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Whitfield to be named vice provost of academic affairs

Keith Whitfield, professor of psychology and neuroscience, has been named vice provost of academic affairs, the University announced Wednesday.

Whitfield, who is also co-director of Duke’s Center on BioBehavioral and Social Aspects of Health Disparities, succeeds John Simon, who became the executive vice president and provost at the University of Virginia in October. Sally Kornbluth, vice dean for research at the Duke University School of Medicine, was announced as Simon’s successor Sept. 29, however, she recently decided not to take the position in order to continue her biomedical research.

Whitfield is currently an administrative fellow in the Office of the Provost. As a fellow, he has been shadowing Provost Peter Lange for about two months—an experience that has prepared him to take on his new administrative role, he said. He has been working closely with Lange’s team, which has collectively taken on Simon’s projects since his departure.

“It has kind of been a strange set of events,” Whitfield said, adding that he will officially assume his role as vice provost for academic affairs next week.

Kornbluth was expected to begin Nov. 1, but she informed Lange that she no longer wanted the role over the weekend, Lange said. He added that Whitfield was considered as a candidate for the position in the original search that was conducted earlier this Fall.

Although she was excited to be offered the position in the provost’s office, Kornbluth said she soon realized that she did not want to leave her research behind. Lange and the administration were understanding, she said, when she informed him that she would be returning to her original role in the Medical School. She expects to continue working with the provost’s office on various interdisciplinary initiatives in the future.

“Basic research issues—that’s where my heart is,” Kornbluth said. “I started to get more deeply involved in the provost’s office. Though I really feel that [Lange] and his team are fabulous, the issues aren’t as exciting to me as the research issues.”

Kornbluth said there was no pressure from the Medical School to come back as a vice dean for research, adding that they were supportive of her decision either way.

In his new position, Whitfield will work with faculty members and deans to develop infrastructure for science and engineering research, as well as manage the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation process. Whitfield currently serves as the chair of the curriculum committee for the Arts and Sciences Council, which has helped him develop useful knowledge about designing and developing degree programs, he said.

“This [position as vice provost] focuses on faculty affairs, and I have committed the better part of my career to faculty and faculty issues,” Whitfield said.

Additionally, as a fellow in the provost’s office, Whitfield has worked on various projects—including developing faculty leadership workshops and researching innovative teaching methods.

Lange said the position involves interdisciplinary program development, and Whitfield has significant experience in this type of work.

“[Whitfield] has a very strong commitment for interdisciplinary research,” Lange said. “He’s already well-versed in our programs in our office and the values we’re trying to promote.”

This semester, Whitfield took a sabbatical in order to do the fellowship in the provost’s office. Although he does not have any teaching appointments to finish before assuming his new role, Whitfield said he will have to scale back on his work at the Center on BioBehavioral and Social Aspects of Health Disparities. He will continue to supervise and assist research at the center but not to the same extent that he currently does.

“I have a strong commitment to continuing my research,” Whitfield said. “This is a structure that allows me to do both [research and administrative work].”

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