Category: Speeches & Writings Page 2 of 6

President Price Remarks at MLK Commemoration

On behalf of the Duke community, I am honored to welcome you to Duke Chapel for this commemoration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the rhythms of the university calendar, this important event is perhaps unique, in that it is both a solemn and celebratory occasion—celebratory because we mark the progress made toward Dr. King’s noble goals, and solemn because we mourn his loss and the long and challenging road ahead.

In that spirit, I have been reflecting on this year’s theme—Dr. King’s notion that tomorrow is today, that we should be inspired to action by the fierce urgency of now.

To be sure, our now has perhaps never been more fierce or more urgent—amidst a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color and a parallel pandemic of racism and violence across our country.

In the face of these circumstances, we must take action today—inspired by Dr. King’s profound words—to build a better tomorrow. We are committed to doing this work at Duke, to making anti-racism a core priority at every level of our university and providing leadership and compassion to our neighbors.

As we gather for this solemn celebration, may we remember that the work that Dr. King undertook half a century ago has still only just begun—and while the road ahead may be long, we are walking it together toward a better tomorrow.

Thank you.

9/11 Commemoration Remarks

Thank you all for being with us today. We gather as a community in this solemn moment to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

The great poet Maya Angelou, who preached many times in this Chapel, wrote that trauma lives on “in our heart, our mind, and our memories.” As we gather today, we all share in the collective trauma of those terrible events, whether we remember them or not. We share in the pain of the lives lost, in the uncertainty of a world still unbalanced by the horror of that day, and in the mistrust that sadly pervades so much of our society.

But even amidst this despair, there is an opportunity for extraordinary hope. As Maya Angelou reminds us, we are not left with our memories alone—we also have our hearts and our minds. Together, we can turn with our hearts to build a more inclusive, empathic community here at Duke and beyond. We can use our minds to foster a greater understanding of our world and our place in it, and to live lives of service to our neighbors and engagement with our communities.

Today, as we mark this anniversary, let us hear that call together. Thank you.

Commemorating September 11th

To the Duke Community, 

Tomorrow we mark a solemn anniversary and remember the lives lost on September 11, 2001.

Some among us are too young to remember the events of that day; many of us will remember them forever. Some members of the Duke community lost family members—including Duke alumni—and others have served with honor in the military in the years since.  All of us—no matter how old or where we are from—have had our lives forever changed by the collective trauma of the attacks and their aftermath.

Tomorrow morning, to mark the anniversary of these tragic events, the Duke Chapel bells will toll at 8:46, 9:03, 9:37, and 10:03. Immediately following the final toll, I will join Dean of the Chapel Luke Powery and interfaith leaders from across campus in a vigil on the steps of the Chapel. I invite you to join us if you are able.

At 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, the Chapel will host a ‘Grant Us Peace’ Concert with music by the Duke Chapel musicians and the Ciompi Quartet and readings from a variety of faith traditions. This event, which is cosponsored by Vice Provost for the Arts John Brown and Duke Arts, will be livestreamed on the Duke Chapel website.

Departments and programs across campus are also hosting commemorations in the coming days. You can learn more here.

I hope that you are able to find an opportunity for quiet reflection tomorrow. May all of us find inspiration in our community to foster greater understanding and peace in our world in the years to come.



A Community Message from President Price

September 3, 2021

To the Duke Community,

We’re now a few weeks into the fall semester, and I’d like to express my gratitude for your commitment and patience in the continuing challenges of this moment.

Our students, faculty and staff have shown that we can come together in community and adapt. But for now and perhaps for a while yet, we have to find ways to live and work and play under these still unusual circumstances.

We will get through this—and hopefully very soon. Already, things are looking up. In the meantime, thank you for your continued support and commitment to our public health protocols, which you can find at

Thank you.



Remarks to Undergraduate Convocation

Good morning, Class of 2025! I’m thrilled to join my colleagues on this stage and across the university in welcoming you to convocation, and to Duke.

I’m equally delighted to welcome our families and friends, as we gather with this amazing class for the first time.  You’ve nurtured and supported these students throughout their lives, for which we offer our profound thanks, and we look forward to your continued engagement as members of our extended Duke family. 

Students, I’m sure you’re feeling the presence today of all those who have supported you as you worked toward this moment—whether they are with us in person or in spirit.  Will you please join me in offering our thanks and congratulations to our families and friends?

So, here you are, assembled for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.  And while we wish circumstances would’ve allowed us to gather in our intended venue, Cameron Indoor Stadium, I have to say that—the humidity aside—this is an extraordinary setting: here, outside, under the gothic spires and towering oaks.

Those of us who call this place home can sometimes overlook the beauty that surrounds us, or take for granted the beautiful buzz of the comings and goings of students, faculty, staff, and visitors.  But the long solitude forced by the pandemic makes us uncommonly alert now to the joys of gathering. It’s so good to see people on Abele Quad again. And as the critic and poet Peter Schjeldahl put it recently, “I’ve been feeling apologetic to certain trees…for my past indifference to their beauty.”

The return of all of these people to Duke is not without its attendant pitfalls—and I’m not just speaking of the ongoing challenges of managing our lives amidst the ever-novel coronavirus.

The other day, as I was crossing this Quad, I saw our Vice President, Mary Pat McMahon, in the distance, walking toward me. Seeing an old friend after what feels like a very long break, I waved. Only Mary Pat didn’t wave back. I figured that maybe she hadn’t seen me. So I waved again, this time more vigorously, and shouted “Hi Mary Pat!” Now she looked a bit confused. That’s because as we got closer, I realized this wasn’t Mary Pat at all. In fact, this person didn’t even look like her. 

