As the new chair of the Academic Council, Don Taylor—professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy—will lead the procession at President Vincent Price’s inauguration ceremony today. Prior to his appointment as chair, Taylor was a member of the Executive Committee of the Academic Council from 2013 to 2015 and was the chair of the University Priorities committee for the past two years. The Chronicle spoke with Taylor about his role in welcoming Price to the University, his goals as chair and upcoming Academic Council issues like compensation for non-tenured and non-tenure track faculty. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Chronicle: What was your reaction to being appointed chair of the Academic Council?

Don Taylor: I think my biggest reaction is [recognizing that] it’s an honor to be able to try to serve the Duke faculty in this way. 

TC: How has your past experience on other committees prepared you for this new role?

DT: I’ve been the chair of the University Priorities Committee, and I’ve been on the executive committee of the Academic Council before, so that meant I had some sense of the time commitment. There is a lot of time commitment to doing this job, so I understood that going in. I think that Duke’s system of faculty governance provides the faculty with a lot of ability to have input, and some faculty have to give the time to learn about the University to be able to take advantage of those opportunities. It would be difficult to take on the chair of the Academic Council if you hadn’t served on the Academic Council or on some of these committees.

TC: What do you hope to accomplish as the chair of the Academic Council during your term?

DT: I don’t have big goals in the sense that I have pet issues that I want to try to advance. I think that the faculty at Duke have a series of really important committees through which we get to exercise our input and influence, and so when you’re chair of the Academic Council, it also means you’re chair of the Executive Committee of the Academic Council, so one of the key roles that we have is to make sure we get the correct faculty on these important committees. For example, the Appointments, Promotion and Tenure Committee—that’s one of the crucial committees of the University—the University Priorities Committee [or] the Academic Programs Committee. 

To the extent that I personally have a goal, it’s really to welcome President Price, to welcome him into Duke’s system of faculty governance. I think that’s a big opportunity.

TC: You will be part of the procession at President Price’s inauguration ceremony, which seems like a big deal. Can you tell me more about this occasion?

DT: Yeah, the chair of the Academic Council serves as the University marshal for occasions like Founders’ Day or convocation, and in this case, obviously we don’t inaugurate a president very often—it just so happens that we’re going to do it while I’m chair. On Thursday, I get to lead the procession in and give a brief greeting to President Price on behalf of the faculty. Doing something like that—it’s just an honor to try to represent the faculty in that way.

TC: On another note, what does the Academic Council have on its slate for this year? Are there any specific topics that you will focus on?

DT: There’s normal business that the Academic Council deals with each year—things we discuss and then either vote to approve or deny new academic programs. For example, at last week’s meeting, we heard a proposal for a joint degree between Pratt [School of Engineering] and several arts and sciences departments, so in October we will vote on that. So we have things like that, that I would think of as routine business.

In terms of this year, if there was a particular focus, I think there’s going to be more attention paid to non-tenure track faculty. We have a committee that looks at compensation—what we call the Compensation Committee. Every other year, they do a report on faculty compensation, but it focuses on tenure track or tenured faculty. This year, that committee is going to conduct a report for the first time ever on non-tenure track faculty, so that’s an important task.

There’s a also committee—chaired by Gavin Fitzsimons from the Fuqua School of Business—that was approved by last year’s Academic Council, which will report back in April or May. That committee is going to look at the increase in the number of non-tenure track and non-tenure faculty at Duke. If you look at the last 20 years, the proportion of faculty that are tenured or tenure track has declined, and faculty that are non-tenured or non-tenure track has increased. Basically, this report is going to try to document the level of increase across all the units at Duke.

[Non-tenure track and non-tenured faculty are] one task of discussion. There are other things that may be discussed as they arise. Things that are perennial topics of discussion will be things like athletics, undergraduate financial aid and Duke Kunshan University [which will be discussed at the Academic Council meeting in October].