As the sun descended behind Page Auditorium Thursday evening, Vincent Price ascended to the stage in Abele Quad to become the 10th President of Duke University.
In an inauguration ceremony in front of the Duke Chapel, students, faculty, representatives from other institutions, trustees and two former presidents—Nannerl Keohane and Richard Brodhead—looked on as Price assumed his new role.
In his address, Price highlighted the importance of regeneration and growth of the University in a new age while reaffirming Duke’s commitment to the highest standard of teaching. He emphasized interdisciplinary research as an essential component in tackling modern challenges and making new discoveries. Reflecting on the University’s role in North Carolina and abroad, he pledged to use Duke's intellect not only to better the world as a whole but also improve the local community in which Duke resides.
“We are called upon to answer the challenges of the day,” he said. “So let us think of today not so much as a beginning but as another renewal, both a renewed commitment to values that guided the choices of our predecessors at Duke, and a renewed charge to make bold choices of our own.”
He touched on the history of Duke’s landscape to draw a comparison between the trees and the University itself. Just as the land that Duke sits on has undergone ecological changes through the years, Price explained, Duke itself has experienced similar periodic renewals.
“Throughout our history, each iteration of this institution has risen with purpose to meet the great challenges of its day, and has shaded and seeded the ground for grander things to come,” he said.
He noted that Duke’s renewal originates in the classroom with passionate faculty and eager students. Hinting at the importance of transforming education in an age of technology, Price explained that all facets of life have been altered by the digital age—likewise, the education system must also adapt to suit those needs.
Price called upon the University not to shy away from, but to instead embrace the new age of technology.
“Our new century calls for a university audacious and visionary enough to fundamentally redefine teaching and learning in higher education,” he said. "I believe Duke can and will be that university.”
In the past, research along strict disciplinary lines has led to a number of discoveries over the years, Price explained. However, he noted that modern research requires interdisciplinary communication to achieve its goals. He cited several interdisciplinary endeavors that Duke had already created and declared his commitment to continue embracing this new brand of research.
“As our collective knowledge has grown, so too has the realization that the most pressing problems and far-reaching opportunities of our world do not fit into one discipline or profession,” Price said. “We must prevent our research from ossifying around practices that were designed to confront another century’s challenges, and that limit our ability to confront the emerging problems of today.”
Price then addressed Duke’s role in the community—both locally and internationally—and emphasized that the University’s work “does not stop at Duke’s gates.” He encouraged members of the University to seek out others different from themselves in order to understand—and ultimately better—the world.
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The inauguration ceremony also featured several other speakers, including Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania. As president of the university at which Price previously served as provost, she offered her strong endorsement of Price as Duke’s next president.
“We’re absolutely thrilled for our good friend Vince, but it stings,” she said. “Truly, if ever an academic match were made in Heaven, this is the one.”
She emphasized the linkage between Duke and the University of Pennsylvania, explaining that West Campus architect Julian Abele was in fact a Penn graduate. Price is just the latest example of the qualities and values shared by Duke and Penn, Gutmann said.
Noting that Price grew up with five brothers, she humorously added that his upbringing gave him “a true gift for staying cool under fire” and for “fostering affinity out of difference.”
Durham Mayor Bill Bell also attended the ceremony and praised Price for several decisions during his first three months as Duke’s 10th president. To considerable applause in the audience, Bell lauded Price for his commitment to raise Duke’s minimum wage to $15 by July 2019 and for the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue.
“Both of these actions, in my opinion, were the right actions at the right time,” he said. “They demonstrated his leadership and sensitivity to the moral and human conditions of justice and equity in our city.”
Bell added that the relationship between the city and University had gradually improved throughout his terms on the Durham County Board of Commissioners and eventually as Durham mayor, which has spanned the tenure of four—and now a fifth—Duke presidents.
Jack Bovender, chair of the Board of Trustees, also spoke during the event, noting that Duke has long been characterized by its “outrageous ambition.”
“In investing Vincent Price with the power of this office, we are selecting him to be the vehicle of our collective and outrageous ambition,” he said. “We are putting our trust in him and urging him to be our guide through the many challenges and opportunities to come.”
Bovender also reminded the audience that Duke’s enduring values remain steady even as a new president comes to the helm.
“At William Preston Few’s inauguration as president in 1910, outgoing president John Kilgo suggested that while this institution’s administrators change, its purpose and principles remain the same,” he said.