Category: Speeches & Writings Page 1 of 6

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. 



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,

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.


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.



Our Commitment to Inclusive Excellence

To the Duke community,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2023 Commencement Remarks

Thank you, Professor Weinthal, KB and Dylan for those thoughtful greetings.

We’re gathered here today to celebrate the Class of 2023 and your many achievements as Blue Devils since you arrived on campus—a moment that no doubt feels like a long time ago.

For the undergraduates among you, that arrival was on a sweltering August day four years ago, when I spoke at convocation, just over there in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I talked then about a special place in one of Duke’s hidden spaces: the granite marker in a quiet corner of Duke Gardens, indicating the 36th Parallel of Latitude.

This line runs through the straits of Gibraltar, ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, through areas of conflict and of great natural beauty, through empty corners of the Himalaya and major cities in China, South Korea, and Japan, through California’s Golden Gate, and it runs across our campus, connecting Baldwin Auditorium to the Chapel.

Since it was first projected by Eratosthenes in the third century B.C.E., this line has been a sort of beacon to travelers around the world—calling them to explore beyond the horizon, searching for places past what the eye can see, just out of reach.

In those remarks a few years ago, I encouraged the incoming class of 2023 to consider the ways that such imaginary lines can influence our lives.

Today, I propose we reflect on lines again: the lines each of you followed in coming to Duke; the ones you charted during your time here; and the ones you’ll traverse when you leave Wallace Wade this morning. In particular, I’d like to consider the ways that, for all of us here today, we are marking—indeed celebrating—the splendid and significant intersection of all those lines.

First, think about the lines each of you followed to this campus. No two of those life trajectories were identical—every line of arrival was unique, coming from a different place. And that’s the glory of a university. We reach out every year to a new group of young, visionary, ambitious travelers, each planning to head in different directions, and we invite you all to come together and live with us for a while here in Durham, to help you plan your ways forward.

Not all roads lead to Duke, but thankfully yours did. And joining us this morning are also many fellow travelers who helped you get here, your friends and families and teachers and mentors and supporters. Tens of thousands of different story lines and life lines, intersecting here at Duke.

Second, what of the lines you’ve charted since your arrival here? I suspect yours may have been a wandering course, I hope with many unexpected encounters, twists, and detours along the way that helped you rechart as you went. It has without a doubt been challenging at times. Surely none of us sitting in Cameron back in the late summer of 2019 had any premonition of the ways a global pandemic would alter our course.

But through it all, you’ve formed lifelong friendships, joined clubs, produced and performed works of art, competed on the field, in the pool and on the court, and conducted boundary-breaking research. Your line through Duke, whether wobbly at times or not, has intersected with so many others. You’ve each lived life at Duke to the fullest and followed your own particular path. A path to this successful outcome.

And finally, think about your lines forward from today. Maybe you’re headed now in a very different direction than you had imagined when you arrived. Or maybe the way you were planning to head is clearer to you now, and your steps in that direction a bit more confident. Or maybe you see in front of you some new pathways you hadn’t anticipated, and you’re debating, like the poet Robert Frost, which road in the yellow wood you will take.

As you move on from Duke and head off in innumerable different directions, along whatever lines you chart going forward, you will carry this place with you—spaces traversed, friendships made, and lessons learned—connecting your Duke experience with your journeys beyond the campus walls.

Like the 36th Parallel, the Duke Parallel is a line around which you can chart your course—and one that will continue to intersect with those drawn by your classmates and friends—and other Blue Devils you’ll meet in the future—in wonderful ways we can scarcely imagine. And if you get lost or turned around along the way, you can follow that line back here to campus, which will always, always be your home.

Class of 2023: Thank you for all the wonderful and impactful intersections, and for those many more to come. Congratulations and best wishes for the journey ahead.

Remarks to the Academic Council

Thank you, Erika—and thank you for your truly exceptional leadership these past two years. It has been a great pleasure to work with you, and while I am certain you are more than ready to hand over the reins, you will be missed.

I also want to recognize the outgoing members of ECAC for your leadership and counsel—thank you, all of you.

And let me also say congratulations to Trina, our incoming chair. I am grateful for the many ways you have already offered your leadership to Duke, and I look forward to working closely with you in the months to come.

It is perhaps fitting that my annual reflections to this council fall after spring break, now that we’ve had some time to look back before we begin the final sprint to the end of the year. And what a wonderful year it has been.

We’ve launched QuadEx and the Duke Climate Commitment, initiatives that are transforming the student experience and our campus sustainability efforts.

We have added extraordinary new deans of the Graduate School, Suzanne Barbour; and Trinity College, Gary Bennett.

We celebrated two Rhodes Scholars, a Mitchell Scholar, and two Schwarzman Scholars.

And this has been an exceptional year for our faculty.

Ingrid Daubechies received the Wolf Prize for her tremendous contributions to the mathematical foundations of image processing, remote sensing, and digital photography.

