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At Academic Council, Price Outlines Unifying Statement of Duke Values and Culture

If you do an online search for Duke University Values, you find multiple items. Top of the list goes to a values statement from Duke Student Affairs, then there’s one from Duke Health and not far behind a Duke Guiding Principles dating back more than a decade to Nan Keohane’s presidency.

All the statements have much in common. But after a year of discussion about campus conduct and after the university was buffeted by a costly settlement of a research integrity lawsuit, President Vince Price and representatives of the faculty, student body and Duke staff say it’s time to have a single unifying statement of university values.

At the Academic Council meeting Thursday, Price introduced the product of these conversations: Five stated values – respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence. They are intended to guide the conduct of the university community and provide a foundation for a “vibrant discussion by units across the university looking to articulate their own values and codes of conduct.”

“These values are intended to be, at the highest level, a statement of our aspirations as a community,” Price said.

Although they are general, each value can be linked to important aspects of all areas of university life: research, residential life, classroom conduct and a wider code of conduct, Price added.

“The idea of this effort is to start a conversation about our values leading to creation of a stronger culture of accountability on campus,” Price said. “We’re sharing it with different constituencies among students, faculty and staff, and asking them to see how to connect these in different places relevant to them.”

An internationally known scholar of political communication, Price said the previous value statements are strong and serve a particular purpose for a particular constituency. But he added that the university often failed to communicate the value statements in a way that would affect conduct. 

“Our goal is to renew the earlier statements, not just try to restate it,” he said. “To be effective, this needs to be an exercise in communication.”

In addition to the five values, Price had a message he hopes will be taken to heart by the Duke community: If you see something wrong, speak up. 

“We need people to speak up,” Price said. “We need them asking, ‘Is this right?’ In some recent incidents, we’ve observed that people had these thoughts, but kept it to themselves, and we missed the opportunity to take action. We need a climate where people felt comfortable to speak up in these situations.”

Some of the talk was repeated from Price’s presentation to the Academic Council this past March. That presentation was dominated by the light rail controversy, and faculty leaders asked Price to return to allow for a longer discussion of values and culture.

In answering faculty questions, Price said he saw this effort as a way of building a stronger community both on campus and in the broader world.

“This work is timely. Roughly 100 years ago, Trinity College President Few was panicking over the possibility of losing everything. This led to his talks with James B. Duke and others in the community about what the university could be.

“If what we’re doing sparks thought across the community, it will be a success. If this is the only conversation we have, then it won’t be a success.”