Vincent Price: The Issues Duke Faces Today 'Will Define the Course of the Next Hundred Years to Come'

President Vincent Price Thank you, Kerry, for the kind introduction. I’m so grateful for your leadership in this extraordinary moment for our university.

Let me also say thank you to every member of our faculty for your commitment to our students and colleagues over the course of the past year. I know that teaching , conducting research, and providing clinical care in this pandemic has required a great deal of flexibility. And I know well the sacrifices you have all made, and continue to make.

At the outset of the academic year, when I addressed our new undergraduate Class of 2024 at our first-ever virtual convocation from an empty Duke Chapel, I noted that our academic community had in fact faced, and had overcome, similar challenges before.

A century ago, Spanish flu raged through 1918 and 1919, and was still a presence when Trinity College welcomed the incoming class of 1924.  The flu pandemic, then as now, brought with it masking, business closures and quarantine, even in those earlier days of public health understanding. But life at Trinity College went on. Classes met. Research was conducted. And yes, faculty meetings were held. 

Perhaps most remarkably, in the midst of the flu pandemic, Trinity faculty members and administrators were actively engaged in articulating a new vision for the future—and indeed, just few years later, in 1924, their small liberal arts college was transformed into our research university, one that would go on to win the world’s respect.

Today we are again engaged in the same ongoing process of institutional transformation and evolution, one that has truly never ceased. And since I last addressed this Council, we have made remarkable progress.

To be sure, we are not yet out of the grips of COVID.  The recent and very concerning growth of positive cases among our undergraduates, which has necessitated the restrictions put into place this week, reminds us that our work is by no means done.  But by working hand-in-glove with our medical leadership, faculty, staff, public health experts and local leaders, we have successfully carried out our core missions for more than a year.  And we can now see our path out of the pandemic and look forward to a brighter future. 

In a few short years, as we mark the 100-year anniversary of the creation of Duke University in 2024, like our Trinity College forebears, we will together guide our institution into a new century.

Looking ahead, we remain focused on the tenets of the strategic framework, Toward our Second Century, developed over my first year in consultation with faculty, trustees, administrators, students, alumni, staff, and members of the Durham community. As you may recall from our previous conversations, this framework is organized around five fundamental foci:

First, Empowering People, investing more decisively in our extraordinary faculty, students, and staff, recognizing that their accomplishments comprise the true measure of our institutional excellence;
 

  • Second, Innovating in Teaching and Learning, better fusing our research and educational missions and leveraging new technological and pedagogical approaches that meet the evolving needs of a new generation of students;
     
  • Third, Renewing our Campus Community, ensuring that all who call Duke home share a lived experience that is increasingly inclusive, equitable, engaging, healthy and vibrant;
     
  • Fourth, Partnering with Purpose, strengthening relationships in Durham and serving as a collaborative catalyst in our region to advance innovative economic development while improving community health, housing, and education; and
     
  • Fifth, Engaging our Global Network, better supporting and harnessing the talents of our alumni and friends, throughout the full arc of their lives, in a Duke without walls that invests continuously in developing ourselves and each other to reach our full potential.

 

I’ve often noted that the framework begins and ends with Duke’s people and is centered around community.  It’s rooted in the understanding that our university is only as strong, as healthy, as collectively capable and accomplished as our faculty, students, staff, clinicians, and alumni throughout the world.  It represents a “people-first” shift of emphasis in our investments: less emphasis on investing in buildings—the physical infrastructure—and more emphasis on investing in the people who work and teach and study and live in those buildings—our human infrastructure.

So, let me highlight for you today our work and progress in each of these five areas.

First, we must invest in exceptional scholars—and we are. A major driver of Duke’s rapid ascent among global universities were strategic faculty recruitments in the 1970s and 1980s, many focused on the humanities and social sciences. Today, with the leadership of Provost Kornbluth, Chancellor Washington and our deans, we’re increasing that upward trajectory. 

