It’s the fodder of many doomsday movies—once the president goes down, how does the government continue to function? It turns out Duke has a plan in place too.
If there were to be an unanticipated vacancy in the president’s office, the provost would step in to fulfill the duties, according to Richard Riddell, senior vice president and secretary to the Board of Trustees. Currently, this would place Provost Sally Kornbluth in line behind President Vincent Price.
“Generally speaking, the provost would be expected to step in for the president if there’s an unexpected vacancy,” Riddell said. “That’s just the normal succession in a temporary manner.”
Duke boasts five executive leadership positions, including the president, provost, chancellor for health affairs, executive vice president and Riddell’s role. Because the provost is generally perceived as the No. 2 position at research universities, he noted that the individual in that position would be a natural fit to temporarily take the reins.
“Typically, if you put the medical center off to the side and you put my position off to the side, you’ve got the provost and the EVP,” Riddell explained. “The provost is understood to be the chief academic officer, and the EVP to be the chief finance and business officer. And because it’s an academic institution, there’s just a tradition that if the leader isn’t available, the chief academic officer would make sense to temporarily step in.”
Lisa Jordan, who serves as the president’s executive assistant, wrote in an email that there’s no written policy detailing presidential succession, but Riddell’s description is “the process that would be followed.”
The president develops succession plans for multiple executive roles, asking high-ranking administrators who would be the best interim replacement in case of unanticipated circumstances, Riddell added. This plan is then shared with the Board of Trustees and updated “periodically” afterward.
“It’s something that the president discusses with the Executive Committee, in that the Executive Committee is the part of the board that oversees executive compensation, executive planning,” he said.
Although Riddell couldn’t recall such a plan ever being enacted, he stressed that the University has an understanding in place in the event of unforeseen vacancies.
“If something happens suddenly and you had to activate someone to temporarily step in according to this plan that had been approved, the Board would then gear up to decide what to do about a more permanent replacement,” he said. “They would be more involved in a search.”
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