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Vincent Price: A Greeting to the Duke Community

Vincent Price presents a message to the Duke community. Video by the Duke Office of News and Communication

Duke President-Elect Vincent Price introduces himself to the Duke community and discusses select key issues in higher education:

Q: Where did you grow up?

PRICE: I was born in Torrance, California, a suburb of Los Angeles, and grew up there as the sixth of eight siblings in my family (with two sisters and five brothers).  I attended parochial Catholic schools and a Diocesan high school, Bishop Montgomery High School, where I ran cross country and pole-vaulted in track and field, and from which I graduated as valedictorian.  I am a second-generation Californian, as my mother was born in Los Angeles in 1924.  Her father, my grandfather, was a set decorator in motion pictures who worked on more than fifty films and was nominated for three Academy Awards in the category of Best Art Direction.  Both of my parents are now deceased, and all of my siblings live in California.  When I arrive in Durham, it will mark an anniversary of sorts: I will have lived as many years outside of California as I have lived there, leaving only after completing my doctoral studies at Stanford University in 1987.

Q: How do you think about diversity and inclusion at a university?  In society?

PRICE: Diversity and inclusion have long been among the most critical elements of a great university, and of the good society.  They must be actively sought, promoted and nurtured, and rightly deserved to be celebrated.

What’s often missing from the conversation are the values behind the concepts, the meaning behind the demographic data.  We acknowledge that having a diverse community is important, but we don’t always say why. 

There is, to start, the importance of distributing education, which is among the most powerful instruments of prosperity and well-being known to us, as equitably as possible in a democratic society.  There is also the fundamental necessity of diversity in our search for knowledge.  As institutions dedicated to teaching, scholarship, and research, universities must foster rigorous and open debate and discussion, across their many constituents.  In the academy, we hold our ideas up not for reflection – or not solely for reflection – but for refraction. Each member of our community is here to inform and to critique, offering support and criticism, shaped by unique experiences and circumstances. Without a diverse community surrounding us – without those critical refractions – we will be the poorer, intellectually and socially.   I like to say that we hold our ideas up not to a mirror, but to a prism. And from the many colors and variations passing through – the spectrum, if you will – we’re shown their possibilities, as well as their faults.

Without diversity, we fail in our mission.  Because in a mirror, we see only what we already are, what we already know.  And we fail in our mission without inclusion – without the generous embrace of those so different from ourselves, in a welcoming community where every member feels they belong – because if we lack the confidence to encounter difference, we will tend naturally to seek out those people and ideas most agreeable to ourselves.

Q: What has your experience been working with China?

PRICE: When the Wharton School at Penn expressed an interest around five years ago in establishing a center in China, President Amy Gutmann and I felt that such a significant step should engage the entire University.  I subsequently chaired a high-level strategic planning group that reviewed Penn’s existing academic engagements with China, considered our strongest opportunities, assessed risks and costs, and evaluated alternative forms of engagement, from institutional partnerships to free-standing centers.  Out of that work came a recommendation to establish a Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing, as a collaborative enterprise supported by the Wharton School and the Office of the Provost.  It would facilitate our partnerships with multiple institutions in China, provide a base and logistical support for faculty and students doing work in China, support executive education and training programs delivered by a number of Penn’s schools, and support our extensive network of alumni working in China. 

Following several years of extensive planning, we successfully launched our new Center in the heart of Beijing’s Central Business District, a state-of-the-art 23,000-square foot facility with an open plaza, meeting rooms, group presentation spaces, and additional meeting and work spaces for scholars and staff.  More importantly, we worked assiduously to establish a vibrant series of programs and events, engaging all twelve of our schools in a variety of academic, public-service and professional-development programs. 

Following our launch in the spring of 2015, which I led with a delegation of eight of Penn’s deans, the center has been a dynamic hub of expanding activity, much of it catalyzed by grants to our faculty from a newly established China Research and Engagement Fund, which has successfully leveraged institutional funds to gain extramural support from China and elsewhere. My positive experience leaves me optimistic about the extraordinary potential for Duke Kunshan University, which positions Duke for even greater collaboration and positive impact in this critical region of the world.