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'Making them happen': Trustees discuss upcoming initiatives at open forum

At its first open forum meeting of the year—the first of four—the Board of Trustees reviewed highlights from the May 2019 board meeting and discussed its plans for the upcoming academic year.

Representatives from each of the four task forces created in Spring 2018—focusing on topics from Central Campus’s future to the residential experience—were present to summarize their activity over the last year and take audience questions. 

Vice President for Facilities John Noonan represented the Future of Central Campus task force. Noonan said that the task force has looked into options to fill what was formerly Central Campus, including a new science building, graduate housing and residential housing for the Durham community. 

However, the group ultimately decided that those projects would be better suited to other locations, instead of the newly available 60 acres from Central Campus.

"As it stands right now at the end of the task force, there isn't a great, compelling idea that would make us run out there and start building," he said. 

Gary Bennett, vice provost for undergraduate education, who represented The Next Generation Living and Learning Experience task force, thanked Mary Pat McMahon, Duke’s new vice provost/vice president for campus life, for joining the task force “with a fresh set of eyes.”

Bennett emphasized the work that the group has done to connect Duke residential experience stakeholders over the past year. 

Lizzie Bond, a junior who works with Duke Students for Housing Reform, asked Bennett how the task force planned to align SLG housing with Duke values. Although Bennett acknowledged that the task force has looked at the issue, he concluded that there are so many stakeholders involved that resolving the issue will take more time. 

David Kennedy, vice president of alumni affairs and development, and Nicole Kempton, special assistant to the vice president of alumni affairs and development, represented the Activating the Global Network task force. They discussed work that the task force has done around student experiences, career services, lifelong learning and their relationships to alumni activity.

Provost Sally Kornbluth represented the Advancing Duke Science and Technology task force, which brings together Duke medicine and campus stakeholders to discuss sciences on campus. She mentioned that the task force found that Duke was behind its peers in the scientific fields, thereby highlighting a need “to bring our sciences up to the same level” as Duke’s humanities and social sciences.

Tim Walsh, vice president for finance, spoke about the state of Duke’s finances. Although Duke is currently in a solid financial position, Duke has limited opportunities to raise its revenue base in the midst of growing expenses. 

In order to cut down on expenses, Kornbluth said that Duke is analyzing the budget much more intensely this year.

“We’re scrutinizing the budget, so you don’t just spend on something because you spent on it before,” she said. “You really have to weigh whether you’re still getting value from it.”

Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees, discussed the Board’s plans for the upcoming year. He said that while over the past year the task forces were focused on making strategic recommendations, they would work on “making them happen” this year.

Riddell then broadly outlined the Board’s plans over the next year, including a September focus on research at Duke, December visits to downtown Durham to hear from city stakeholders and February visits to Research Triangle Park to coordinate with leaders from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State. 

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