From 2004 to 2017 I had the honor to serve as president of Duke. It would
be hard to name a more in teresting job. First, there is no overstating the
miscellany of a university president’s work. In no other post could you
have the responsibility to recruit a dean of engineering, a chaplain, a foot-
ball coach, and a leader for a massive health care system, while being
ready to talk with any student who walks through the door.
To increase the interest, it’s the special nature of universities that they
focus the deepest hopes and most perplexing challenges of our culture.
In many ways, the first years of the twenty- first century were a bright
time for higher education, especially in private institutions. Financially
there was some margin for investment (never enough), so these years al-
lowed for renovation, innovation, and experiment. But as they advanced
in some directions, universities found themselves facing new forms of
difficulty in these years, Duke along with every other.
Unlike the previous great period of expansion for universities in the
1950s and 1960s, in recent de cades prosperity has been much more un-
equally distributed, such that even when gifts from generous donors
have run high, access and affordability have grown more challenging.
After the Great Downturn of 2008, the cost issue was compounded with
another challenge. Suddenly even well- educated people were asking, Is
it really worth it, this mysterious thing colleges provide? As rarely be-
fore, universities needed to defend the most elemental assumptions of
the education we offer— but it would not do to just stay in place. While
preserving the best of tradition, universities have needed to re- create their
programs for new times, having the courage to change while resisting
facile nostrums of reform.
All the while, there were other challenges on the horizon: how to
accommodate the increasingly global world our students will live and
work in, to name just one. Meanwhile old questions took challenging
new forms. Having opened their doors to excluded groups many years
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