And how did I look to her?  Maybe a little crazy.

We’ve all had these moments of confusion. They’re universal to the human experience: cases of mistaken identity, related to what psychologists might call a gestalt shift. One moment, we are confidently navigating the world we know so well; the next, we’re confronting a confusing world that looks nothing like we thought. 

While these moments may be universal, they can be unsettling.  And perhaps, as we emerge from the relative isolation of the first eighteen months of this pandemic, they’ve become a bit more common.  So, we adapt. To save face, we convert that ebullient wave, in mid-air, to a hair comb.

Well, with that bit of social awkwardness still on my mind, I want to talk with you briefly today about confusion and uncertainty—topics that have been present for many of us in the past few months, as we’ve weathered the challenges of an ongoing pandemic.  

We’ve suffered all manner of shortages due to supply chain interruptions, but certainty seems especially hard to come by. We crave certainty about public health guidance, about which masks to wear, about how far to stay apart, about vaccines. As recent graduates, you no doubt wanted certaintyabout whether your graduations would even be taking place.

We crave certainty because it’s usually followed around by its close cousin, confidence. Certainty and confidence can indeed be great.  Perhaps you were certain about coming here to Duke. Perhaps this was your clear first choice of colleges, and you had your heart set on coming here since long before you applied early decision. Perhaps some of you know right now that you’ll earn a degree in economics followed by a career in finance, or that you’ll head to medical school or law school after finishing your bachelor’s degree. All of you have known what it takes to excel in high school, and you’ve confidently followed that path to the opportunities that now await you.

Confusion, on the other hand, is not usually so welcome a companion. None of us particularly likes to look or feel confused. Confusion and uncertainty are uncomfortable places to live, and they can undermine our confidence.  So uncomfortable that—just as we’ve perfected that hair-comb move to mask our social confusion—we develop all sorts of moves to mask our uncertainty, to find more certain ground as quickly as possible, to restore our lost confidence.

But my message to you today about uncertainty is: Get used to it.  And more: Look for it and embrace it.

Now’s a good time for this, since I’ll wager that today, as you settle into new dorms and prepare to say farewell to your families, all of you are feeling a fair amount of uncertainty. And that is unsettling, even scary. Today, I want to encourage you to embrace the deep uncertainty of this moment, to allow yourself to experience the confusion of life in a new place. This is not empty advice: I have my reasons.

First is the recognition that some uncertainty is inevitable in your undergraduate experience. No matter how sure your path has been in arriving here, you will face challenges on the road ahead—the challenges of living away from home, of learning class schedules, of the academic expectations of a demanding curriculum, and of so many new relationships. There will be fits and starts, leaps and falls. When we’re used to being sure-footed, a stumble or fall can be startling and frightening.  But that’s to be expected, even welcomed, since that’s how our agility and our balance improves.

Second, passing though confusion and uncertainty is the only route to new understanding.  Sadly so perhaps, but there is no other way forward.  Just as growth in physical strength requires its moments of exercising to our limits—”no pain, no gain” as people often say—our grasp of truly new concepts and ideas requires its moments of puzzling through deep confusion. 

In the moment, it doesn’t always feel that great.  In fact, it’s often no fun at all.  But we can train ourselves to take on confusion in measured ways.  And we do.  That’s what your teachers and mentors at Duke will be guiding you through.  Uncertainty is a necessary part of the deep learning process; but after struggling to make sense of it, you will find that the new ideas do eventually fall into place.  And I’ll wager that you’ll come to enjoy that struggle and that confusion—perhaps as you’ve come to enjoy vigorous exercise—when you see the fruits of your labor. As you resolve your confusions, you will learn and discover, and do great things.

Third, our willingness to embrace uncertainty—to be honest about how much we don’t know—has perhaps never been more important to our society and to our public life, on campus and off.  I mentioned a moment ago that, amidst the confusion wrought by the pandemic, certainty seems especially hard to come by.  Oddly, however, we seem to have a surplus of judgment, and conviction, and sadly of condemnation.  We seem so quick today to judge, so confident in the correctness of our views, that we scarcely pause to consider whether we might, just might, misunderstand. 

Perhaps these two phenomena—the uncertainly of this moment in history and the conviction of so many that surely we know the truth—are related.  That’s worth pondering.  But my point is simply that we—all of us, would do well to be far more humble about whether or not we’ve somehow cornered the truth.  And in our humility, we would do well to grant others the chance to speak their minds. We should let others share ideas, perhaps most importantly when those ideas seem to us outrageous.

Again, this can be very hard to do.  It may seem compassionate, even just, to silence others who voice ideas we find wrong, threatening or upsetting. But as I noted in an address last spring to graduates of our Sanford School of Public Policy, truth-seeking depends upon robust and respectful debate. That is the surest path, if not quite to truth, then to its most reasonable human approximation.

If we admit honestly to our uncertainty, then we can open, in two ways.

We can be open to serving the unheard and the underserved, listening carefully to those voices that are too often ignored, with an abiding concern for justice for the overlooked.  And at the same time, we can be open to recognizing that we may not have all the answers—that there is in fact a chance that we may be wrong.  Wrong about the facts of the matter, and so perhaps wrong about what to do.  We hold some truths to be self-evident.  Most are not.

We must have the humility to embrace uncertainty, to explore modes of inquiry that might confuse or unsettle us, with the faith that a new and improved understanding lies ahead. That is, ultimately, our core mission as an institution of higher learning, one in which we now invite you to take part.

