Program Report: Duke President Vincent Price

Duke’s tenth president, Vincent Price, was introduced to a full Rotarian house on Monday November 7 by Dr. Phail Wynn Jr., Duke’s V-P for Durham and Regional Affairs (“Doing good in the neighborhood”).  Dr. Price comes to us from the University of Pennsylvania, where was Provost.  Before going to Penn, Price was at the University of Michigan, where he headed up the Department of Communication Studies.  His short 1992 book Public Opinion is a summary of the difficulties in tying down this tricky concept.  He recently taught on the role of online communication and how the media frame political issues. He has advised the online teaching company Coursera.

Dr. Price explained how delighted he was to be at Duke at the end of a successful fund-raising campaign: Duke Forward, the largest campaign in Duke University history, has concluded by raising $3.85 billion over the past seven years.

But Price’s biggest surprise seemed to be the city of Durham and its people.  He was taken on a tour that was supposed to cover both Duke and Durham but, Durham took the lion’s share of the time.  He was much impressed with the enthusiasm of Durhamites and the many entrepreneurial innovations to be found in a town once better known for other things (like the odor of tobacco, still missed by some, and the lacrosse debacle, regretted by many).  He especially appreciated the number of dog-lovers in Durham.  (Possibly our large number of dogs is related to the many trees – which have also impressed Dr. Price.  But on this matter, he did not speculate.)

Asked about future problems for Duke, Price emphasized the university’s need for capital.  He pointed to “start-up cost”, the often substantial amount of capital needed to set up facilities for new science faculty before they can attract external funding.  The cost for an individual faculty member can now run as high as a million dollars.  

Intercollegiate sports are a continuing source of controversy, most recently – and locally – because of the “fake courses” favored by athletes at UNC, and airbrushed away by the NCAA.  Despite the problems they pose, sports are a unique and valuable feature of US universities, said Dr. Price.  Universities elsewhere, even in Europe, have nothing comparable.   He believes that sports are an important element in the pre-eminence of US academic institutions.

Do we live in times of unprecedented divisiveness? he was asked.  Dr. Price advised a historical perspective.  Things have been this bad or worse in previous times.  He feels that he has absorbed much wisdom from two famous twentieth-century figures: psychologist and educator John Dewey and journalistic icon Walter Lippman (who also wrote a book called Public Opinion).


After the program President Seth Jernigan presented an Honorary Membership and a Durham Rotary flag to Dr. Price. In the picture Rotarian and Duke Vice President for Durham and Regional Affairs, Phail Wynn, looks on. Dr. Wynn introduced Dr. Price.

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