Duke hires UNC professor as its next arts, sciences dean

Duke University has scored a steal from its Triangle rival.

On Thursday, Duke announced the hiring of Valerie Ashby, a UNC-Chapel Hill chemistry professor and department head, as its new dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. She’ll start the job July 1.

In the position, Ashby will oversee the university’s main academic units across the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. She replaces Laurie Patton, who left to become president of Middlebury College in Vermont.

Ashby, who received undergraduate and doctoral degrees in chemistry at UNC, joined the faculty in Chapel Hill in 2003 after eight years at Iowa State University. She has a distinguished professorship at UNC, where her work has focused on synthetic polymers that have biomedical and drug delivery uses. She holds eight patents.

Ashby won three teaching awards at UNC and rose to be chairwoman of the chemistry department in 2012. She is a North Carolina native who was raised in Clayton.

Her move to Duke represents a significant loss for UNC. Ashby, who is African American, has promoted increased diversity in higher education, serving as a consultant to diversity programs for the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. At UNC, she was faculty director for a minority excellence initiative in the graduate school.

Duke President Richard Brodhead called her a distinguished professor “who has shown extraordinary aptitude for academic leadership.”

In Duke’s announcement of Ashby’s hiring, Duke Provost Sally Kornbluth said: “She is a gifted teacher, a distinguished researcher and a talented academic leader who understands the essential role of a liberal arts college within a research university. Her commitment to a broad and diverse education for our students, and to identifying and nurturing an excellent faculty, is evident to all who have followed her career.”

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt released a statement about Ashby’s departure.

“Although I am very sorry to see Dr. Valerie Ashby depart, she will leave a tremendous legacy of excellence at Carolina when she joins the faculty at Duke University,” Folt’s statement said. “A two-time Carolina alumna, faculty marshal and chair of our chemistry department, Valerie is one of our most beloved and accomplished faculty members. ... Valerie’s contributions to our campus are immeasurable, and we look forward to working with her to strengthen our many existing faculty partnerships with Duke.”

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