Valerie Ashby has brought her own remarkable style to the role of dean of arts and sciences. While some leaders want to be “large and in charge” and others lead from behind, Valerie brings a unique ability to lead by creating and empowering a highly effective team. A major focus of her time as dean has been to select the very best department chairs and to mentor them to be the very best leaders they can be and to let them lead. She has also built a dynamic and effective leadership team within the Dean’s office. 

This is not to say that Dean Ashby abdicates her own responsibility. Not at all. Rather, she guides by example and by clear articulation of principles. While she clearly knows that the buck stops with her, her leadership style is highly consultative: she doesn’t ask her team for their opinions as a formality. An excellent listener, she encourages collegial discussion, and even dissent, to get to the best possible solution for the school and the University as a whole. 

Dean Ashby is driven by a strong commitment to students. She will never say no to a student who wants to speak with her and she always has the best interests of the students in view when she makes decisions–often difficult ones with a tight budget. Her new effort to revolutionize the first-year student experience, currently underway, reflects this dedication to the undergraduate experience at Duke. And she does all of this with a wonderful sense of humor, great personal warmth and intelligence, a remarkable public presence and an ability to keep her cool even when the inevitable challenges come her way!

Sally Kornbluth is the provost of Duke University.

Editor's note: This profile is part of our annual initiative called The Chron15. We are highlighting 15 people and groups who are defining what it means to be at Duke this year. Read about the project and more of our selections.