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An institutional succession

At his official inauguration last Thursday, President Price called upon the collective body of the University to renew its commitment to both progress and change in the 21st century. Central to Price’s speech was his extensive linguistic use of the Duke Forest and the metaphor of environmental succession—defined in his speech as “a natural regeneration whereby each stage of renewal prepares the land for the stage to come.” In the place of the old growth of the 20th century and Brodhead's tenure, Price emphasized the need for a new, revitalized “university in the forest,” one in which Duke will be able to tackle the many pressing societal problems of the second millennium. 

Price’s speech, optimistic and incredibly theoretical, seemed to promise a new golden age for Duke University. Yet in many ways it also emphasized tradition and continuity, especially in his evoking of the relentless aspirations of J.B Duke and President Few, seemingly mythical figures “who dared to see a university in a near-wilderness of pine and pasture.” The tradition of evoking this recent, legendary founding myth is one that is familiar to the language of almost every Duke president since 1924. President Brodhead invoked a similar image at his inauguration, referencing the drive of both Few and Duke to imagine “one of the world’s great universities” within a place of “thick, unbroken woods.” Paradoxically, it seems that Duke’s progressive “charge to make bold choices of our own” is one rooted in a not so distant, imagined past. 

If history has shown us anything, however, is that the legendary Duke drive referenced by Brodhead and Price to expand and progress farther than our forbears have gone will inevitably bring conflict and probing debates, especially in our current “world of ferment.” Price’s relatively short time on campus has yielded an onslaught of critical intersections for action and this trend will likely maintain its vigor throughout his tenure. A lot of this will not simply be remedied by grand speeches given to a contented crowd. 

With the constant stream of threats streaming out the White House as well as more localized clashes with racial injustice, being a leader at this time will not be easy. It will require the "Duke drive" coupled with deep compassion toward all community members—including academic and non-academic workers struggling for better workplace conditions and pay—in order to know when to cast off tradition in favor of a bold new future. These sentiments were addressed by other speakers at the event and truly reflect an important standard that the Duke community must set for Price’s tenure here.

All in all, the inauguration speeches and festivities left many in high spirits and with great hope for the future of the University. As students flocked to their fall break destinations, a calm fell over the campus that filled the Gothic Wonderland with a sense of promise and bright ambitions for the coming years. As the weather cools down and the leaves start to change, the newly minted president’s points on the cyclical regeneration of both Duke’s leadership and its surrounding flora seems particularly fitting. If Price commits to the tasks bestowed upon him and heeds the advice of students, faculty and Durham community members, Duke may truly be able to enter a golden era of transformation and progress.

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