It won’t always be easy, but it will be exhilarating.  At times, maybe a little too exhilarating. And so one key piece of advice: Get. Some. Sleep.  The best exercise routine has to include recovery time.  And a brain after rest learns best.

And if you should lose confidence in your ideas, don’t panic. That’s learning, as I’ve just said. But you should never lose confidence in your boundless capacity to learn and to grow, or—and let me emphasize this—the fact that you belong here, as a unique, deeply valued member of our community.  You should remain confident, especially when your confusion grows, that others are with you in your confusion, that we are here to support you through it.   Please never hide your confusion.  Lean into it as a source of strength. Wear it as a badge of pride, and bring it to your teachers and mentors, and friends and classmates as a conversation starter.  I’m sure that they will be open to and helpful to you in that moment, and I hope you will in turn be open to them.

I am certain you can do it. That’s why you’re here today, under these trees, walking these paths. And if you happen to find yourself on Abele Quad some day in the next four years and see a guy in a suit and round glasses waving wildly in your direction—do me a solid and wave back. I’ll be glad to see you.

Congratulations and welcome. We are so delighted you are here.

Remarks at Sanford School of Public Policy Commencement

Thank you, Judith, and to all of the faculty and staff who have collectively made this day possible.

Congratulations, graduates! I am so delighted to be here to welcome you to the community of Duke alumni.

In fact, I am more than delighted to be here—since as a scholar of political communications and a faculty member at Sanford, this school’s mission is uniquely dear to my heart. Please don’t tell the other schools.

Though I know that this is not the commencement ceremony that you might have imagined when you first arrived at Duke, we’ve made it through a most abnormal year to this joyful day—together.

And how about this setting? Is there any place more Duke than Cameron? Well, maybe the coffee line at Fleishman Commons—but this has to be a close second.

To be sure, there were moments these past few months when it would have been ambitious for us to expect to be here, in person.

One might even say, in the famous words of Terry Sanford, outrageously ambitious.

In your time at Duke, you have no doubt heard that phrase—outrageous ambition—used in many settings and contexts: by faculty and administrators; in admissions and marketing materials; even, for that matter, in commencement speeches. It has become a part of our identity as an institution, as fundamental to Duke as these banners hanging above us in the rafters.

But for all its rhetorical power, the notion of outrageous ambition does not capture what it was that President Sanford felt so ambitious about—that is, his hopes for this institution and its students.

Thankfully for posterity—and for future commencement speeches—President Sanford outlined these aspirations for Duke’s educational mission in the very same speech where he coined his more indelible phrase.

“Duke aspires,” he said—with his characteristic blend of rhetorical flair and folksiness—“… Duke aspires to leave its students with an abiding concern for justice, with a resolve for compassion and concern for others…and with an ability to think straight now and throughout life.”

Concern for justice. Compassion for others. And—though we might say this differently today—the ability to think straight.

These core values have brought you to this moment, have carried you through the countless hours of studying and dissertation writing, have supported you in the sacrifices and challenges you have faced, and will carry you forward to the extraordinary careers and lives you have ahead.

In your pursuit of the Master of Public Policy, Master of International Development Policy, or International Master of Environmental Policy, or Doctorate in Public Policy, you have first and foremost demonstrated extraordinary intellectual promise. It’s what brought you to Duke—what set you apart and inspired the Sanford admissions committee to make the very wise decision to invite you to join this community.

And you have certainly made good on that decision. In your research and intellectual pursuits, you have helped to transform our understanding of critical issues in politics, foreign affairs, the future of technology, immigration, education, and environmental conservation.

You have shared in the vibrant diversity of perspectives on our campus, one that I hope has enriched your lives here, broadened your own thinking, and inspired you to pursue new areas of scholarship.

The university, in rather utopian terms, has sometimes been described as a free marketplace of ideas. This is grounded in the notion that if all perspectives are given equal consideration, the truth will rise to the top.

Of course, the free marketplace of ideas comes with its attendant pitfalls. For one thing, the marketplace of ideas has never actually been free, at least not in the sense of being equitable. Ideas promoted by people in positions of power often get more attention, while great thinkers from marginalized populations are, well, marginalized.

A vital component of what President Sanford called thinking straight, then, is seeking out and amplifying the perspectives of those who may not be getting a fair or equal hearing. To borrow a phrase from the poet Robert Penn Warren, remember that even in a democracy, truth doesn’t always live in the number of voices. Remain open to hearing the hard truths, and help others tell their stories in a way that helps us all better understand and serve each other.

As we have seen in recent discourse, we are often tempted to forget that this openness to ideas—which seems so noble in the context of empowering marginalized voices—cuts both ways.

My colleague Peter Salovey, the President of Yale University, tells a story about the great civil rights icon, theologian, and legal thinker Pauli Murray, who spent her formative years here in Durham. Some of you may have seen one of the murals of her in downtown Durham, or visited the Pauli Murray Center at her childhood home on Carroll Street.

When Murray was a student at Yale Law School in the early 1960s, a student group invited the racist, segregationist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, to visit campus for a debate. There was an understandable outcry, even in that less enlightened moment of our nation’s history, and the then-president of the university was considering whether to demand that the students retract the invitation.

He then received an unexpected letter from Murray, sharing an equally unexpected perspective.  She argued that Wallace must be given the opportunity to share his views, however wrong, however vitriolic, because that very same notion of a free and equal exchange of ideas was foundational to the civil rights movement.

Wallace must be allowed to speak, she wrote, because that “has been the principle behind the enforcement of the rights of the Little Rock Nine, James Meredith and others to attend desegregated schools in the face of a hostile community and threats of violence.”

