What sets Duke apart are our people and our purpose, and both have been tested over these past few weeks. We have all lived through what for many has been the most tumultuous and unsettling period of our lives. The combination of understandable concern for our health and safety, and those of our loved ones, with massive disruptions to society, education, business and even our ability freely move around our communities, is deeply unsettling.
But we have as a Duke community met these unprecedented challenges with an extraordinary outpouring of creativity, commitment and courage from thousands of people spanning the globe. Each of you has contributed in your own way, through actions that have saved lives, supported our students, faculty, staff and patients, and ensured that our important work continues despite the challenges we confront every day. Many of you have done so while balancing health concerns, caring for family members, and navigating the mental and emotional challenges of an uncertain and isolating time.
Your extraordinary effort brings home the truth that we can only do great works through great people, and that ensuring the well-being of our people is critical to our purpose of seeking knowledge in the service of society.
Even as we confront present challenges, we must be clear that the pandemic will also produce profound and lasting effects, including severe and negative effects on our operations and finances. Duke is not alone in this, of course: every business, government, nonprofit organization and family is now making difficult choices. While it is too soon to determine with precision the magnitude of disruption to our finances, it is clear that the impacts will be both severe and prolonged. All of our formerly reliable sources of revenue – tuition, research grants, clinical revenue, private philanthropy and income from our investments and endowment – will almost certainly be significantly and adversely affected, even as we face increased expenses in our education, research and patient-care services.
The responsible institutional course is to engage in a thoughtful, comprehensive, and strategic review of our operations and finances, and we are initiating exactly that. In the meantime, we must also act responsibly now by taking immediate steps to mitigate our deepening financial challenges. As a result, we are today either confirming (in the case of actions that were announced earlier) or implementing the following Duke University policies, which do not apply to the Duke University Health System:
Expenditures: All schools, units, departments and programs will need to pause new non-salary expenditures, including (but not limited to): contracts, service or consulting agreements; computer, office and laboratory equipment; renovations; furniture; travel and entertainment; meetings and conferences. Any ongoing expenditure of university funds (including grant, gift and endowment funds) greater than $2,500 will continue to require pre-approval by the Executive Vice President, Provost or Chancellor for Health Affairs or their designees. There will be additional guidance forthcoming regarding information technology services, including software licenses.
Hiring: All staff hiring is paused until further notice. Requests for exceptions for positions that are essential to the operation of the university can be made through the vacancy management process, which requires the approval of the Executive Vice President, Provost or Chancellor for Health Affairs, depending on the unit. Subject to the approval of the appropriate dean, ongoing faculty searches may continue provided that all salary and startup funds are identified. Likewise, searches for staff positions that are fully funded by external research grants that have already been received by the university may continue, subject to review through the vacancy management process.
Salaries: For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2020, there will be no salary increase for University employees making more than $50,000 per year. Employees earning up to $50,000 who earn satisfactory performance evaluations will receive a one-time, $1,000 payment. The only exceptions to this policy will be certain academic promotions. Positions covered under collective bargaining agreements will be governed by the terms of the contract. This action also does not cover Duke University Health System (DUHS) employees. DUHS administers compensation on a different calendar from the University, and guidance for the next year will be provided to DUHS employees at a later date.
Benefits: At this time, we do not anticipate making any changes in our insurance programs (health, dental, vision and disability). We are reviewing our 403b program to determine whether adjustments are now appropriate.
Construction: All new construction projects are on indefinite hold, except those related to safety, repairs, infrastructure, virus research and a small number of obligations to new faculty.
As we adapt to this new reality, I pledge to you that Duke will never lose sight of our highest commitments, to our people and our purpose. We remain firmly committed to meeting the financial aid needs of our students, which are likely to rise. Our decisions will be guided by and aligned with Duke’s overarching strategic framework, Toward our Second Century. We will be mindful of the needs of the most vulnerable among us and committed to the health, safety and security of our students, faculty and staff. And we will be true to our shared values of respect, trust, inclusion, discovery and excellence.
We will get through this, together, by supporting one another and our shared mission as a university. Thank you for all that you are doing for Duke. I am proud to call you colleagues.
Vincent E. Price