President Price on Transforming a Strategic Vision for Duke Into Practice

In annual address to the faculty, Price outlines goals and values that will guide the university's next steps

President Vincent Price Thank you for the kind introduction. I am so grateful for Don Taylor's leadership [of the Academic Council] over the course of the past two years, and deeply appreciate all that you have done to advance our academic community.

I began my preparations for today by dusting off my remarks from last March. And given that this is so often called a State of the University address, I spent some time reflecting on all that has happened in the intervening months.

Last year, I was a freshman. This year, I’m a sophomore – and while I can assure you that there hasn’t been a sophomore slump, it is a time of great change at Duke.

For one thing, we have an exceptional group of new leaders. Don is handing over the reins to Kerry Haynie, who I know will do an outstanding job.

We have three new Deans, Toddi Steelman at the Nicholas School, Judith Kelley at Sanford, and Kerry Abrams at Duke Law; and one new-old Dean, Greg Jones, who has returned to Divinity. All four are already leading the way toward an even more exciting future for our graduate and professional schools.

We also have a new Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Gary Bennett, who is making it his priority to renew our campus community and expand access to a Duke education. We have new Vice Presidents of Development and Alumni Affairs – Dave Kennedy, who joined us from Stanford – and of Durham Affairs – Stelfanie Williams, an alumna returning to Duke after serving as President of Vance-Granville Community College and being named the most outstanding Community College president in North Carolina.  And searches are underway now for the new Vice Presidents for Institutional Equity, and of Student Affairs.

These leaderships transitions have been very smooth, reflecting the quality of our institution.  And importantly, they each represent key opportunities, allowing us to build strength on strength.  We have energized leadership in place to truly realize Duke’s great promise.

And we are well on the way. As you know, Duke this year had three Rhodes Scholars – the most of any university in the country. We received a record number of applicants for the class of 2023, and the admissions process has been our most competitive ever.

Speaking of new students, we welcomed the inaugural class of undergraduates to Duke Kunshan University last fall.

This summer, Duke Engage will celebrate its 12th anniversary by reaching 1.6 million hours spent by students in service to communities in 81 countries on six continents.

Our faculty, of course, continue to do incredible things. This year, Diego Bohorquez discovered the connection between the nervous system and the gut, ending a decades-long search by scientists and clinicians and laying the groundwork for untold new treatments of disease and obesity.

The State of North Carolina has adopted a new testing program for municipal water supplies thanks in large part to the guidance and expertise of Lee Ferguson in the Nicholas School.

And for innumerable other contributions to our understanding of the world, we welcomed an impressive new class of inductees into our prestigious National Academies.

Duke even participated in two world records – some of you already know about the record-setting electrical vehicle developed by our engineers, the world’s most fuel-efficient.  Less well-known is the world-record size bowl of gumbo that we had the … shall we say, opportunity … to sample at this year’s Independence Bowl game.

“As we move forward on these fronts, we also do well to focus on grounding all of our work on the core values and ethics that define Duke University.”
-- Vincent Price

We are also making major new strategic decisions. Last year, I was in the midst of developing my strategic framework for the future of Duke, consulting with faculty, staff, students, and trustees about the challenges and great opportunities that lie ahead.

You may recall from last year’s address that we identified five main priorities for the future of Duke: empowering the brightest and boldest to solve our most pressing challenges; transforming teaching and learning; renewing our campus community; forging purposeful partnerships in our region; and engaging our global network.

This year, we’re focused on advancing each plank of our framework.  We are now beginning the work of shifting the focus from articulating our strategic vision to executing across the broader university.

First, we are using the framework to inform the way we engage with our numerous and varied constituents about Duke’s future.  If you visit the President’s website, you will see that I have highlighted the Framework, and illustrated our progress on each plank, across our schools.  The message that has been well-received in a wide range of settings, from meetings with Deans, to conversations with students and staff, to events with our alumni around the world.

Second, in tandem with these efforts, we are refining our long-term strategic vision, working closely with the Board of Trustees.  The Board last year voted to refine their governance structures, with the aim of freeing up more of their time to help engage in long-term institutional strategy.   These changes in governance resulted in fewer standing committees of the trustees, allowing the flexibility to organize ad hoc task forces focused on critical priorities, informed by the strategic framework.  

Four such task forces are now at work, each bringing together trustees, administrative and staff liaisons, faculty members, and students.  They are addressing four key priorities: strengthening the alumni network, advancing science and technology, determining the future of Central Campus, and building a next-generation residential learning community.

“We have an opportunity to better engage Duke’s worldwide alumni network, both by offering them new educational and professional-development resources – at whatever age and wherever they may be – and by leveraging their capacious experience and knowledge as a resource for us and our students.”
-- Vincent Price

These four priorities reflect great opportunities. We have a chance, for instance, to better position Duke to leverage advances in data science, computing, our understanding of the human genome, and powerful new observational technologies by making targeted investments in science and technology; better aligning our efforts across Duke Health and the University, and coordinating across the schools to catalyze interdisciplinary faculty hiring.  We have already started this signature initiative, supported by an initial gift of 50 million dollars from the Duke Endowment – a seed fund for faculty hiring that we aim to expand through development and build upon with new gifts to support endowed faculty chairs.