Kafui Dzirasa of the School of Medicine and Amanda Randles of Pratt received the prestigious NIH Pioneer Award for championing creative solutions to pressing medical challenges.

Susan Alberts received the International Frontiers of Knowledge Award for her groundbreaking work in Ecology and Conservation Biology.

Leela Prasad of Religious Studies was elected to the American Academy of Religion’s executive leadership—she will serve as president next year.

The Anti-Defamation League honored Abdullah Antepli of Sanford with the Daniel Pearl Award in recognition of his advocacy for peace and reconciliation.

Priya Kishnani of the School of Medicine received the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, for her lifesaving research on pediatric rare diseases.

Three faculty members—Lawrence David, Chantell Evans, and Gustavo Silva—were among 25 awardees of the Science Diversity Leadership Awards from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

And we’ve celebrated five new members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

These reflect just a few of the tremendous accolades received by our faculty over the course of this year—I really could go on all afternoon. So let me say congratulations to all of you. You are doing extraordinary work in your teaching and scholarship, and I am proud to call you colleagues.

This year is also extraordinary as it marks the 60th anniversary of the academic council—a remarkable testament to Duke’s commitment to shared governance. For six decades, this body has given faculty a strong and vital voice in shaping the university’s strategy and direction.

The existence of the council has unquestionably been to the great benefit of Duke, so it may surprise you that it arose out of difficult circumstances: the so-called Edens-Gross Affair.

The received history of this affair—as a conflict between the then-president’s commitment to Duke’s identity as a regional institution and the vice-president for education’s vision for transforming it into a global university—is untrue.

What did happen was a series of administrative squabbles that penetrated the university board of trustees and the Duke Endowment board and drove divisions between them, precipitating the president’s resignation, the vice-president’s dismissal, and widespread unhappiness among the faculty. As any veteran of institutional quarrels will tell you, this conflict was perhaps as much about personalities as it was about a difference in vision. But we remember it because it reflected a moment of profound change—a transition from the Duke we were to the Duke we have become.  Within a few years, it prompted the creation of the office of the provost and also this body—and with it much of our contemporary and far more functional practice of shared governance.

Today, Duke sits in a position of real leadership. We also sit at the confluence of strong societal and economic currents—of financial challenges and the disruptions of a post-pandemic labor market; of political tensions and questions of open inquiry and respectful discourse; of the continued promulgation of disinformation; of the opportunities and threats posed by technology; and of the fraught mental health and wellness landscape of our student population.

Taken together, I believe this is a moment of transition just as profound as that of the 1960s. And we are rightfully asking ourselves again some challenging questions. What should change, and how quickly should we change it? What is our shared vision for the future, and how should we arrive there? How can we position ourselves to not only lead but to thrive in the century to come?

The most visible manifestation of this moment of transition is in our leadership. It is a very good thing when the world looks to Duke for great leaders—as in the case of Valerie Ashby, now the president of UMBC, and Sally Kornbluth, now the president of MIT.

We have also recently announced that Gene Washington will be stepping down as Chancellor this summer after eight years of transformative leadership and the historic creation of our new Duke Health Integrated Practice.

These transitions leave roles to fill—but Duke will be going from strength to strength.

As I mentioned before, we’re so thrilled that Gary Bennett is already several months into his tenure as Trinity Dean, having taken the baton from Mohamed Noor, who was a fantastic interim and is serving in a new capacity as vice provost for academic affairs. 

Likewise, Jennifer Francis has been a truly outstanding leader in her current role as interim provost—working directly with me and other senior leaders to move Duke forward. And Chris Simmons has been equally terrific as our interim Vice President for Communications, helping us position Duke’s internal and external identity amidst a complex landscape for higher ed.

Both the Vice President for Communications and Provost searches are nearing completion and have attracted exceptional talent. We have engaged faculty leadership from across Duke’s schools in these important searches—thank you to those committee members who are with us today.

The second area of continued transition is in significant new strategic programming.

Since my last presentation to this council, we have made extraordinary progress on campus-wide initiatives under the five focus areas of the strategic vision that I first articulated in 2018: empowering the boldest thinkers, transforming teaching and learning, strengthening our campus community, partnering with purpose in our region, and engaging our global network of alumni and friends.

I want to provide just a few brief updates.

Under the leadership of Vice President for Research and Innovation Jenny Lodge, Duke Science and Technology continues to move forward in extraordinary ways. With a focus on three primary areas—materials science; computing; and biologic resilience—we have raised more than $300 million to hire 26 faculty members, retain others, and make significant investments in our research capacity.

I am thrilled that we’ve also launched two DST seed grant programs, which this year supported research by 29 additional faculty members.

What’s particularly exciting about Duke Science and Technology is that it coincides with a renewed emphasis on research translation and commercialization, led by Robin Rasor. Last year, we launched 14 new startups and generated $450 million in investment in Duke-launched companies. Taken together, these efforts will help us ensure that the discoveries that drive our future begin here, at Duke.

