The Search for Duke's Next President

Author name
Jack O. Bovender, Jr. T’67, G’69, Vice Chair, Duke University Board of Trustees

I have been a loyal Blue Devil since I first came to Duke as a freshman in the fall of 1963.  One of the great honors of my life has been being invited to serve on the university’s Board of Trustees, and to play a small part in Duke’s continuing ascent.

The most important job a board performs is the selection of a president, so when David Rubenstein, chair of the Board of Trustees, asked me to lead the search for Dick Brodhead’s successor, I was deeply honored, of course, but also very aware that it had to be done right in order to achieve the best outcome. For me, doing it right involved several key steps.

First, it was important to form a diverse and representative search committee—one that included trustees, faculty, administrators, alumni and students who were knowledgeable and passionate about Duke and its values, strengths, challenges and culture; who possessed good judgment and the ability to work together collegially and in the best interests of the university as a whole; and who had the capacity to represent the institution in a manner that was compelling, engaging and candid. The search committee served a dual role—as credible and thoughtful evaluators and effective recruiters of talent. Duke was extremely fortunate to have had an outstanding and dedicated presidential search committee.

To help inform our work, the committee solicited input from Duke’s various constituent groups regarding the opportunities and challenges the next president would likely face and the kind of person the search committee should seek.  We talked with trustees, faculty, administrators, staff, coaches, students, alumni, and parents, all of whom were very generous and candid in their insights. 

Next, we took this feedback and developed a compelling position description – in other words, the best possible advertisement for a new president. (include link). We outlined the experience and abilities of Duke’s next president, and described the university’s unique ethos, trajectory, aspirations, challenges and opportunities. Throughout the process, the position description served as a critically important and useful tool in the search for and recruitment and evaluation of candidates.

We also thought it was important to understand how Duke was perceived externally, by respected leaders in higher education across the country, and to hear their recommendations on our search process and candidates.  Last summer, the search committee leadership team traveled across the country and met in person with 36 well-known and respected leaders in higher education, the majority of whom were also prospective candidates.  Most of these individuals were unambiguous and effusive about Duke’s remarkable leap to the very highest ranks of American universities, and meeting them in person helped us narrow down a diverse and accomplished pool to a small number of finalists, from which we made our selection.

Finally, confidentiality was key. In order to attract and engage the most qualified and talented individuals, it was necessary for the search committee to conduct its work while adhering to the highest standards of confidentiality.  The search committee’s wisdom and discretion were major contributors to the successful outcome of the search.

As a result of this very thorough process, the committee made a unanimous and enthusiastic decision to recommend to the Board of Trustees that it elect Vincent Price, Provost at the University of Pennsylvania, as the tenth president of Duke University.

At Penn, Vince has been a transformative, inclusive and deeply engaged leader who has had a hand in every aspect of intellectual and student life at an institution with many similarities to Duke. His major accomplishments at Penn include leading a university-wide, multi-dimensional diversity initiative; enhancing online education and advancing Penn to be a leader in online learning; and developing Penn’s strategy for globalization.

Vince is a scholar of the highest order and has been honored by his peers and the public for his work on public opinion. He is a person of great integrity and steadiness. Penn President Amy Gutmann, the person who worked most closely with Vince over the past seven years said: “His ego never is first.  It’s part of getting the institution to move forward.  He really cares.  He has a titanium-strong ethical backbone.”

Vince is a consensus builder who listens as he leads. He has a great passion for excellence and innovation, and he will lead by example, and by embodying the highest standards and the most deeply held values of Duke University. 

For these reasons, and many more, the search committee and the Board of Trustees concluded that Vince Price was the natural choice to lead Duke and a worthy successor to Dick Brodhead, and we were delighted to share that news with the Duke community on December 2. I know you join me in welcoming Vincent Price and his wife Annette to the Duke family, and I look forward to watching Duke continue to thrive under his leadership. 

Read more about the search and Duke's new President here.