Of Duke’s faculty members who are also members of the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, or Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fully 20 percent have been either named or hired in the past three years.

And we’re seeking this excellence through diversity. Across all schools, the percentage of women on our regular-rank faculties also now stands at an all-time high, of 37 percent. The percentage of faculty from underrepresented groups is also at an all-time high. With the creation of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development three years ago, the number of regular-rank Black faculty at Duke has increased from 67 to over 80—a 19 percent increase across the university.

We’ll build on this modest success, energized by our institutional commitments to social equity and anti-racism, with an emphasis on strategic cluster-hiring in areas where underrepresented faculty are lacking; with support from a newly awarded gift of $10.5 million from The Duke Endowment; and by directing resources for our science and technology initiative to diversify our STEM faculties.

As you know, strengthening Duke science and technology is a key element of our strategy. We’re driving our initial faculty recruitment efforts around signature areas identified by the faculty and trustees who served, two years ago, on our Advancing Duke Science and Technology Task Force—furthering data science and machine learning, advancing materials science, and unlocking biologic resilience. 

To these ends, we secured $100 million in new funding, half from the Duke Endowment and half from our Health System, and we expect similar investments to follow.  We assembled review panels with university and Duke Health science leaders, who have defined selection criteria and consider prospective candidates from schools and departments for targeted funds. These efforts have already seen success—16 extraordinary new hires in Trinity, Pratt, and the School of Medicine. Two of the new faculty are members of national academies, one is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and the remainder are judged to have high potential for election to the national academies. And importantly, we’re investing in faculty already at Duke, and have been able to retain several of our top faculty who had strong offers from other leading research universities. 

Our initiative in science and technology is paired with a broader effort to seek support for faculty across the disciplines. Newly endowed faculty chairs, with gifts now targeted at $3M apiece, will be a cornerstone of our forthcoming centennial fundraising campaign, planned for launch in early 2024. This year we secured our first two $5M Presidential Distinguished Faculty Chairs, and there will be more to come.  Our effort will support not only science and technology but all of our faculties, as presently our faculty endowments lag considerably behind our peers.

Let me say here that, in a year when all of us have made sacrifices financially in this moment of budgetary pressure, I know it strikes some as difficult to square our present context of austerity with investment in our faculty.  But our strategic cuts this year have been undertaken precisely because we need to emerge from COVID as well-positioned as possible to maintain or extend our market-competitiveness.  And we will.  Our pruning is undertaken to vitalize Duke, to enable new, vigorous, and strategic growth when conditions are conducive.

Likewise, empowering people will require making new investments in supporting our extraordinary students. This year, applications to most of our programs reached historical highs, including 50 thousand undergraduate applications, and our acceptance rates will as a result likely be at historical lows.  Again, we seek excellence through diversity, with our undergraduate student body now 45 percent white; 29 percent Asian, Asian-American or Pacific Islander; 12 percent Black or African-American; 12 percent Hispanic or Latinx; and 2 percent Native American.

We now provide financial aid to half of our undergraduates, remaining need-blind in admissions and steadfast in our commitment to meeting the estimated financial need of every admitted student. Student access and affordability remain core priorities, as well as very deep challenges, across all of our educational programs. 

Turning again to undergraduates by way of example, the cost of attending Duke as a percent of median family income has grown by fully one-half over the past 15 years, although it has leveled off and declined somewhat over the past three.  Because of disproportionate family income growth during this period, among wealthier families—those who do not qualify for financial aid—the actual cost of attendance as a proportion of family income appears to be relatively constant on average during this 15-year period.  And because of our generous financial-aid commitments, the median aided family has in fact seen the net cost of attending Duke, as a percent of family income, decline modestly. 