The stakes are no lower in today’s discourse. Many of our classmates, colleagues, and friends encounter speech that is discriminatory or threatening to them. We know that invocations of free speech are too easily and too often used as cover for attempts to exclude and demean. And free speech, as I’ve noted elsewhere, is similarly used to absolve those of us with editorial power of our responsibilities to exercise it wisely, and justly. 

So, it may seem like a manifestation of our compassion and concern for others to silence those ideas we find wrong, hurtful, or even dangerous. Certainly, we might think, the surest way to protect the vulnerable is to prevent others from promoting ideas designed to anger, provoke, or cause pain. 

But there are several profound challenges in this thinking.  First, the perceived degeneracy of the opposition must not release us or our responsibility to think deeply and critically about our own positions.

Indeed, it’s in defending our own ideas, in responding with argument and debate, that we both demonstrate the strength of our position and allow for continued growth and evolution in our thinking. Robust debate is the surest path, if not quite to truth, then to its most reasonable human approximation.

To borrow the Yale example, barring George Wallace from campus wouldn’t have done a thing to advance the cause of civil rights. Allowing him to debate his ideas, on the other hand, would force him to face and respond to criticism in a way that might sharpen the thinking and strategy of his opponents.

We must refrain always from ad hominem attacks.  We must support and defend those who are subject to hurtful speech, and do all we can to prevent harm and promote our community standard of respectful engagement. 

But let’s not deny those who promulgate controversial ideas their own right and responsibility to defend them. They will surely have these ideas, whether we let them be expressed or not.  Attempting to silence them is not only likely to fail, it would violate our longstanding commitment to open inquiry, which is at the foundation of research and discovery, of teaching and healing.  We can and will insist on decency and honesty, but our openness to a full diversity of ideas and beliefs enriches our work and helps make this a more engaged university, and a more engaged world.

It’s not easy, but it is just. And most importantly, this is how we change minds and hearts—not by edict, not by threat, but by something that, with our constant care and attention, approaches respectful discourse among disagreeable parties.

This, I believe, is what Terry Sanford meant by thinking straight.  This charge carries with it a firm dedication to serving the unheard and an abiding concern for justice for the overlooked.

At the same time, it carries with it the deep intellectual honesty of recognizing that we may not have all the answers—that there is in fact a chance that we may be wrong.  Wrong about the facts of the matter, and so perhaps wrong about what to do.  We hold some truths to be self-evident.  Most are not.

Maintaining our commitment to justice and our humility in granting others the right to express what they believe—that is what lifts the work of policy or research or law or writing into something more than an occupation—into a vocation. By contributing your extraordinary thinking to open discourse—and by working to create a marketplace of ideas that is truly free and equitable—you will be shaping a brighter, more engaged world for all of us.

I know that you can do it. You have done it. You’ve demonstrated leadership throughout your time at Duke, and you are ready to bring your unique perspectives to a world that needs you now more than ever.

And in doing so, by setting off in the spirit of service, compassion, and justice, you—the graduates of the Sanford school—you are the fulfillment of Terry Sanford’s outrageous ambitions for Duke.

Congratulations, and very best wishes.

An Earth Day Update on Duke’s Commitment to the Environment

To the Duke Community,

As we celebrate Earth Day, I wanted to provide an update on Duke’s commitments to be a global leader in addressing climate change. These efforts, which began in earnest with the 2004 creation of Sustainable Duke—our campus office of sustainability—have gained significant momentum in recent years thanks to the contributions of our students, faculty, and staff.

Last summer, we announced an historic agreement to obtain energy from solar farms in North Carolina. When these sources are fully operational next year, they will provide roughly 50 percent of Duke’s electricity needs. Alongside our commitment to renewable energy sources, we have made decisions to promote sustainability, including adopting sustainable building policies that have allowed us to add 3 million square feet in building space while decreasing energy use by 19 percent per square foot.

Taken together, these are significant steps toward Duke’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2024—the latest estimates suggest that relative to a 2007 baseline, we will achieve a 75 percent decrease in overall carbon emissions on campus by 2024. We will continue to invest in high-quality carbon offsets for those emissions that we cannot eliminate without significantly constraining our research and teaching missions—with a target of reducing contributions to atmospheric greenhouse gases to zero.

We also recognize that we have a responsibility to lead in the financial arena. To that end, the Board of Trustees has directed DUMAC, Inc., the nonprofit corporation that oversees the university’s investments, to take Duke’s commitment to environmental sustainability into account for any investment decisions. DUMAC is not currently invested directly in fossil fuel-generating enterprises.

Perhaps our most exciting opportunities are in climate research and public policy leadership. Since the creation of the School of Forestry, the Duke University Marine Lab, and the Department of Geology in the 1930s—all three of which evolved into what is now the Nicholas School of the Environment—Duke has been at the forefront of research into environmental sustainability, work that has only deepened and intensified over the decades.

World-class faculty members and visionary students come to Duke to conduct cutting-edge research at the Nicholas School, the Duke University Marine Lab, the Sanford School for Public Policy, Pratt School of Engineering, Duke Law School, Fuqua School of Business, and many other units and departments across campus. The Energy Initiatve further connects interdisciplinary interests university-wide to focus on advancing an accessible, affordable, reliable and clean energy system. These research efforts are coupled with vital and impactful external outreach to governmental, non-profit and corporate leaders through the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy, offering robust support for climate policy solutions at the federal, state, and local levels.

We recognize that this is a profound moment of opportunity for Duke to help address climate change. To that end, trustees, senior administrators, faculty, and students have been engaged this year in a Task Force on Climate Change and Sustainability to make recommendations for the path forward. We anticipate that climate research, education, and policy engagement will be major priorities for fundraising in the coming years, with a particular focus on data-driven research, environmental justice, energy transformation, and climate resilient solutions.

