff and students draw on our rich diversity of expertise and perspectives to support each other and our neighbors here in Durham and far beyond. Through your work, academic pursuits and service to others, you find countless ways to strengthen our community and partner with purpose to support those in need.

I would also like to offer a special thanks to the many people at Duke whose work caring for others and maintaining our essential operations will continue through the holiday.

Whether you are here on campus or far from Durham, I wish you a peaceful and restorative holiday break.

With gratitude,
Vince

Supporting our Educational Community

To the Duke community,

It has now been more than a week since the horrific Hamas terror attacks in Israel. In that time, thousands of innocent Israeli and Palestinian people have lost their lives, and thousands more have suffered terrible injuries. As we confront the escalating violence, I know that many in our Duke community are hurting. 

I wrote to you last week as we were shocked and saddened by the staggering loss of life. Since then, I’ve heard from many students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents throughout our Duke community: Jewish, Arab, Muslim, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, with roots in the region or not. Our Duke community, mirroring the worldwide community, is in pain.

While there is perhaps little we can do to affect the course of this terrible conflict, we must do all we can to ensure that it does not erode our own commitment to community at Duke or lead us to negate our shared humanity. We should not allow divisiveness to undercut our capacity as an educational community for respectful and compassionate learning together, even—and especially—in these trying times.

With this in mind, I encourage each of us to consider ways we can, in moments of often intense and passionate disagreement, preserve our shared values of respect and inclusion, and foster debate and deliberation leavened with goodwill and understanding. As an institution of higher learning, we value wide freedom of expression for those in our campus community. With that freedom comes the responsibility to foster scholarly discourse, and not descend into polemics, personal attacks, or antisemitic or anti-Muslim rhetoric.  We must ensure ideas are discussed and debated in a way that advances knowledge, rather than obscures or impedes it.

As an academic community, we have the opportunity and the obligation to demonstrate, to ourselves and the world, the power of being guided by our educational values and working to ensure Duke is a place where everyone feels deeply valued and included.

Should you have concerns about your ability to openly express your beliefs and opinions, or be in need of other forms of support at this time, I would urge you to contact Duke resource providers who are here to provide guidance and assistance.

I am proud to be part of this extraordinary community of learners and scholars. I ask that you please support each other and join me in committing to engage across differences with compassion, respect, and a genuine willingness to hear others’ perspectives.

Sincerely,
Vince

Vincent E. Price
President, 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

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