Valerie Ashby was recently appointed to a second term as dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, which lasts until June 2025. 

The Chronicle corresponded with Ashby by email to discuss her experience thus far and her future plans. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Chronicle: How has Duke surprised you, and what have you learned about the institution?

Valerie Ashby: Since my arrival as Dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences in 2015, I have relied on three overarching themes to guide our work in the college—advancing excellence in research, teaching and service, elevating leadership and mentoring and fostering diversity and inclusion. 

They’re interconnected, and work in concert to deliver the best liberal arts education in a uniquely Duke way. We aim for consistent excellence with peaks of preeminence. 

TC: What goals do you have for your second term?

VA: As I look toward the next five years, we’re focused on deepening our commitment to those pillars and continuing that trajectory of excellence. The work is ongoing and never finished. 

One recent example is enhancing undergraduate teaching and learning—an initiative ensuring every course offers a learning experience of the highest quality and a first look at that academic field that could enhance or transform a student’s worldview and future. 

In some cases, particularly where the curriculum is scaffolded, the introduction to the disciplines will be the courses in the first two years. In other disciplines, such as those of the humanities where the curriculum is flatter, this might be a first disciplinary course in a junior or even senior year. 

TC: In your opinion, what are areas in which Duke stands out nationally?

VA: Duke continues to offer an incredible and uniquely interdisciplinary experience for students. We draw the very best people to this university, and encourage collaboration across departments, schools and even with neighboring universities to deliver a world-class liberal arts education at a leading research environment.

Duke is a top-10 university that is young enough among our national peers to remain nimble and flexible, but mature enough to be secure in our own identity. We seek the best and the brightest students to join the Duke community, and have succeeded in attracting an increasingly diverse population in all measures of the term. 

That diversity is a basis for innovation and excellence, ensuring new ideas are always present and everyone is granted engagement with a full range of knowledge and human experiences.

TC: What is your typical schedule?

VA: Throughout my career, my current job has always been my favorite. That remains true. My typical day at Trinity includes eight to 15 meetings with participants ranging from a student, to a student group, to a faculty chair who wants to accomplish something new in a department, to thinking about how we support and mentor junior faculty. Monday is my favorite day. But Friday is also my favorite day, because I hold office hours for students from 3 to 5 p.m.