After hearing from and consulting with a number of students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and with the strong support of the Board of Trustees, I authorized the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from the entrance of Duke Chapel early this morning.
I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university.
The removal also presents an opportunity for us to learn and heal. The statue will be preserved so that students can study Duke’s complex past and take part in a more inclusive future.
Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates. We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.
As part of this effort, I am creating a commission, to include faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees and members of the Durham community, to advise on next steps and to assist us in navigating the role of memory and history at Duke. The commission will look at how we memorialize individuals on the Duke campus in buildings and sculpture and recommend principles drawn from Duke’s core values to guide us when questions arise. I will ask this commission to work expeditiously.
In addition, and in concert with Provost Sally Kornbluth, we will use the next year to explore various aspects of Duke's history and ambitions through teaching and scholarship. This will include an exhibition in the Library; a campus conversation about controversy and injustice in Duke’s history; and a forum to explore academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly in the university. Further information about these programs will be forthcoming.
As this process moves forward, I welcome your thoughts about how Duke can best address the troubling events of the past few months, learn from a careful and unvarnished understanding of our national and institutional history, and build a stronger, more inclusive future as a university community.
Vincent E. Price