Still, these overall patterns obscure increased financial pressure on families in middle and upper-middle tiers of the income distribution.  They are also costly, achievable only with a financial-aid budget that has been growing extraordinarily rapidly—projected to increase by 10 percent next year alone—and will need to be addressed to ensure that the provost’s funds earmarked for strategic investments are not unduly impinged. 

For all of these reasons, student financial aid is another top fundraising priority. Last year, the provost and I made available $50 million of the funds recently received from the sale of the Lord Corporation for a financial-aid challenge, with the goal of raising $100 million toward undergraduate financial-aid endowments.  Our School of Medicine is in the process of securing a record gift to support student financial aid, and this will be a core priority of every school in the upcoming comprehensive fundraising campaign.

Empowering people also means investing in our talented staff members, across Duke University and DUHS, who are vital to our missions of teaching, research, and patient care.  Our staff have been magnificent this year in helping us navigate COVID, both on campus and across the Health System. 

Shortly after my arrival in 2017, we announced our commitment to increase the minimum wage for all Duke and DUHS employees and full-time contract workers to $15 per hour. Last year we overhauled and improved our parental leave policy for staff and faculty, the first time in more than 15 years. And in our work to rein in costs this past year, we purposely distributed cuts in a progressive fashion to insulate our least advantaged employees from as much harm as much as possible, providing pay increases to those earning below $50 thousand annually and working to keep our staff in regular full-pay status throughout the year.

The second focus of the framework, transforming teaching and discovery, especially by leveraging technology, has taken on new urgency in the context of the pandemic. Duke’s Office of Learning Innovation, announced in 2017, has been working in close collaboration with the Office of Information Technology to help Duke take tremendous strides, by partnering with faculty to promote student-centered teaching, conducting research on the effectiveness of new instructional techniques, developing online courses and programs, and exploring new learning and teaching technologies. Learning Innovation is not only helping us navigate COVID, but also advancing a variety of initiatives, including digital citizenship modules with OIT’s Innovation Co-Lab; a flipped-learning model for a master’s program on basic science research in the School of Medicine; and workshops on course design and online learning for Divinity School faculty.

And we are reimagining doctoral education. The Office of the Provost has been working with the schools to implement recommendations of the 2018 RIDE Committee report, announcing that all Ph.D. students who are in their five-year guaranteed funding period would receive 12-month stipends beginning in fall 2022.  And last fall, the Association of American Universities (AAU) chose Duke as one of eight participants in the pilot cohort for their national Ph.D. Education Initiative.

Our third strategic focus, fostering community on campus, has without doubt been challenged by COVID and the social distancing it has necessitated.  But here again, we continue to see progress in making the campus a healthier, more vibrant place to live, learn and work. This past summer, after several years of work through our Healthy Duke initiative, we successfully made the entire campus tobacco-free. We’re making new investments in student and employee mental and physical health and wellness, recognizing that the life we are living outside of the classroom or lab has everything to do with our success.

To that end, we are working to revitalize the residential experience for our students. Two years ago, our university task force on the Next Generation Living and Learning Experience explored innovative strategies for optimizing Duke’s residential educational experience for the 21st century. Since then, with the leadership of Vice President and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Gary Bennett, we have turned our attention toward implementation. We’re designing a “Duke 101” series of co-curricular courses to support life skills, career development, and well-being; organizing houses on West Campus into diverse communities (or “quads”) and linking them to East Campus residence halls in ways that deepen connections across class years with faculty and alumni; we are also delaying rush into selective living communities so that sophomores are assigned to housing independently of any rush process.

In light of the growing urgency to address climate change, we’ve intensified our efforts to make Duke more environmentally sustainable. We entered into an historic agreement this year to supply more than half of our energy needs from solar power in the coming years. We also launched a strategic task force, again with trustees, faculty and student representatives, on Climate and Sustainability at Duke. The task force, together with additional faculty working groups, will help articulate our next-level sustainability vision for our educational mission, our campus operations, and our research—through investments in strategic areas of scholarly focus that build on our distinctive strengths across the university.