As I mentioned earlier, we launched QuadEx this fall thanks to the leadership of Mary Pat McMahon, Gary Bennett, Candis Watts-Smith, and many hands from across student affairs and the faculty. This reimagined approach to living and learning will equip all Duke students to navigate complex issues in the world ranging from building inclusive communities, encouraging diversity of thought, promoting wellness and purpose, and supporting civil discourse.

For the first time, every incoming undergraduate was able to participate in themed pre-orientation programs, and sophomore spark is guiding our second-year students through the transition to West Campus.

Seven faculty fellows are helping to lead the way—forming meaningful bonds with students outside of the classroom.

Already this is bearing fruit: a survey of members of the Class of 2026 showed that 94 percent felt they belonged at Duke, an extraordinary number among our peer institutions. Only about one and half percent of our rising sophomores requested a different quad.

We’re also turning our attention to creating stronger community ties in the graduate and professional student population. Implementation of the Reimagining Doctoral Education initiative, which was launched under the Together Duke academic plan, is transforming the experience of PhD students, and there are significant opportunities for improvement and greater coordination across all our programs.

This fall, we also announced the Duke Climate Commitment—our campus-wide effort to seek climate change solutions and advance climate education—and it’s well underway.

In January, we announced the Climate Research Innovation Seed Program, or CRISP—which is funding transformational research on sustainability and the environment. Funds were provided by the Nicholas Institute, the Provost’s Office, the Nicholas School, and five additional schools across campus.  

41 teams including faculty from 8 schools submitted proposals; funding will be split between research awards focused on energy transformation and ideation awards focused on energy transformation, climate and community resilience, climate and environmental justice, and climate and data.

We’re defining the concept of climate literacy across the disciplines, as perhaps best demonstrated by the new university course on climate, which has been immensely popular. We’re also piloting efforts to expand the Campus as Lab initiative in partnership with our campus sustainability work—which has achieved a 43% reduction in greenhouse gases and continues to move forward.

We are deepening our commitments to racial and social equity, and I am very grateful for the continued work of the Racial Equity Advisory Council and the Offices of Institutional Equity and Faculty Advancement, which are driving this important initiative into its third year.

Duke is changing at the unit and local level, and we are making real progress toward fostering a more inclusive campus community. In January, over three hundred campus leaders participated in a day-long retreat focused on racial equity. It was a terrific program—led by Kim Hewitt, Abbas Benmamoun, and Sherrilyn Black, with contributors from dozens of units. Looking ahead, we are working toward the release of the “Duke Annual Report on Racial Equity” or the DARRE, which will help units track and measure their progress.

In the past two years, we’ve funded 35 faculty research projects supporting efforts to understand and address systemic racism, including 17 projects related to race, racism and the history of the American South and 18 projects related to racial inequality.

Our faculty is also changing in meaningful ways. In the past few years, we’ve hired over two dozen faculty members whose scholarship focuses on racial and social equity. And from 2017 to 2022, we made significant gains in demographic diversity, including a 51 percent increase in our number of Black-identifying faculty, a 30 percent increase in our Hispanic faculty, and a 17 percent increase in our Asian and Asian American faculty. These hiring efforts will continue apace.

In addition to transitions in leadership and ongoing initiatives, we’re also breaking new ground in our goal of transforming teaching and learning for the next century.

Last year, we completed a forward-looking strategic thinking process, Strategy Team 2030, which focused on the goals and opportunities that will carry us through the remainder of this decade and beyond.

As Sally outlined to this council last year, the 2030 report recommended focusing on fostering a more cohesive and research-inflected undergraduate experience, building richer campus connections for graduate and professional students, and renewing support systems for research and scholarship. We are in the early stages of exploring how to implement these recommendations—but this work will remain an important focus for many years to come.

Likewise, there are significant curricular changes underway. One major transition will be the adoption of a new curriculum for Trinity, which I anticipate will include significant opportunities for collaboration and partnership with the other schools. And as I mentioned in my remarks here last year, the upcoming fundraising campaign—launching publicly in 2025—will support faculty and research across the disciplines. Already, we have raised amounts approaching the Duke Forward total, and we fully anticipate that this will be the largest campaign in Duke’s history.

Exciting transitions are underway—with more to come.

As we mark this 60th anniversary of the academic council—and look ahead to Duke’s centennial celebration next year—we have an opportunity to celebrate all of the many transitions that Duke has made.

Our transition from a small regional college to a global university. Our transition from a closed campus for the few to an open campus for all. Our transition from an institution hemmed in by disciplinary divisions to a community that champions collaboration.

We’ll also be celebrating the things that haven’t changed: our values of integrity, service, and shared governance, our ambitions, and—above all—our exceptional students, staff, alumni, and faculty.

With that in mind, let me end by saying thank you for your support of the Duke we have always been, and the ever more extraordinary Duke we are destined to become.

An Update on the Duke Climate Commitment

To the Duke Community,

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

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

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

As we empower the boldest thinkers, we commit to

As we transform teaching and learning, we commit to

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

As we renew our campus community, we commit to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Together, Duke is in it for life.



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