Dear Duke Colleagues,
Over the past several weeks, events and actions at our university have illustrated a disturbing trend: the absence of respect for others.
When we learn a racial slur has been scrawled on a dorm door, a social media posting has used abhorrent language, anti-Semitic posters have been distributed in Durham, or workers on our campus have been treated unfairly, we feel angry, discouraged, and disappointed. Duke should be a place where these things don’t happen. They are a painful reminder that we have more work to do to make our Duke community the dynamic, diverse and welcoming community of students, faculty, and staff we aspire it to be: a place where our daily challenges are grappling with a new concept, a new idea, or a new way of thinking – and not with how someone has behaved, or how we ourselves have behaved, that has caused others pain or hurt.
Something has to change.
I will simply say that I am deeply sorry that we are not where we want to be as a university. I am, in particular, sorry that the words of one of my senior administrators recently resulted in two individuals working for one of our on-campus vendors losing their jobs; and while I am pleased that the vendor has taken steps to reverse this action, I apologize for the precipitous and unfair treatment these employees experienced. We must do better.
We have somehow lost the sense of compassion and human tolerance that should define our community. This is reflected in the ways we interact with each other, the ways we hold ourselves and others accountable for our conduct, and in our words and deeds as scholars, students and employees.
At the same time, we cannot and will not succumb to a rush to judgment that demands instant retribution absent context and deliberation.
So where do we go from here? Having now completed my first academic year as president, I am reflecting on these problems of basic decency, and our legacies of racism, intolerance and xenophobia, that continue to follow us, and indeed all of society. They do not lend themselves to easy answers or quick fixes. But they will continue to plague us unless we address them directly, honestly, in good faith, and with a healthy dose of courage.
I will be consulting with members of our diverse university – students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and critics – to gather ideas about how best to move forward. And I invite you to send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org as well so that we can identify the paths forward before the start of the fall semester.
Getting this right is hard work. I am committed to doing that work, and I ask for your wisdom and engagement as we move along these paths.
Vincent E. Price