Duke Trustees Review Covid-19 Response in Quarterly Meeting

Allen Building in fall

The Duke Board of Trustees approved the awarding of degrees and reviewed the university’s response to COVID-19 and plans for future activity in its first-ever online meeting that concluded Friday afternoon.

While the annual commencement ceremony was postponed for the first time in Duke history, nearly 6,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees were conferred this weekend.  Students and families around the world participated Sunday in Marking the Moment, an online celebration featuring special messages and performances, and diplomas will be delivered to all graduates.  An on-campus celebration for the class of 2020 will take place sometime next year.

In the board’s business meeting, President Vincent E. Price led a discussion with senior administrators regarding the ongoing planning for the resumption of campus activity, including teaching, student life and research, as well as updates on patient care in Duke’s hospital and clinics, the ongoing advancement of strategic goals and the financial effect of the pandemic.  The trustees also heard from infectious disease specialist Dr. Cameron Wolfe, and Dr. Mark McClellan, founding director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, who has been working with federal and state government officials on the reopening of the country.

The board also reviewed the rapidly changing financial challenges presented by COVID-19, including significant, projected declines in philanthropy, support from clinical operations, and auxiliary revenue, as well as increases in student financial aid and operating costs.  The trustees approved the university’s fiscal year 2020-21 operating and capital budgets, which include the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing but not Duke Hospital and other clinical components of the Duke University Health System.

While the $2.8 billion operating budget reflects a $67 million transfer from reserves, the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic remains uncertain and is therefore largely not reflected in this budget.  Similarly, the $218 million capital budget reflects only completion or continuation of current projects.  Duke has already announced a series of hiring, spending and salary freezes, and a suspension of nearly all planned new construction and renovations, to reduce expenditures as the full implications of the current global economic uncertainty is assessed, and further actions are anticipated to protect academic and student priorities.

In other business, the board:

  • Reviewed and ratified progress toward a comprehensive strategy for research, translation and commercialization at Duke, completing a year-long assessment that included meetings with university, corporate and government leaders from across the region.  The new strategy will have as a goal increasing the capacity to attract research-oriented business activity to Durham and the Triangle through collaborative efforts, space, marketing, financing and talent development, and will be implemented in consultation with faculty across the university.
  • Established three new Strategic Task Forces for 2020-21 that will focus on Duke’s centennial in 2024, Duke-Durham collaboration and partnership, and the university’s environmental and sustainability priorities.  The Strategic Task Forces include trustees, faculty and students and function as special committees of the board, providing analysis and recommendations to the university administration.
  • Recognized departing Young Trustees Uzo Ayogu and Amy Kramer who are completing their terms this year.
  • Passed a resolution of tribute to senior vice president and secretary Richard V. Riddell, who is retiring in June after 28 years as a faculty member and administrator at Duke, the last 13 of which have been as board liaison and counselor to the president.  Riddell was named Secretary Emeritus.