May 21: Message from Duke President Price About Fall 2020

May 21, 2020

Dear Duke Students and Families,

I hope this note finds you and your family well despite the complications to life caused by COVID-19. The past few months have brought us many new challenges, but also daily reminders of why we are all so proud to be members of the Duke University community. 

I write today because I know the question on everyone’s mind: what will happen with the fall semester?

There’s a lot we still don’t know.  Like every family, community and business, we are trying to make the best decisions with only partial information that changes by the day.  A month ago, we established several planning teams to prepare for the next academic year.  These teams have worked closely with our faculty, our physicians and public health experts to develop a range of options that start with protecting the health and safety of the Duke community and focus intensely on ensuring the continued excellence of our education, research, public service and patient-care missions.

That work continues, but here’s what we do know right now:  

First, Duke University will be open in the fall, with the specific details of attendance and schedule to be determined soon. Throughout the pandemic, our education and research programs continued, so in a sense we’ve never closed.  We completed the spring semester, awarding almost 6,000 degrees earlier this month to the extraordinary Class of 2020.  We started a virtual Duke Summer Session with five times as many students as last year.  Our hospitals and clinics continue to care for patients, and research on COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics has only expanded.  And we’ve now begun the very careful process of reopening our facilities in phases. This week, hundreds of additional Duke researchers and scientists are returning to campus to continue their vital research with new protocols for social distancing, daily monitoring, and testing, contact tracing and medical supervision.

Second, we expect to make decisions about the structure of the coming academic year by the end of June.  Why not decide now?  We are committed to getting this right, and responsible decision making must be based on a clearer understanding of public health and safety issues than is now available. Our decisions also have to be informed by our experience from these early campus restarts. Making choices now in the absence of this vital information would jeopardize safety of our students, faculty, staff and the wider community, even if it seems to provide the certainty so many of us desire. 

Consider for a moment where we were as a country just six weeks ago: you can see how quickly medical guidance has evolved, how rapidly legal and regulatory guidance developed, particularly around matters like testing and tracing, and how much local conditions have changed.   The next six weeks should give us far more reliable information upon which we will base our decisions.

And finally, we know enough to say that next academic year will not look anything like the past.  As we work toward coming back to school safely in the fall, we are innovating every part of the Duke experience—from the academic calendar to residential living—to provide students the best and safest possible configuration of on-campus and high-quality remote teaching.  We are dedicated to adapting the life-changing experiences that make the Duke experience so special, and to creating new ones in areas like career planning.

To be sure, there will be necessary changes in how our spaces are configured and classes are delivered, as well as in the many campus activities that make Duke so enriching and exhilarating; but, like every other part of society, we will be resilient and adapt to the new reality.

Looking beyond next academic year, we are building the Duke of the future. This too will take time, but will only be improved by the knowledge we all gain as we move through the months ahead.  Our present circumstances may be daunting; but they call upon us to determine, together, how we empower the finest scholars, redefine teaching and learning for the 21st century, deepen our commitments to community, strengthen our partnerships in the region, and engage as never before our global network of Duke alumni, families, and friends. 

So, while I may disappoint those of you who are looking for certainty now, this is where we stand today. We’ll be in touch with you directly as soon as we have more specific information about our programs, and the actions you can take to prepare for the fall semester. 

In the meantime, I can tell you that the Duke you know and love is alive and well.  The education you receive at Duke will prepare you for lives and careers of meaning and fulfilment.  Whether you are a first-year or a senior, your Duke experience will be memorable for life. And wherever you are, near or far, you can follow what is happening through The Duke Daily, our daily e-mail newsletter.  Our students receive it each weekday, and parents and families can sign up here

I offer my best wishes to you and your family, my deepest thanks for your commitment to Duke, and my appreciation of your confidence in the enduring value and promise of our great university. 

Sincerely,

Vincent E. Price
President