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One year in: Three of Duke's new leaders reflect on their first year in office

<p>Vincent Price, center, is inaugurated as president. Board Chair Jack Bovender, right, led his search committee.&nbsp;</p>

Vincent Price, center, is inaugurated as president. Board Chair Jack Bovender, right, led his search committee. 

For three of Duke’s foremost leaders, this summer marks the end of their first year on the job, and a chance for them to share the lessons they’re taking away from it. 

Vincent Price officially became Duke’s tenth president and Jack Bovender formally became the chair of the Board of the Trustees July 1, 2017, and Don Taylor kicked off his term as head of the faculty last summer as well.

So, what have the three learned in their first year?

President Vincent Price

Price was announced as President Richard Brodhead’s successor in December 2016. The former provost at the University of Pennsylvania barely had time to drop his bags in Durham before facing a controversy around the Robert E. Lee statue that was in the Chapel entrance at the time. 

That, he explained, was when he felt like he “clicked” with the role.

“I feel that I settled in pretty quickly, thanks to a very well-planned transition and the warm welcome I received,” Price wrote in an email. “It clicked for me just a few weeks into my term, in the aftermath of the statue controversy last fall.”

A few months into his term, he also announced a commitment to raise the minimum wage for full-time employees to $15 per hour by 2019 and created a task force to make recommendations on a replacement for the Robert E. Lee statue. Following the task force’s recommendation in December, he chose to leave the space open temporarily. 

Price was officially inaugurated October 5, following a festival called PricePalooza on East Campus the night before that featured carnival rides and food. 

He noted some of his most rewarding moments at Duke included working with the First-Year Advisory Counselors to help the “fellow first-years” move into East Campus, the opening of the new Rubenstein Arts Center and dropping by various athletic practices to get a first-hand look at what it means to be a student-athlete at Duke.

Other highlights he noted were welcoming more than 4,000 alumni back to campus for reunion weekend and delivering his first Duke commencement alongside speaker and Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“Some of the more challenging moments relate to ensuring our community welfare as we adapt to a rapidly changing world,” Price wrote. “We are fortunate to live and work together here on an uncommonly beautiful campus; however, we are by no means immune from the cares, worries, concerns, tensions and divisions that characterize our larger society.”

The new president came to Duke as Bovender and Taylor assumed their new roles as well, but he noted that those two are not new to Duke. Price said he has benefitted from their perspectives and counsel throughout the year.

In April during alumni reunions, he was at the microphone in Page Auditorium when student protesters rushed the stage, and in May he emailed a letter to the Duke community in response to recent racially charged issues and the Joe Van Gogh incident.

As for what he’s found the most surprising about Duke? 

“The heat at Commencement. Or the ear-piercing sound of the Duke-UNC game in Cameron,” Price wrote. “More seriously, I’d say that I’ve been most surprised by the incredible depth of enthusiasm for Duke and our work.”

Board Chair Jack Bovender 

Bovender, Trinity ’67 and Master of Health Administration ’69, has served on the Board of Trustees since 2007. 

During Bovender’s tenure as chair, the board has undergone a governance review and has decided to restructure itself from being based on nine committees to being seven committees and four taskforces.

It also approved a $61 million new building to house three medical programs and approved multiple new graduate degree programs. He noted that the construction efforts of the last five years seemed to culminate this school year, specifically those of dining and social facilities. 

“To me, it’s been an incredibly exciting year," Bovender said. "Things are going incredibly well for Duke. There’s always issues and situations we need to focus on, but Duke is obviously on a big upswing.”

Bovender was joined in his new leadership position by two new Board co-vice chairs William Hawking and Laurene Sperling.  

“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of work,” Bovender said. “The pay is not good, but it’s worth it. It was a great year, I think.”

Academic Council Chair Don Taylor

Taylor, professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, said that the word he thinks best represents his first year as head of the faculty was that it has been an “honor.”

He noted the job is primarily about serving the faculty and trying to represent them, but noted that’s not always a simple thing to do. 

“But it’s also super hard to think about what it means to represent hundreds of people, especially when they’re faculty, because faculty are very strong-willed and often opposite thoughts on matters,” Taylor said. “You can’t control faculty, and that would be a bad idea.”

Both Taylor and Bovender served on the search committee that chose Price. He said that serving on the committee gave him a familiarity and confidence in the choice, and said they have a good give-and-take. 

During his year as head of the Academic Council, which is the faculty governance body for the University as a whole, the group has approved a number of new graduate degree programs and overhauled the policy on faculty-student relationships. In the wake of racially charged incidents on campus, student protests and generally “some amount of turmoil,” Taylor decided to hold listening sessions during the summer to better connect with students.

Because the purview of Academic Council is so broad, his role touches a wide swath of campus life. 

“You can eat breakfast on some morning, and there’s some problem you need to talk about before lunch that you didn’t know about when you woke up,” Taylor explained. “That can be a little unsettling. You’re never exactly sure what might come next, so you have to be on your toes a little bit.”


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