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Board of Trustees updated on anti-racism plan, COVID-19 response at quarterly meeting

<p>Past Board of Trustees meetings have often been held at the Washington Duke Inn. The last two have been virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>

Past Board of Trustees meetings have often been held at the Washington Duke Inn. The last two have been virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of Trustees heard the latest on Duke’s anti-racism efforts and COVID-19 response at their quarterly meeting Friday and Saturday.

The trustees heard “interim reports” from University leadership, including President Vincent Price, about the implementation of the plan to combat systemic racism that Price outlined in broad strokes in June, according to a news release about the meeting. They also heard updates from members of the two task forces guiding Duke through the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The meeting was entirely online, as was the Board’s May meeting.

Duke’s anti-racism plan

In a June message, Price committed Duke to an “anti-racist mission.” He laid out goals in accordance with Duke’s broad strategic framework, including expanding the diversity of faculty, staff and students; increasing need-based financial aid; and requiring that all students learn about structural racism.

Provost Sally Kornbluth, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and Chancellor for Health Affairs A. Eugene Washington have been heading efforts to implement that plan, Price told The Chronicle on Sunday. That might look different in different areas of Duke, like the health system, the classroom and the workplace, the said. 

“The particulars will be quite different, that’s what we’re developing now,” Price said. “But the overarching outline of initiatives that I provided back in June clearly remains the form of what we envision.” 

Administrators asked the trustees—many of whom have faced similar challenges in their own organizations—for advice on the plan, Price said. The meeting also included a discussion of “accountability mechanisms, to make sure that we make progress going forward,” he said. 

Price wrote in his June message that he would update the community on Duke’s progress by Oct. 15.

Pandemic progress report

The meeting also saw an update from Team 2021, which is guiding Duke’s short-term planning during the pandemic. Topics included the status of the ongoing semester, student enrollment and residential arrangements, Price said.

Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanaugh spoke about Duke’s testing program, Price said, while Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs, discussed student compliance with the Duke Compact, the broad agreement that forms part of the basis for Duke’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“The trustees are very proud of the way Duke has navigated to this point through the pandemic. And their pride extends not just the administration and the faculty, but in large part to the students,” Price said. 

Although there have been cases of noncompliance—as of Aug. 27, the Office of Student Conduct was investigating 29 pending cases of “flagrant” misconduct by students or groups of students—Duke has avoided the kind of large-scale outbreaks that have brought in-person semesters to an end at schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. Only six students tested positive between Sept. 12 and Sept. 18. 

Kornbluth, who is chairing Team 2030, gave an update on long-term plans to cope with the pandemic’s financial effects, Price said. 

This is “a year with considerable pressures on us, because of a loss of ancillary income, increases in financial aid demand, a variety of factors,” Price noted. “And some of these are more than just single year challenges for us. They’ll be multi-year challenges.”

Duke’s endowment fell to $8.5 billion as of June 30 after hitting a record $8.6 billion last year, even as Duke is facing a loss of revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars due to the pandemic. The University has cut expenses in several areas to help make up for the lost revenue, including temporarily freezing hiring and suspending its contributions to a retirement plan for faculty and staff.

In other business

The trustees approved on Saturday a recommendation by Price to rename the Sociology-Psychology building on West Campus in honor of Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of the first five Black undergraduates at Duke and the first Black woman to have a campus building named for her. 

The Board approved a $43-million construction project that includes a new steam plant for campus buildings, a new central generator plant that will provide emergency power and a new chilled water storage tank. The project is part of “the ongoing replacement and upgrade of campus buildings,” according to the release.”

The trustees convened the first meetings of task forces on climate change and sustainability, Duke’s centennial celebration and “Durham Today and Tomorrow” for fiscal year 2021. They received updates on how recommendations from the 2018-19 strategic task forces—Next Generation Living and Learning, Activating the Global Network and Central Campus—are being implemented.

The trustees approved a resolution of appreciation for retiring Durham City Manager Tom Bonfield. 

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