Preparing for the presidency: Price talks transition to Duke
Currently provost at the University of Pennsylvania, Vincent Price will become the University's next president in July. He will succeed current President Richard Brodhead, who has led Duke since 2004. The Chronicle spoke with Price about how he is preparing for his new role and his plans for when he arrives.
The Chronicle: How has the transition been going in the past several months?
Vincent Price: I have been working with the transition team at Duke out of the president’s office, and they have been terrific in coordinating opportunities for me to meet with all of the various direct reports to the president. I’ve been meeting with some of the deans and groupings of faculty. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the student leaders on both the graduate and undergraduate level, so it is a wonderful and well-structured introduction to Duke. I’ve also had the chance to interact with the Board of Trustees, which is a terrific and terrifically engaged group, and to spend time with Dick Brodhead, who has been very generous in working with me during the transition.
TC: How has your perception of Duke changed from when you were first named president? Anything surprising?
VP: I wouldn't say anything surprising. I would say that the things that attracted me to this opportunity have been underscored with every visit. With each trip to Durham, I fall in love with Duke just that much more. It’s been wonderful. The strength of the people is what stands out in my mind—fabulous leaders at every level of the institution, and their engagement with and commitment to Duke is impressive. So a number of things have impressed me, but I would say that the people stand out at this point.
TC: What are your impressions of President Brodhead so far?
VP: He has been wonderful. [I’ve been] getting to know him, having the opportunity to hear from him about his presidency, things that he has found useful in his time as president at Duke and his outline for me of things I should be thinking about during the transition. He has been generous in giving his time, very thoughtful and very, very supportive.
TC: What sort of advice has he given you about being president?
VP: Mainly his working relationship with constituencies across the campus. As I’ve said, I’ve been meeting with many of the direct reports to the president, and a lot of it is by [giving me] background. Issues that various offices on campus have been dealing with, bringing me up to date, discussing the budget of the University. It's a general orientation to the ways of Duke and the Duke community.
TC: What do you think the biggest learning curve will be for you as you move from the position of provost to president?
VP: The president is much more externally focused, doing much more development work than I have been doing as provost, and engaging more directly with the trustees but also the alumni community. I have done these things during my time as provost, but will be doing much more of that work as president. Less operational engagement day-to-day in the management of the University because that falls to the provost with the deans. Of course, a broad familiarity of what is happening at the University is crucial. So the president is receiving lots of briefings and updates and is less engaged directly in the operational oversights.
In my time at Penn, I’ve [not] had an opportunity to work with every single one of the disciplines represented at Duke. We don't have a divinity school here at Penn, so there are new schools and enterprises at Duke that I will be learning much more about. But largely it’s a similar collection of schools and programs. Athletics, for example, at Penn reports to the provost so that is a reporting structure that I will have at Duke as well, and it’s one that I welcome.
TC: When you take over in July, what will be the first thing you do as president?
VP: I will be undertaking a learning tour, a listening tour and getting to know all of the various constituencies of the University. And I’ve begun that in the transition, but it will be undertaken in earnest when I arrive in the Fall. The month of July, as I understand, is a pretty warm one, so part of what I will be doing is getting my house together literally. Moving into the Hart House, getting to know the community. With respect to the work of the president, I will fortunately be able to spend more time with each of these constituencies rather than dropping in for a day or two and having short meetings. I’ll be able to dig into all aspects of the University and learn as much as I possibly can.
TC: What are your plans for getting to know students on campus?
VP: I will certainly be looking for structured opportunities to do that, through student government, spending time with you and your editorial board perhaps, spending time with the college houses, getting out and about campus. I hope to be as physically available on campus as I can be, walking around campus instead of being trapped in my office. So I’m going to be relying upon suggestions of various groups. I have already received lots of invitations for meetings. Spending time in the college houses, getting to know the community of Durham and spending time in the city of Durham, learning about the ways that our students engage with the local community, site visits to each of the faculty. These are the things that I very much look forward to.
TC: What do you anticipate will be the biggest challenge you face as president?
VP: I think assuming the presidency of a world-leading institution brings with it a tremendous amount of responsibility to maintain the trajectory that the institution has been on, and it has been on a wonderful trajectory. I don't think I will face significant challenges with the leadership team. I think since there are some broad similarities between Penn and Duke, the major challenge that I would identify is respecting Duke for its differences from my own experience here at Penn and being self aware. So that when I see something that I perhaps have seen before and I believe I understand it, asking myself if I actually understand it and whether I understand the intricacies of the situation as it plays out at Duke.
TC: What are your top priorities for the University during your time as president?
VP: I would hesitate before I’ve even stepped into the role to articulate my highest priorities. Those should await the completion of the listening tour and making sure that those initiatives are grounded in a deep knowledge of Duke. I would say generally though that I anticipate strengthening the faculty, which is already a world class faculty, but focusing on certain areas. I know there has already been strong interest in a number of schools in strengthening the ability of Duke to carry out world-leading science and making investments there in medicine, engineering or arts and sciences for example. So I anticipate being fully engaged in that.
I think advancing the curriculum is a very strong interest of mine and innovating in teaching in ways that redefine undergraduate education. I know that there's a new curriculum now being debated in Trinity and I look forward to learning more about the structure of that curriculum and the opportunities we have going forward to do things in innovative ways. I think extending and deepening Duke’s global reach through the [Duke Kunshan University] project in China, which is just getting started and will begin an ambitious project of granting undergraduate degrees. I think that ensuring that [Duke-National University of Singapore] remains strong and thinking about others ways that Duke’s global reach can be expanding.
Deepening community connections. Durham is a vibrant place, it has changed dramatically in the past decade or so and that is largely because of a wonderful working relationship between Duke and Durham, and I want to see that grow as well. And finally, strengthening ties to Duke’s amazing alumni community. I think there are a lot of opportunities to make sure that essentially every student who comes to Duke, that they’re joining a learning community that will be with them for the rest of their lives.