And we continue to build our campus community through the arts.  Provost Kornbluth and I formed an Arts Planning Group in 2018 to revisit the last strategic plan for the arts, completed more than a decade earlier, and develop a new comprehensive strategy for the arts at the university.  Duke Arts, now under the leadership of our first full-time Vice Provost for the Arts, John Brown, has continued to expand the range and scope of DukeCreate workshops, is elevating our engagement with the arts community off campus, and is implementing other recommendations of the Arts Planning Group.

A critical aspect of fostering community is reaffirming and communicating Duke’s core values.  We’ve sought to incorporate these values into our strategic work at every level, including a reanimation of our Presidential Awards program to align with our values.  We’ve launched initiatives to assess and improve the work environment across campus for women and minority populations, and have strengthened our research integrity programs. 

Perhaps the most salient initiative is our work around anti-racism and equity.  This past summer, I charged the provost, executive vice president, and chancellor for health affairs with identifying specific anti-racist actions and implementation plans, in keeping with and across all five areas highlighted by our strategic framework. We’ve sought to move decisively and without delay to mobilize every part of our enterprise by redoubling existing efforts and by initiating significant new programs.

I want to thank our faculty and staff for the way they have embraced this mission.  People have stepped up.  We’ve seen numerous and thoughtful antiracism programs developed, and I know discussions are taking place across the campus around how to live out our commitments.  But we have to ensure that anti-racism and equity remain long-term priorities for Duke, woven carefully into every aspect of our institutional strategy and culture. To that end, the Offices of Institutional Equity and Faculty Advancement are collaborating closely with the deans on a new, comprehensive campus climate survey for faculty, students and staff, which will guide our work and assess help assess our progress. We will be launching the survey later this month.

The fourth area of focus in our strategic framework is forging purposeful partnerships in our region. Strengthening ties with Durham will be a vitally important priority in the years ahead, because our relationship with the city is richly reciprocal—Duke wouldn’t be Duke without Durham, and Durham wouldn’t be Durham without Duke.

I am fully committed to deepening our productive collaborations, engaging more openly with partners and critics alike, and strategically aligning our core institutional missions of education, research and patient care with the needs and aspirations of our surrounding communities. 

Duke’s Office of Durham and Community Affairs, under the leadership of Vice President Stelfanie Williams, is working to better coordinate community-support programs across Duke Health and Duke University.  The Durham and Community Affairs team is also seeking to partner in stronger coordination of academic and civic engagement across the schools, and—most importantly—bringing a stronger strategic focus, more pronounced community-needs orientation, and measurable impact to our initiatives.

This year’s strategic task force on Duke and Durham Today and Tomorrow is taking stock of current engagement initiatives and advising on ways the university can best advance in the five areas of focus Vice President Williams and her team have identified: affordable housing and infrastructure; food security and nutrition; early childhood and school readiness; college and career readiness for workforce development; and nonprofit capacity in Durham and the Triangle. In recent years, we have provided $12M to support affordable housing, $8M in grants to Self-Help to support community investment; and $5M for pandemic relief through the Duke-Durham Fund.  All of this work is in keeping with our newly articulated commitments to anti-racism and greater social equity.

Looking ahead, I also see great opportunities for regional partnership in research translation and commercialization. The Board of Trustees spent last year learning about this topic and exploring opportunities, again with our faculty and administrative leadership, to expand our efforts in partnership with industry and other institutions of higher education.

Duke’s programs to promote research commercialization have become progressively stronger over the past three years, thanks to leaders such as Robin Rasor, Executive Director of the Office of Licensing and Ventures. Since 2017, Duke has launched 49 startups, 90% of them located in North Carolina, and generated nearly $175 million in licensing revenue from 339 agreements.

From our year-long study, we emerged with a compelling vision to better attract companies to the region; build on regional strengths in biotech manufacturing to attract corporate R&D; facilitate coordination with area research universities around a major and shared focus of research—for example, climate change, or artificial intelligence and health; and attract more venture capital to the region. 

