The independent news organization of Duke University

The Price of accountability

On Sunday, the Editorial Board held an hour-long interview with President Price. Over the next three days, we will use his responses as a lens to examine three topics pertinent to the University: institutional accountability, monetary topics and Duke’s future trajectory. Today we begin this series by discussing the accountability, or lack thereof, of students, faculty and administrators on campus.

We began our discussion by asking Price how his administration will work toward combating sexual assault at Duke. Price acknowledged that preventing sexual assault at Duke will “require calling upon a University-wide, and community-wide response.” He was upfront, admitting that at times students simply do not trust the institution’s sexual assault procedures. Reflecting such concerns, Price noted that building “a basis of institutional trust” will be essential in fixing the campus culture of sexual assault. When speaking of what preventative measures Duke could employ, Price suggested a data-driven approach: to continually review the literature on sexual assault and to analyze specific initiatives other universities have undertaken. Moreover, Price lauded the educational efforts of advocacy groups on campus, noting the value of bystander prevention programs despite the difficulty in precisely measuring their effectiveness.

As of late, housing reform has occupied an undeniably large place within campuswide discussions. Price noted that when discussing with students about areas in which Duke can improve upon, the current housing model is one such item upperclassmen usually express dissatisfaction with. Moreover, Price defended the administration’s recent policy of eliminating self-selected roommates among first-years, and recognized that more systematic changes will need to be implemented in the future if housing reform is to be successful. Despite the many current challenges concerning housing reform—including the place of Greek life and the availability of on-campus housing—President Price acknowledged that going into the next academic year, he intends to initiate a “a large, systematic dive into these questions [relating to housing reform].” 

When asked about equitable labor conditions and workers’ rights, Price stated broadly that the “best thing that we can do is work to recognize that every member of the Duke community is part of our enterprise and makes valuable contributions.” Most issues, he believes, can be addressed by listening to employees without reaching the level of a labor dispute; he also briefly spoke about the importance of developing systems of accountability to ensure that supervisors will listen to the needs of their employees. Additionally, he added that Duke aspires to “treat every employee, including those who are working for [the University] through various contractors, with respect” and he has “no doubt” that those aims are being fulfilled presently. Beyond that, he directed us to Vice President of Administration Kyle Cavanaugh—who made headlines after being implicated in creating a hostile work environment in the Parking and Transportation Services department—for further questions. In response to the Board’s inquiries regarding union organizing efforts in the last few years of his predecessor’s tenure, he stated that he “[did] not believe, for example, in the case of graduate students, that [unions] are an effective vehicle” for advocacy. This likely signals that the disharmonious relations between administrators and unionizing employees under Brodhead will probably continue on into Price’s administration. 

It is clear that, in his short time on campus, Price is already facing a wide variety of issues that demand nuanced approaches, innovative solutions and compassionate responses on his part. His rhetoric certainly conveys a fresh enthusiasm for tackling problems that have troubled many a president of yesteryear, but hopefully a much more progressive shift from old policy directions will accompany it.

Tomorrow, we will cover the finance-related portions of our interview.

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