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Lost: Vincent Price's conscience

Price speaking at the Class of 2018's baccalaureate service
Price speaking at the Class of 2018's baccalaureate service

Dear President Price,

What kind of a place is this, if Duke grants academic freedom to all who apply, yet the people who clean toilets and haul garbage “requested anonymity out of fear of potential retaliation” for speaking to the student newspaper? 

By now we all know—and perhaps you knew before we did—that some 500 of the people we see every day have less say in their own lives. Environmental services has decided to make Duke employees bid for new shifts. Whatever rhythm their lives had, whatever structure they thought a Duke job offered: it may not stand. 

This is galling and gutless. Leslye Kornegay, director of environmental services, said that this egregious decision was made considering the best use of “staffing and housekeeping resources.” That was the official line about making staff work weekends, too. 

Resources? I hope beyond hope that we mean “money” and not “people.” It is no secret that many of Duke’s staffing and housekeeping “resources” are predominantly people of color. When else in the history of America have people of color been called “resources?” When else have these “resources” have been used with little or no thought for their own good? How many years have these “resources” been abused, how long does that abuse continue, because those with the power to stop it sit and smile and fail to do what is right? 

Renaming buildings and putting up plaques means nothing if we reenact a history that is hateful to behold. Welcome to Duke Plantation.

Perhaps you will stand by Environmental Service’s procedure. After all, this was done by the book. Bidding on jobs is permitted by the “collective bargaining agreement” between Dear Old Duke and these workers. This was done by the book. The 500 workers saw Duke’s apparent animus against unions and its warm relations with union-busting law firms, they lived in full knowledge of how big the University is and how small they seem compared to it. I’m sure that they felt on an equal footing. After all, this was all done by the book. Or perhaps this isn’t your department. Perhaps the proper authorities made the proper decisions. 

You are the President of this University. The buck stops with you. And surely you, the Walter Hines Page professor of public policy and political science, appreciate that institutions and people are rarely equal.

Do you realize the damage that this could do? You are a cited expert in “the factors that shape public opinion.” What do you think this does to the years spent building goodwill with the Durham community? If this is how Duke treats union workers, how will Duke treat those who stand alone? The life’s work of people like Phail Wynn, people who built up Duke and Durham together, is potentially jeopardized by this reckless abuse of a delicate trust.

This is so very, very wrong. And it is in your power to fix. Tomorrow, at the Founder’s Day Convocation, I will sit in the audience and listen to remarks that will most likely praise Duke in one way or another. We will bask in the good and blush at the bad. You’ll likely wear the chain of your office over your full academic regalia. It will be quite the appearance.

Please, make your power more than appearance and do something to put this right.

With faith in your better angels,

Timothy Paul Kowalczyk

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity senior. His column usually runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Tim Kowalczyk | the academy matters

Tim Kowalczyk is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "the academy matters," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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