President Price: Heading to the Centennial, a Moment of Transformation for Duke

Clocktower Quad on West Campus.

Before I begin, allow me to take a moment to address the deeply troubling situation in Ukraine, which I believe is top of mind for many of us.

I share the outrage of the international community at Vladimir Putin’s deeply unjust invasion, which has cost hundreds of innocent Ukrainian lives and displaced millions from their homes. As I noted earlier this month, Duke is committed to doing all that we can to support Ukraine by providing care to Duke students, faculty, and staff who are members of the Ukrainian community, seeking opportunities to support Ukrainian scholars and students, and marshaling our expertise and research toward a better understanding of, and peaceful solution to, this terrible war.

We can all be proud of our efforts to that end. I particularly want to acknowledge our own Charlie Becker and Edna Andrews, who arranged an extraordinary panel just this afternoon with scholars from the Kyiv School of Economics. I know that many other faculty have been involved in similar undertakings and that there will be more to come. Thank you.

 

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The other piece of news that remains on our minds is of course the pandemic. So let me also take a moment to thank all of you—as members of our faculty—for everything you have done to maintain our commitment to teaching and learning these past two years. I am so grateful for your resolve, flexibility, and grace in unprecedented circumstances. I’m proud to call you colleagues.

That word, unprecedented, has been invoked often over the past several years, and with some justification. But with all the changes it has required, the pandemic has also given us an opportunity to reevaluate the precedent—to think deeply about our purpose and direction, and to chart a new course. All of us have faced these questions, both big and small: Am I fulfilled in my work? How do we balance collective responsibility with individual autonomy? When will we return to normal life? What’s appropriate attire for a Zoom meeting?

Amazingly, after more than two years, that last one’s still a real quandary. But we’ve got our best minds on it.

I know that these past years have caused many to feel uncertain and anxious, and my hope—I think it’s the hope of many—is that SARS-COV-2 is finally receding, and with it COVID-19.  Certainly the trends of the past month or so have given cause for real hope.

But the profound reassessments prompted by the pandemic can also leave us feeling uncertain and anxious looking forward. My hope is that, as we emerge from the onerous shadow of COVID, we will each do so with a stronger sense of self, with a sense of renewed purpose and a clearer commitment to those things that really matter.

I hope the same for Duke as an institution. Together, we’ve demonstrated ingenuity, adaptability, and leadership navigating the past several years.  As my travel has recently resumed, I’ve been receiving expressions of gratitude from parents and students, of pride from alumni, and congratulations from peers. It’s been rough—no doubt about that—but we are emerging from the pandemic in some ways stronger than we entered it. For even as we were figuring out together how to get through it, we were resolute in keeping our eyes on the longer-term horizon—on our post-pandemic future.  And it’s remarkable just how much this faculty accomplished.

I know that you all heard at the last meeting of the Academic Council from Provost Kornbluth about the extraordinary work of Strategy Team 2030, which is helping to shape the future of Duke. Sally, thank you in particular for your leadership and vision.

Our community has also made important new campus-wide commitments to racial equity, which will be foundational to our university strategy and identity for decades to come. Our hiring over the past two years has been successful in bringing both excellence and unprecedented diversity to our ranks, with 15% of our regular-rank hires being Black and 10% Hispanic over that period. This progress on inclusive excellence will also strengthen our research and teaching, with new areas of focus in environmental justice, community health, humanities and the arts, and the social sciences.

We are leading off campus as well: Charmaine Royal has been appointed co-chair of a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee focused on the implications of race in genetic research, and Duke hosted the 2021 Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education.

Our faculty have received recognition for their extraordinary scholarship and teaching across a wide range of fields and disciplines. This time last year, I reported that, of our members of the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, fully 20 percent had been named or hired in the previous two years. Since that time, Kafui Dzirasa was elected to the National Academy of Medicine; Joseph Heitman and Rachel Kranton to the National Academy of Sciences; Guillermo Sapiro to the National Academy of Engineering; and Ebony Boulware, Sue Jinks-Robertson, Mary Klotman, and Ann Yoder to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Leonard White received the national distinguished teaching award from the American Association of Medical Colleges; Michael Tomasello received one of the most prestigious prizes in cognitive psychology; and Cynthia Rudin was named the second recipient of the Squirrel AI Award for pioneering socially-responsible artificial intelligence. Nicholas Carnes won the National Science Foundation’s highest early career prize, the Alan Waterman Award. And Timothy Tyson and Blake Wilson were recognized by Governor Cooper with the North Carolina Award, our state’s highest honor. And of course, many more of our faculty members have received recognitions, earned honors, won significant grants, and made breakthroughs in their research.

“The question before us, as we turn together toward the future, is: What do we want the story of Duke’s next century to be?”

This is Duke today, and we really are only getting started. This progress comes as we are looking forward to celebrating, just two short years from now, our centennial in 2024. It was on December 11, 1924, that James B. Duke signed his indenture of Trust that transformed Trinity College into Duke University and led to creation of this campus and our graduate and professional schools.  The class of 1925 was the first to receive diplomas from Duke University.

With our one-hundredth birthday fast approaching, now seems a good time to speak with you about Duke’s centennial—about what it means for our university and about our plans to mark that moment. It is literally a moment that only comes around every hundred years, not to be squandered.

“This is a moment of transformation for Duke, when we can see more clearly than ever before how we might lead in the century to come. It’s also a moment of extraordinary continuity, as the seeds of our current and future excellence that were planted and cultivated throughout our university’s first hundred years come into bloom.”