Thank you for your support for and commitment to these transformational initiatives. Duke’s work in sustainability sets us apart, and we can all take pride in our efforts to address climate change.

Very best wishes on this Earth Day.



Remarks to the Academic Council

Thank you, Kerry, for the kind introduction. I’m so grateful for your leadership in this extraordinary moment for our university.

Let me also say thank you to every member of our faculty for your commitment to our students and colleagues over the course of the past year. I know that teaching , conducting research, and providing clinical care in this pandemic has required a great deal of flexibility. And I know well the sacrifices you have all made, and continue to make.

At the outset of the academic year, when I addressed our new undergraduate Class of 2024 at our first-ever virtual convocation from an empty Duke Chapel, I noted that our academic community had in fact faced, and had overcome, similar challenges before.

A century ago, Spanish flu raged through 1918 and 1919, and was still a presence when Trinity College welcomed the incoming class of 1924.  The flu pandemic, then as now, brought with it masking, business closures and quarantine, even in those earlier days of public health understanding. But life at Trinity College went on. Classes met. Research was conducted. And yes, faculty meetings were held. 

Perhaps most remarkably, in the midst of the flu pandemic, Trinity faculty members and administrators were actively engaged in articulating a new vision for the future—and indeed, just few years later, in 1924, their small liberal arts college was transformed into our research university, one that would go on to win the world’s respect.

Today we are again engaged in the same ongoing process of institutional transformation and evolution, one that has truly never ceased. And since I last addressed this Council, we have made remarkable progress.

To be sure, we are not yet out of the grips of COVID.  The recent and very concerning growth of positive cases among our undergraduates, which has necessitated the restrictions put into place this week, reminds us that our work is by no means done.  But by working hand-in-glove with our medical leadership, faculty, staff, public health experts and local leaders, we have successfully carried out our core missions for more than a year.  And we can now see our path out of the pandemic and look forward to a brighter future. 

In a few short years, as we mark the 100-year anniversary of the creation of Duke University in 2024, like our Trinity College forebears, we will together guide our institution into a new century.

Looking ahead, we remain focused on the tenets of the strategic framework, Toward our Second Century, developed over my first year in consultation with faculty, trustees, administrators, students, alumni, staff, and members of the Durham community. As you may recall from our previous conversations, this framework is organized around five fundamental foci:

First, Empowering People, investing more decisively in our extraordinary faculty, students, and staff, recognizing that their accomplishments comprise the true measure of our institutional excellence;

  • Second, Innovating in Teaching and Learning, better fusing our research and educational missions and leveraging new technological and pedagogical approaches that meet the evolving needs of a new generation of students;
  • Third, Renewing our Campus Community, ensuring that all who call Duke home share a lived experience that is increasingly inclusive, equitable, engaging, healthy and vibrant;
  • Fourth, Partnering with Purpose, strengthening relationships in Durham and serving as a collaborative catalyst in our region to advance innovative economic development while improving community health, housing, and education; and
  • Fifth, Engaging our Global Network, better supporting and harnessing the talents of our alumni and friends, throughout the full arc of their lives, in a Duke without walls that invests continuously in developing ourselves and each other to reach our full potential.

I’ve often noted that the framework begins and ends with Duke’s people and is centered around community.  It’s rooted in the understanding that our university is only as strong, as healthy, as collectively capable and accomplished as our faculty, students, staff, clinicians, and alumni throughout the world.  It represents a “people-first” shift of emphasis in our investments: less emphasis on investing in buildings—the physical infrastructure—and more emphasis on investing in the people who work and teach and study and live in those buildings—our human infrastructure.

So, let me highlight for you today our work and progress in each of these five areas.

First, we must invest in exceptional scholars—and we are. A major driver of Duke’s rapid ascent among global universities were strategic faculty recruitments in the 1970s and 1980s, many focused on the humanities and social sciences. Today, with the leadership of Provost Kornbluth, Chancellor Washington and our deans, we’re increasing that upward trajectory. 

Of Duke’s faculty members who are also members of the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, or Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fully 20 percent have been either named or hired in the past three years.

And we’re seeking this excellence through diversity. Across all schools, the percentage of women on our regular-rank faculties also now stands at an all-time high, of 37 percent. The percentage of faculty from underrepresented groups is also at an all-time high. With the creation of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development three years ago, the number of regular-rank Black faculty at Duke has increased from 67 to over 80—a 19 percent increase across the university.

We’ll build on this modest success, energized by our institutional commitments to social equity and anti-racism, with an emphasis on strategic cluster-hiring in areas where underrepresented faculty are lacking; with support from a newly awarded gift of $10.5 million from The Duke Endowment; and by directing resources for our science and technology initiative to diversify our STEM faculties.

As you know, strengthening Duke science and technology is a key element of our strategy. We’re driving our initial faculty recruitment efforts around signature areas identified by the faculty and trustees who served, two years ago, on our Advancing Duke Science and Technology Task Force—furthering data science and machine learning, advancing materials science, and unlocking biologic resilience. 

To these ends, we secured $100 million in new funding, half from the Duke Endowment and half from our Health System, and we expect similar investments to follow.  We assembled review panels with university and Duke Health science leaders, who have defined selection criteria and consider prospective candidates from schools and departments for targeted funds. These efforts have already seen success—16 extraordinary new hires in Trinity, Pratt, and the School of Medicine. Two of the new faculty are members of national academies, one is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and the remainder are judged to have high potential for election to the national academies. And importantly, we’re investing in faculty already at Duke, and have been able to retain several of our top faculty who had strong offers from other leading research universities. 

