Two university leaders who helped guide Duke through the pandemic challenges used their last official addresses to the Academic Council on Thursday to praise how the university governance system allowed faculty and administrators to work together during the crisis.
Academic Council Chair Kerry Haynie and Board of Trustees Chair Jack Bovender Jr. both said they were proud of how the Duke community responded during the pandemic. That cooperation was essential to the university successfully getting through the academic year and ending that year in a more favorable financial situation than expected.
“I want to thank all of you on the Academic Council for the extraordinary ways that the faculty has met the great challenges of this moment and continues to sustain and transform the Duke experience,” said Bovender, who steps down June 30 following 14 years on the board and the past four years as its chair.
He will be succeeded by current Vice Chair Laurene Sperling, who will be the first woman ever to serve in the role.
“I am leaving the board, but I’m not leaving Duke,” Bovender said. “I’m excited what the future holds” and about Sperling’s leadership.
Among the post-pandemic challenges facing the university is growing public criticism question how higher education is relevant to society, Bovender said. Duke has been a leader in helping the public understand the value of higher education in solving real-world problems, he added.
“We have to show that higher education is the cornerstone of the country’s future,” Bovender said. “This is a challenge, but Duke is up to meeting that challenge.”
He referenced the university’s coming centennial celebration in 2024, saying he was proud that Duke has accomplished so much in less than a century of existence.
“In many ways we’re punching above our weight,” Bovender said. “We don’t have the endowment that many of our peers have. The question is, how do we sustain that growth?”
The answer is to recruit the best faculty and invest in the right fields, he said. For a young university such as Duke, though, the margin for error in those strategic decisions is slimmer.
Haynie closed the council meeting with benedictory remarks of his own. The professor of political science will be succeeded as council chair this summer by Erika Weinthal, professor of environmental policy and public policy at the Nicholas School of the Environment.
Before Haynie spoke, other faculty members praised him for his leadership and for his work to ensure that faculty voices were heard in decision-making processes during his two years as chair.
“It’s a rare person willing to put the needs of the students, the staff and faculty colleagues above his own, but Kerry is one of them, and he’s very good at it.” said law professor Marin Levy, who served on the executive committee with Haynie. “He always made sure we heard about all the important issues and had the necessary debate, all the while moving us forward on making decisions.”
President Vincent Price weighed in on the ease of collaboration between faculty and administration, even on tough decisions. “We have a wonderful university governance structure, but it works because of outstanding faculty leaders such as Kerry.”
Price also mentioned the appropriate symbolism of Haynie’s role in last Sunday’s commencement ceremony. Haynie led the procession of faculty and administration, carrying the official university mace, a 37-inch sterling silver piece that weighs eight pounds. “I just loved watching you carry that university mace,” Price said. “It weights quite a bit, you know, but Kerry shouldered that burden very well.”
For his part, Haynie said the faculty governance structure has helped Duke in resolving challenging issues. “On major decisions, there are faculty in the room every step of the way,” Haynie said.
“There are 33 faculty who see the same budget proposal that [Executive Vice President] Daniel Ennis shows the trustees. We ask questions about them, push back when we need to, and we’re often listened to. This is unusual in higher education.”
Haynie also noted some concerns, including the tendency to compare Duke to other institutions. “We should always be aware of best practices, but we shouldn’t let that lose our focus on our own ambitions. I worry we sometimes have peer envy, and I’m fearful that that prevents us from being the best Duke that we can be.
“I want to challenge our faculty to pay attention to what we are doing here and to shout it from the mountains that we will be the best Duke we can be. We have Durham, North Carolina; we don’t have to have Cambridge.”