The story of our first century is one of extraordinary ascent in higher education: the remarkable and somewhat improbable transformation of a small, Southern liberal arts college into an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center. It’s a story of outrageous ambition—as President Terry Sanford put it—of buildings built, programs created, and a reputation grown. It’s a story of the slow and belated transition from a closed campus of the few to an open community for all—a transition that is still continuing.

We know this story well, and we are rightly proud of the progress we have made. The question before us, as we turn together toward the future, is: What do we want the story of Duke’s next century to be?

This is a moment of transformation for Duke, when we can see more clearly than ever before how we might lead in the century to come. It’s also a moment of extraordinary continuity, as the seeds of our current and future excellence that were planted and cultivated throughout our university’s first hundred years come into bloom.

Just as Duke harnessed our cross-disciplinary strengths in the social sciences half a century ago into one of the world’s first dedicated institutes of public policy, we are preparing to draw expertise from across every one of Duke’s ten schools to develop and implement solutions for the existential threat posed by climate change.

Just as investments in a small working group of faculty formed to 1985 to address HIV grew into the Duke Human Vaccine Institute, we have launched the Duke Science and Technology initiative to transform our research capacity and make Duke the global leader in computing, materials science, and the treatments and cures of the future. We’re also doubling down on faculty recruitment and support across the disciplines with new investments in named chairs and fellowships.

“Much as Duke built groundbreaking neighborhood partnerships in Durham in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we are deepening these efforts under a stronger Office of Durham and Community Affairs, integrating for the first time our work across the University and Health System.”

Much as the board of trustees in the early 1960s voted unanimously—but belatedly—to admit our first Black students, we are investing in our efforts to make Duke a more inclusive and equitable place for everyone who comes here to work, study, and live. We are investing more funding than ever in lowering barriers for access to a Duke education, and—in an echo of the 1997 decision to devote East Campus to first years—we are again rethinking and reshaping the undergraduate experience, through QuadEx. This forward-looking living-and-learning model will harness Duke’s increased diversity and help us be an even more vibrant, connected, inclusive, and fun campus throughout our students’ four years here.    

Much as Duke built groundbreaking neighborhood partnerships in Durham in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we are deepening these efforts under a stronger Office of Durham and Community Affairs, integrating for the first time our work across the University and Health System. After listening to our Durham partners and neighbors, we’ve launched our Strategic Community Impact Plan, working to create more purposeful partnerships to advance health, housing, education, and employment opportunities for our neighbors.

And, inspired by Duke’s collaborative efforts to establish the Research Triangle Park in the early 1950s, we are leading the way toward a renewed research community in our region—bringing aboard a new Vice President for Research and Innovation, Jenny Lodge. Jenny is overseeing revitalized offices of research initiatives, scientific integrity, postdoctoral services, external partnerships, and translation and commercialization, and all will be working to ensure that the inventions and innovations that drive the next century start here, at Duke.

With all of this in mind, then, our commemoration of the centennial in 2024 should serve two purposes. We will, first, look back at Duke history with clear eyes and celebrate the work that has brought us to this moment. At the same time, this celebration should sharpen our focus on the work still to come and renew our commitment to meet the needs of a changing world.

To these ends, two years ago, I formed a task force of trustees, faculty, students, and community leaders to conduct a year-long strategic planning process focused on the centennial. I am particularly grateful to faculty members Bruce Jentleson, Trina Jones, Ted Pappas, and Lillian Pierce for their service and invaluable guidance. After interviews with constituents from across Duke and Durham, the task force developed a series of recommendations.

“We will, first, look back at Duke history with clear eyes and celebrate the work that has brought us to this moment. At the same time, this celebration should sharpen our focus on the work still to come and renew our commitment to meet the needs of a changing world.”

First, they felt strongly that the centennial celebration should include an education component. The first hundred years of Duke history offers us much to learn—and the research and teaching that grows out of this initiative can help us to understand our future as a university community.

The task force also recommended that we develop a unified brand strategy for the celebration, seizing on the opportunity to use this moment in Duke history as a means of inspiring and uplifting Duke, and better telling our story.

In recognition of the fact that we wouldn’t be Duke without Durham, the task force called on the university to work closely with community partners. Our city was forever transformed when Duke was founded, and we will use this moment to chart a course toward more engaged civic citizenship.

Most importantly, the task force recognized that this must be a celebration for the entire Duke community, one that accelerates our work toward fostering a more inclusive university. Here in particular, there is much for us to learn about Duke’s first hundred years—research that will continue to inform our work moving forward.

As you might imagine, this will entail a significant amount of work, across every Duke school, unit, and area. To that end, we are opening a search for an Executive Director for the Centennial, a position that will oversee planning and implementation, coordinating across every unit of the University. The anniversary of Duke’s founding also coincides with the creation of The Duke Endowment, the freestanding philanthropic organization in Charlotte. So, the Executive Director will also be coordinating closely with our partners there to ensure that our priorities and resources are aligned.

Ultimately, this celebration of our first century will also be a launching point toward our second. We are working closely with Alumni Engagement and Development to articulate the guiding principles of our centennial fundraising campaign, which we anticipate will be the largest in Duke’s history. We know that Duke Science and Technology, faculty support, undergraduate and graduate/professional financial aid, QuadEx, and our climate and sustainability efforts will be foundational to this campaign—but the planning is still in its early stages and will continue to evolve.

As I mentioned a few moments ago, this is a period of transformation for Duke, when we can look with gratitude toward the progress made in our first century and begin to chart a course toward a still brighter future ahead. I am very grateful for your leadership to that end. Thank you for supporting the Duke we have always been—and the even more remarkable Duke we are destined to become.