Our initiative in science and technology is paired with a broader effort to seek support for faculty across the disciplines. Newly endowed faculty chairs, with gifts now targeted at $3M apiece, will be a cornerstone of our forthcoming centennial fundraising campaign, planned for launch in early 2024. This year we secured our first two $5M Presidential Distinguished Faculty Chairs, and there will be more to come.  Our effort will support not only science and technology but all of our faculties, as presently our faculty endowments lag considerably behind our peers.

Let me say here that, in a year when all of us have made sacrifices financially in this moment of budgetary pressure, I know it strikes some as difficult to square our present context of austerity with investment in our faculty.  But our strategic cuts this year have been undertaken precisely because we need to emerge from COVID as well-positioned as possible to maintain or extend our market-competitiveness.  And we will.  Our pruning is undertaken to vitalize Duke, to enable new, vigorous, and strategic growth when conditions are conducive.

Likewise, empowering people will require making new investments in supporting our extraordinary students. This year, applications to most of our programs reached historical highs, including 50 thousand undergraduate applications, and our acceptance rates will as a result likely be at historical lows.  Again, we seek excellence through diversity, with our undergraduate student body now 45 percent white; 29 percent Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander; 12 percent Black or African-American; 12 percent Hispanic or Latinx; and 2 percent Native American.

We now provide financial aid to half of our undergraduates, remaining need-blind in admissions and steadfast in our commitment to meeting the estimated financial need of every admitted student. Student access and affordability remain core priorities, as well as very deep challenges, across all of our educational programs. 

Turning again to undergraduates by way of example, the cost of attending Duke as a percent of median family income has grown by fully one-half over the past 15 years, although it has leveled off and declined somewhat over the past three.  Because of disproportionate family income growth during this period, among wealthier families—those who do not qualify for financial aid—the actual cost of attendance as a proportion of family income appears to be relatively constant on average during this 15-year period.  And because of our generous financial-aid commitments, the median aided family has in fact seen the net cost of attending Duke, as a percent of family income, decline modestly. 

Still, these overall patterns obscure increased financial pressure on families in middle and upper-middle tiers of the income distribution.  They are also costly, achievable only with a financial-aid budget that has been growing extraordinarily rapidly—projected to increase by 10 percent next year alone—and will need to be addressed to ensure that the provost’s funds earmarked for strategic investments are not unduly impinged. 

For all of these reasons, student financial aid is another top fundraising priority. Last year, the provost and I made available $50 million of the funds recently received from the sale of the Lord Corporation for a financial-aid challenge, with the goal of raising $100 million toward undergraduate financial-aid endowments.  Our School of Medicine is in the process of securing a record gift to support student financial aid, and this will be a core priority of every school in the upcoming comprehensive fundraising campaign.

Empowering people also means investing in our talented staff members, across Duke University and DUHS, who are vital to our missions of teaching, research, and patient care.  Our staff have been magnificent this year in helping us navigate COVID, both on campus and across the Health System. 

Shortly after my arrival in 2017, we announced our commitment to increase the minimum wage for all Duke and DUHS employees and full-time contract workers to $15 per hour. Last year we overhauled and improved our parental leave policy for staff and faculty, the first time in more than 15 years. And in our work to rein in costs this past year, we purposely distributed cuts in a progressive fashion to insulate our least advantaged employees from as much harm as much as possible, providing pay increases to those earning below $50 thousand annually and working to keep our staff in regular full-pay status throughout the year.

The second focus of the framework, transforming teaching and discovery, especially by leveraging technology, has taken on new urgency in the context of the pandemic. Duke’s Office of Learning Innovation, announced in 2017, has been working in close collaboration with the Office of Information Technology to help Duke take tremendous strides, by partnering with faculty to promote student-centered teaching, conducting research on the effectiveness of new instructional techniques, developing online courses and programs, and exploring new learning and teaching technologies. Learning Innovation is not only helping us navigate COVID, but also advancing a variety of initiatives, including digital citizenship modules with OIT’s Innovation Co-Lab; a flipped-learning model for a master’s program on basic science research in the School of Medicine; and workshops on course design and online learning for Divinity School faculty.

And we are reimagining doctoral education. The Office of the Provost has been working with the schools to implement recommendations of the 2018 RIDE Committee report, announcing that all Ph.D. students who are in their five-year guaranteed funding period would receive 12-month stipends beginning in fall 2022.  And last fall, the Association of American Universities (AAU) chose Duke as one of eight participants in the pilot cohort for their national Ph.D. Education Initiative.

Our third strategic focus, fostering community on campus, has without doubt been challenged by COVID and the social distancing it has necessitated.  But here again, we continue to see progress in making the campus a healthier, more vibrant place to live, learn and work. This past summer, after several years of work through our Healthy Duke initiative, we successfully made the entire campus tobacco-free. We’re making new investments in student and employee mental and physical health and wellness, recognizing that the life we are living outside of the classroom or lab has everything to do with our success.

To that end, we are working to revitalize the residential experience for our students. Two years ago, our university task force on the Next Generation Living and Learning Experience explored innovative strategies for optimizing Duke’s residential educational experience for the 21st century. Since then, with the leadership of Vice President and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Gary Bennett, we have turned our attention toward implementation. We’re designing a “Duke 101” series of co-curricular courses to support life skills, career development, and well-being; organizing houses on West Campus into diverse communities (or “quads”) and linking them to East Campus residence halls in ways that deepen connections across class years with faculty and alumni; we are also delaying rush into selective living communities so that sophomores are assigned to housing independently of any rush process.

