In annual address to Academic Council, Price discusses University advances, recent controversies

President Vincent Price delivered his annual address to the Academic Council Thursday afternoon, in which he praised the University’s accomplishments in the past year and provided insight into its goals for the future.

Price identified the Centennial celebrations as an opportunity to deepen community understanding of Duke’s institutional history, inspire a vibrant campus culture and advance the University’s strategic vision for the future. 

He also fielded several questions from faculty, including an anonymous question seeking a response to the ACIR report recommending that DUMAC not be required to divest from fossil fuel investments.

Annual address to faculty

Price touted many Duke milestones during the recent academic year, including $1.4 billion spent on research efforts, 32 new distinguished professorship appointments and the growth of the Duke Science and Technology Initiative

“At our core, we are in the business of identifying and developing human talent,” Price said. 

Price highlighted Duke’s commitment to recruiting a socioeconomically diverse student body, with 17% of the Class of 2027 coming from Pell Grant-eligible families. Price referenced the same statistic in his fall 2023 response to a New York Times Magazine article describing Duke as one of the “least economically diverse” elite colleges in the country, saying that it painted the University “in a rather harsh light.”

Price reflected on the University’s strides in academic innovation, saying that Duke is “better fusing our research and our educational missions” and “transforming teaching and learning for our students.” He pointed to the new Duke Health integrated practice, which creates fresh opportunities for academic-medical partnerships, as an example of this connection.

He also commented on the increasing influence of artificial intelligence in higher education, maintaining his position that Duke is uniquely poised to address the challenges posed and harness the technology’s learning potential.

“I believe that no other university is as well situated as we are,” Price said. 

Price concluded his address by reminding the faculty that Duke’s Centennial provides an opportunity to deepen alumni engagement and help the University realize its full potential. 

Fossil fuel divestment discussion

An anonymous question submitted by a member of the Academic Council asked Price to respond to calls for DUMAC to divest from fossil fuel investments and increase transparency regarding Duke’s investment portfolios. 

“It is presently not practical for DUMAC to account for carbon emissions in its portfolio,” he said. 

Price cited the lack of available data from privately held companies and the labor required to thoroughly analyze the thousands of ventures currently in Duke’s investment portfolio as the two primary reasons why fossil fuel accounting is not feasible. 

Price also highlighted DUMAC’s commitment to investing in socially responsible companies. The management firm currently invests $2 billion in positive-impact ventures, which account for approximately 15% of Duke’s long-term holdings.

Price claimed that complete divestment would be a “serious impediment to sound financial returns,” reminding the faculty of DUMAC’s primary charge to steward and grow Duke’s investment portfolio as a fiduciary of the University. He argued that complete divestment would limit investment choice and simultaneously reduce the pool of investments in clean energy, as some companies associated with fossil fuels are also developing clean energy solutions.

Faculty forum

Price entertained various questions from faculty members that spanned a broad base of topics, including declining trust in higher education, administrative stances on politically charged issues and recent allegations that DEI goals compromised admissions criteria of the Duke School of Medicine.

Trina Jones, chair of the Academic Council and Jerome M. Culp distinguished professor of law, opened the faculty forum by asking Price how he envisions shared governance between the administration and its faculty.

“I feel very strongly that the heart and soul of the academic enterprise is clearly the academic faculty of the University,” Price said. “The fundamental abilities and capacities we have as an institution are represented by our faculties.”

Price addressed a question about areas where the University could “course-correct” in the coming years, focusing on increasing viewpoint diversity on campus, restoring public confidence in Duke and higher education more broadly and continuing to be at the forefront of scholarly research and academic teaching.

“We need to take a hard look at how we deploy resources … we have to shore up the commitment to make infrastructural investments in human beings,” he said. 

Associate Professor of History Adriane Lentz-Smith asked Price how the University seeks to find a balance between entering public discourse and refraining from taking politically charged positions.

According to Price, Duke remains committed to taking institutional postures that are both apolitical and non-judgemental. He emphasized that opposing ideas must be addressed in strictly apolitical terms and challenged the faculty to remain open-minded about different schools of thought or theoretical perspectives that their departments may be closed off to.

Price also responded to recent claims that the Duke School of Medicine lowered admissions standards to pursue DEI goals.

“We need to fight against this as a trope, that diversity is a forced compromise with excellence,” Price said, adding that Duke is home to one of the top medical programs in the world and that it is “laughable” to believe that admissions standards were compromised.

Jones concluded the meeting by congratulating the new faculty members elected to Academic Council positions for the 2024-25 academic year. 

Jack Sabo profile
Jack Sabo

Jack Sabo is a Trinity first-year and a staff reporter for the news department.        


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