We have an opportunity to better engage Duke’s worldwide alumni network, both by offering them new educational and professional-development resources – at whatever age and wherever they may be – and by leveraging their capacious experience and knowledge as a resource for us and our students. As I’ve traveled around, I’ve seen a real hunger among our alumni to be guests in your classrooms and mentors to your students.

The goal should be to give true substance to the concept of life-long learning, which at its best may permit our alumni network to feel something an eleventh school -- fully developing, and harnessing, the wide expertise and deep commitment of this incredible group of people.

The work of our task forces also reflect significant challenges. Any of you who have visited Central Campus know that it’s one thing we haven’t gotten right.  We have relied for far too long on central campus to house undergraduates, in buildings that we not originally constructed for that purpose and which have for some time now been decrepit.  I’m pleased that our students will be living on Central Campus for only a few months longer, allowing us to begin using that valuable space more effectively, or, if we have no immediate pressing needs, to perhaps bank it as a future resource.

And, with the Hollows dormitories nearing completion and renovations to the old quads on West Campus wrapping up, now is the time for us to rethink our residential living and learning model, seeking to build upon Duke’s success in residential life and to better serve the intellectual and social growth of our students, leveraging our resources in the arts, our recreational resources, our student health resources, and our numerous community-building resources to ensure we define the very best in residential education of the whole student. I expect that the task force will put a particular emphasis on strengthening the connection between faculty and the vibrant life of our students outside of the classroom.

As we move forward on these fronts, we also do well to focus on grounding all of our work on the core values and ethics that define Duke University.  Let me close my remarks this afternoon by spending a bit of time on those values, and the ways me might profitably recommit to them as an academic community.

Over the course of the past two years, we have been buffeted by often deep divisions that test the strength of our community – some of our own making, some brought upon us by outside forces.   We have also confronted incidents of misconduct – sometimes by students, other times by members of our staff or faculty – that call into question the integrity of our educational work or our research, or the resolve of our community to live up to our highest ideals. As you know, this Council, under the leadership of Don and ECAC, has talked several times about how we as a faculty can step up to better confront, and ideally reduce, unprofessional conduct.

As we worked to address each disturbing incident, I would often hear similar comments from faculty and staff alike: Wouldn’t it be good if we had an explicit statement of our values?  Wouldn’t it be useful for us to share, to reflect upon, and to draw upon – especially in difficult times – a concise and highly visible statement of our core, guiding principles?  To have a readily accessible touchpoint for the continuing discussions about challenging issues at all levels of the university community?

In fact, at several points in our history we developed just such a statement of values – as it turns out, one for the university and one for Duke Health. These two statements shared a great deal in common and were primarily distributed to new hires for employee orientation. But we clearly have not done a good enough job of communicating the values they described to the community or, more important, ensuring that they inform all aspects of university life.

With this recognition in mind, we began discussing how we could renew these earlier statements, to combine and streamline the work of earlier presidents, faculty, students and staff, into a concise and easily accessible list of core values. Across the two lists, there were five core common values that came through clearly, which I have highlighted in conversations with ECAC, undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, and senior administrators.

“These values will still serve as a basis for orienting our new hires and for introducing new students to the Duke community. But we also hope to infuse them into the work that we do every day at Duke – our teaching, research, partnerships, service, and – most importantly – our interactions with each other.”
-- Vincent Price

Those values are: respect, trust, inclusion, discovery, and excellence.

I will note that these values are by no means new – they have been essential to the success of Duke throughout our history and will remain so as we look ahead to the future.

  • By respect, we mean that Duke affirms both freedom of expression and an abiding regard for others.
  • By trust, we commit to being honorable, credible, and reliable scholars and members of the community.
  • By inclusion, we seek to create a climate that is welcoming to all backgrounds, abilities, perspectives, and points of view.
  • By discovery, we mean sharing and seeking knowledge together.
  • And by excellence, we commit to the continuing improvement of our education, research, and patient care.

Together, these abiding values form the basis of a strong statement of our values and culture, which has been endorsed by the Board of Trustees. Over the next few weeks, we will begin re-introducing this statement to students, faculty, staff, and administrators. These values will still serve as a basis for orienting our new hires and for introducing new students to the Duke community. But we also hope to infuse them into the work that we do every day at Duke – our teaching, research, partnerships, service, and – most importantly – our interactions with each other.

As members of the Duke community, we all have a responsibility to not only uphold these values but also to hold one another accountable to them.

This is not so much a set of guidelines as it is the foundation for a far more vibrant Duke University of tomorrow. It is my hope that these values and the culture they inform will inspire bold aspirations for the future and help us come even closer to realizing our great potential.