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University names John Blackshear as Trinity dean of academic affairs

Courtesy of Duke Office of Undergraduate Education.
Courtesy of Duke Office of Undergraduate Education.

Duke has a new interim dean for academic affairs at Trinity College of Arts and Sciences—John Blackshear. 

Blackshear, currently senior associate dean for academic planning, will take over for Arlie Petters, Benjamin Powell professor of mathematics, effective July 1, according to a news release.  Petters had held the role since 2016 and is one of roughly a dozen black tenured faculty in the country's top 50 math departments.

“My goal is to deliver consistent excellence from every facet of academic affairs for the Trinity College of Arts & Science,” Blackshear wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “I will assure we are providing the University with a service that is of the highest quality and responsive to the needs of our students, staff and faculty.”

The interim dean will oversee Trinity college's curriculum and "educational experiences" and other programs like the Academic Deans and the Thompson Writing Program, among others. Blackshear has worked in a variety of capacities at Duke in the past, from being an academic dean to the clinical director of the Academic Resource Center to the student ombudsman to a psychologist for Counseling and Psychological Services. 

“My varied roles at the University have provided numerous insights because, importantly, students have always been at the center of my work,” Blackshear wrote. “These experiences have made me keenly aware of the complex, fluid and quickly shifting academic and personal identities of our students, which demand that we provide innovative pathways towards intellectual pursuits and ensuring students’ well-being.”

Blackshear, who received a doctorate in clinical psychology from Georgia State, is also currently an academic adviser and a faculty-in-residence in Trinity dorm. Blackshear also serves as assistant vice provost of undergraduate education, focusing on low-income and first-generation students.

“John’s extensive and varied experience at Duke has uniquely prepared him to occupy this vital position on my team during a time of transition,” Valerie Ashby, dean of Trinity College, told Duke Today. “He brings a passion to this work and an awareness of what it means to care for the whole student that will help ensure each Duke undergraduate has a positive and transformational experience.”

Blackshear’s predecessor, Petters, is taking a year off from Duke, during which he will write a science fiction novel on the human condition that "touches on human suffering" and perform research on black holes, looking into how the gravity of black holes affects light. Petters will return in 2020 “to his primary appointments as a professor in mathematics and physics.” 

Ben Leonard

Managing Editor 2018-19, 2019-2020 Features & Investigations Editor 

A member of the class of 2020 hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Ben is The Chronicle's Towerview Editor and Investigations Editor. Outside of the Chronicle, he is a public policy major working towards a journalism certificate, has interned at the Tampa Bay Times and NBC News and frequents Pitchforks. 


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