In light of the growing urgency to address climate change, we’ve intensified our efforts to make Duke more environmentally sustainable. We entered into an historic agreement this year to supply more than half of our energy needs from solar power in the coming years. We also launched a strategic task force, again with trustees, faculty and student representatives, on Climate and Sustainability at Duke. The task force, together with additional faculty working groups, will help articulate our next-level sustainability vision for our educational mission, our campus operations, and our research—through investments in strategic areas of scholarly focus that build on our distinctive strengths across the university.

And we continue to build our campus community through the arts.  Provost Kornbluth and I formed an Arts Planning Group in 2018 to revisit the last strategic plan for the arts, completed more than a decade earlier, and develop a new comprehensive strategy for the arts at the university.  Duke Arts, now under the leadership of our first full-time Vice Provost for the Arts, John Brown, has continued to expand the range and scope of DukeCreate workshops, is elevating our engagement with the arts community off campus, and is implementing other recommendations of the Arts Planning Group.

A critical aspect of fostering community is reaffirming and communicating Duke’s core values.  We’ve sought to incorporate these values into our strategic work at every level, including a reanimation of our Presidential Awards program to align with our values.  We’ve launched initiatives to assess and improve the work environment across campus for women and minority populations, and have strengthened our research integrity programs. 

Perhaps the most salient initiative is our work around anti-racism and equity.  This past summer, I charged the provost, executive vice president, and chancellor for health affairs with identifying specific anti-racist actions and implementation plans, in keeping with and across all five areas highlighted by our strategic framework. We’ve sought to move decisively and without delay to mobilize every part of our enterprise by redoubling existing efforts and by initiating significant new programs.

I want to thank our faculty and staff for the way they have embraced this mission.  People have stepped up.  We’ve seen numerous and thoughtful antiracism programs developed, and I know discussions are taking place across the campus around how to live out our commitments.  But we have to ensure that anti-racism and equity remain long-term priorities for Duke, woven carefully into every aspect of our institutional strategy and culture. To that end, the Offices of Institutional Equity and Faculty Advancement are collaborating closely with the deans on a new, comprehensive campus climate survey for faculty, students and staff, which will guide our work and assess help assess our progress. We will be launching the survey later this month.

The fourth area of focus in our strategic framework is forging purposeful partnerships in our region. Strengthening ties with Durham will be a vitally important priority in the years ahead, because our relationship with the city is richly reciprocal—Duke wouldn’t be Duke without Durham, and Durham wouldn’t be Durham without Duke.

I am fully committed to deepening our productive collaborations, engaging more openly with partners and critics alike, and strategically aligning our core institutional missions of education, research and patient care with the needs and aspirations of our surrounding communities. 

Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs, under the leadership of Vice President Stelfanie Williams, is working to better coordinate community-support programs across Duke Health and Duke University.  The Durham and Community Affairs team is also seeking to partner in stronger coordination of academic and civic engagement across the schools, and—most importantly—bringing a stronger strategic focus, more pronounced community-needs orientation, and measurable impact to our initiatives.

This year’s strategic task force on Duke and Durham Today and Tomorrow is taking stock of current engagement initiatives and advising on ways the university can best advance in the five areas of focus Vice President Williams and her team have identified: affordable housing and infrastructure; food security and nutrition; early childhood and school readiness; college and career readiness for workforce development; and nonprofit capacity in Durham and the Triangle. In recent years, we have provided $12M to support affordable housing, $8M in grants to Self-Help to support community investment; and $5M for pandemic relief through the Duke-Durham Fund.  All of this work is in keeping with our newly articulated commitments to anti-racism and greater social equity.

Looking ahead, I also see great opportunities for regional partnership in research translation and commercialization. The Board of Trustees spent last year learning about this topic and exploring opportunities, again with our faculty and administrative leadership, to expand our efforts in partnership with industry and other institutions of higher education.

Duke’s programs to promote research commercialization have become progressively stronger over the past three years, thanks to leaders such as Robin Rasor, Executive Director of the Office of Licensing and Ventures. Since 2017, Duke has launched 49 startups, 90% of them located in North Carolina, and generated nearly $175 million in licensing revenue from 339 agreements.

From our year-long study, we emerged with a compelling vision to better attract companies to the region; build on regional strengths in biotech manufacturing to attract corporate R&D; facilitate coordination with area research universities around a major and shared focus of research—for example, climate change, or artificial intelligence and health; and attract more venture capital to the region. 

Under the leadership of Sandy Williams, our Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation, we are moving forward with planning to help realize these ambitious goals. Our portfolio of sponsored research remains incredibly robust at over $1 billion annually and growing.  We rank highly among the very best research institutions national.  And our regional opportunities are even more substantial, with Triangle universities and research nonprofits, including Duke, bringing $4 billion annually in research to our region. 

Fifth and finally, our strategic framework commits to a distinctive vision for lifelong engagement. Our people-first strategy is rooted in the understanding that preparing our students for lives of purpose, fulfillment, discovery and accomplishment cannot end at commencement—certainly not in such a rapidly changing world where the half-life of information and skills is so brief, and where the premium on continuous professional adaptation has never been higher. As we work to promote student-centered teaching and learning, we will do well to harness the extraordinary knowledge and expertise of our global network of alumni and friends, to call on them to more fully engage with current students as mentors, with our faculty, and with other alumni throughout their lives.