Under the leadership of Sandy Williams, our Interim Vice President for Research and Innovation, we are moving forward with planning to help realize these ambitious goals. Our portfolio of sponsored research remains incredibly robust at over $1 billion annually and growing.  We rank highly among the very best research institutions national.  And our regional opportunities are even more substantial, with Triangle universities and research nonprofits, including Duke, bringing $4 billion annually in research to our region. 

Fifth and finally, our strategic framework commits to a distinctive vision for lifelong engagement. Our people-first strategy is rooted in the understanding that preparing our students for lives of purpose, fulfillment, discovery and accomplishment cannot end at commencement—certainly not in such a rapidly changing world where the half-life of information and skills is so brief, and where the premium on continuous professional adaptation has never been higher. As we work to promote student-centered teaching and learning, we will do well to harness the extraordinary knowledge and expertise of our global network of alumni and friends, to call on them to more fully engage with current students as mentors, with our faculty, and with other alumni throughout their lives.

Along these lines, our 2018-19 strategic task force on Activating the Global Network proposed a long-term, distinctive vision for the future: where Duke alumni, students, faculty and staff are part of a cross-cutting, ever-evolving network; where on-ramps for engagement are simplified and streamlined, and where the university is a partner in continuous career support and education, before and long after graduation. 

Efforts to realize that vision are now underway.  Duke Alumni is closely coordinating with our new Assistant Vice President and Career Center Director, Greg Victory.  In support of building a more robust and unified infrastructure for lifelong learning, Duke Continuing Studies is moving from Trinity College to the Office of the Provost. And the Forever Learning Institute, launched this year, is an interdisciplinary, virtual educational program exclusively for Duke alumni. Participants can choose from one of four tracks—The Human Experience, Social Movements & Change Agents, America Today, and Advancing Health & Wellness—or feed their curiosity and enroll in multiple themes.

This outline highlights only some of the many ways Duke is moving forward, guided by our strategic framework and supported by the efforts of an extraordinarily diverse and skillful community of students, faculty, staff and alumni.  I am grateful to the countless numbers of people who have been engaged, yes, even through this pandemic.

We do this at a challenging moment, with current and likely continuing financial pressures, but we do this with confidence.  We will need to be efficient, thoughtful, and strategic in our expenditures, and at the same time creative and equally strategic in our search for new revenues.  Notwithstanding the operational and financial headwinds, we are on a trajectory to recover from the pandemic and enter a post-COVID environment better equipped than ever to lead in global higher education.

Philanthropy is a very important part of our strategy. Thanks to the work of our deans, development officers, and so many others—most importantly our generous donors—we have raised well over $500 million each year over the past three years.  Taking into account revisions in the way we now tally gifts, this easily meets or exceeds our fundraising during our last campaign, Duke Forward.  Indeed, fiscal years 2018 and 2020, at $517 million and $519 million respectively, were the third- and second-highest fundraising years in Duke’s history—eclipsed only by the final year of our last campaign, and this in spite of more conservative counting and the pandemic affecting much of last year.

Importantly, funds raised for faculty have increased by 73 percent over the past three years. Similar philanthropic successes—and even better to come—will be critical to our future: Last year, we created 120 new endowments, including 7 new endowed professorships and 53 newly endowed funds for scholarships and fellowships. 

The issues that we face today—systemic racism, climate change, the financial and social headwinds of a changing, post-pandemic world—will not be addressed in one year, or ten years, or even a quarter century. They will define the course of the next hundred years to come. But I hope that when some future Duke president a century from now goes digging through the archives, the story of this extraordinary moment will be that we rose, all of us together, to meet the challenges of our day, and prepared well to seize the opportunities of the coming decades.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership, and your partnership, to that end. I would be delighted to take your questions.