Along these lines, our 2018-19 strategic task force on Activating the Global Network proposed a long-term, distinctive vision for the future: where Duke alumni, students, faculty and staff are part of a cross-cutting, ever-evolving network; where on-ramps for engagement are simplified and streamlined, and where the university is a partner in continuous career support and education, before and long after graduation. 

Efforts to realize that vision are now underway.  Duke Alumni is closely coordinating with our new Assistant Vice President and Career Center Director, Greg Victory.  In support of building a more robust and unified infrastructure for lifelong learning, Duke Continuing Studies is moving from Trinity College to the Office of the Provost. And the Forever Learning Institute, launched this year, is an interdisciplinary, virtual educational program exclusively for Duke alumni. Participants can choose from one of four tracks—The Human Experience, Social Movements & Change Agents, America Today, and Advancing Health & Wellness—or feed their curiosity and enroll in multiple themes.

This outline highlights only some of the many ways Duke is moving forward, guided by our strategic framework and supported by the efforts of an extraordinarily diverse and skillful community of students, faculty, staff and alumni.  I am grateful to the countless numbers of people who have been engaged, yes, even through this pandemic.

We do this at a challenging moment, with current and likely continuing financial pressures, but we do this with confidence.  We will need to be efficient, thoughtful, and strategic in our expenditures, and at the same time creative and equally strategic in our search for new revenues.  Notwithstanding the operational and financial headwinds, we are on a trajectory to recover from the pandemic and enter a post-COVID environment better equipped than ever to lead in global higher education.

Philanthropy is a very important part of our strategy. Thanks to the work of our deans, development officers, and so many others—most importantly our generous donors—we have raised well over $500 million each year over the past three years.  Taking into account revisions in the way we now tally gifts, this easily meets or exceeds our fundraising during our last campaign, Duke Forward.  Indeed, fiscal years 2018 and 2020, at $517 million and $519 million respectively, were the third- and second-highest fundraising years in Duke’s history—eclipsed only by the final year of our last campaign, and this in spite of more conservative counting and the pandemic affecting much of last year.

Importantly, funds raised for faculty have increased by 73 percent over the past three years. Similar philanthropic successes—and even better to come—will be critical to our future: Last year, we created 120 new endowments, including 7 new endowed professorships and 53 newly endowed funds for scholarships and fellowships. 

The issues that we face today—systemic racism, climate change, the financial and social headwinds of a changing, post-pandemic world—will not be addressed in one year, or ten years, or even a quarter century. They will define the course of the next hundred years to come. But I hope that when some future Duke president a century from now goes digging through the archives, the story of this extraordinary moment will be that we rose, all of us together, to meet the challenges of our day, and prepared well to seize the opportunities of the coming decades.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership, and your partnership, to that end. I would be delighted to take your questions.

An Election Update

To the Duke Community,

With the results of yesterday’s election still unclear, I want to start by reassuring you that the uncertainty we are seeing in our political system will not disrupt our vital missions of teaching, research, and patient care.

The presidential race is still too close to call, and it is possible that we may not know the outcome for some days as several states, including North Carolina, fulfill their legal obligations to count all the ballots. Like you, we are following this situation closely. Our primary concern in these tumultuous times will always be the safety and well-being of all of our students, faculty, and staff.

Whatever the eventual outcome, we know that many members of our broad and diverse Duke community will be pleased with the results, even as others will find them deeply disappointing and even upsetting. So, while the work of campaigning may have ended on election day, the work of supporting and understanding each other—our fellow students, faculty, and staff, friends, families and neighbors—is indeed more important than ever.

Though we may sometimes disagree, we do so at Duke in the spirit of our shared values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence. Open and meaningful conversations about the opportunities and challenges ahead may lead us to see beyond our differences to discover that we have more in common than we thought.  To that end, I encourage you to take advantage of these resources for information, conversation, collaboration and support.

Even in these uncertain times, I believe that we at Duke can forge a path toward an ever more extraordinary future. We’ve been through much together over the past year. I am confident that we will continue to meet our challenges with the same wisdom and strength that the Duke community has been demonstrating every day. I am proud to be with you.



Looking Ahead to Election Day

To the Duke Community, 

We are now a week away from election day, but early voting at Duke, in Durham, and across the state is well underway. Over a third of registered voters have already cast their ballots in North Carolina—I dropped mine off at the Board of Elections more than a month ago—but you can still register and vote in-person or drop off absentee ballots at any eligible polling place in your county of residence through this Saturday, October 31st.

In this unusual year, amidst concerns about safety during the pandemic, unfounded claims of widespread election fraud, and even some efforts to dissuade voters from exercising their voting rights, it is critically important that you make your voice heard. To that end, I’m proud of the Duke community’s leadership in this election season. You may have seen students waving signs encouraging drivers and pedestrians to vote—a reminder that seems to be working, as more early ballots have been cast at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center than any other polling place in the county. In addition to these visible expressions of the political process, many of us have engaged in honest—and occasionally difficult—conversations with family members, classmates, friends, and neighbors about the issues that matter to us most.

Despite this head start, many members of the Duke community have not yet voted. So today I again urge you to do so if you are eligible. Early voting and same-day registration will be open weekdays this week from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and this Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center (2080 Duke University Road) and other polling places throughout the county. Note that residents of North Carolina can register and early vote at any polling place in your county of residence, but you can only vote in your precinct on election day. Click here for more information about registration.

We’re fortunate to be part of such an engaged university community, one that benefits from open dialogue and from some of the leading minds in political science and policy research. If you are interested in learning more about the presidential election process, I encourage you to have a look at this excellent list of resources prepared by POLIS at the Sanford School of Public Policy.

Thank you for your participation in the political process and for your support of our community.



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