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Trinity College needs to find $3.4 million for graduate stipends, Ashby says

Valerie Ashby speaks to Arts and Sciences Council about her objectives

Valerie Ashby, dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, loves her job. Still, she recognizes there is important work to be done.

Ashby emphasized her main objectives as a dean and the progress she has helped make during her five years in the role at Thursday’s Arts and Sciences Council meeting. Ashby spoke of how she seeks to promote arts, humanities and social sciences at Duke, enhance teaching, hire diverse faculty and improve the quality of the graduate experience in pursuit of “consistent excellence.”  

Ashby noted that Duke’s promise to provide 12-month stipends to all graduate students comes with a hefty price tag of $3.4 million per year.

“[Trinity College] made budget this year by the grace of God,” she said. “That's the first time we've made budget since I've been here. We do not have 3.4 million dollars annually."

However, she added that administration would find funding somewhere. She compared the promise of 12-month stipends to Duke's need-blind admissions policy, by which the university finds funding for financial aid after the undergraduate class has already been admitted.

"We will do some hard work together in the next three years to figure out how we're going to afford this," she said. "So a lot of conversations will be had with departments about choices, because there isn't an extra 3.5 million dollars in here."

Ashby described placing emphasis on the arts, humanities and social sciences at Duke. Despite these programs’ consistent high quality, it is important to continue to promote them, she said.

“You don’t have to worry about us taking our eye off of that while we run around the country trying to raise a billion dollars for science,” Ashby said. “By the way, I run around the country trying to raise significant dollars for the humanities and social sciences, and that will also continue.”

Ashby noted that the University was looking to hire a new vice provost for the arts, as Scott Lindroth, professor of music and the current vice provost, will be stepping down from the role. The Board of Trustees is also in the process of developing a new plan for the arts, she said. 

She referenced a program that is currently underway to enhance teaching, led by the Dean of Academic Affairs John Blackshear. The program aims to improve the content and atmosphere in classrooms, she added, and Blackshear is collaborating with departments on “enhancing the introduction to the disciplines,” as well as helping departments to collaborate and share best practices.

Another program Ashby mentioned entails a “global perspectives hiring” initiative, which will eventually hire six faculty members who focus on African, Latinx and Asian American studies. 

She also spoke about the importance of improving the quality of graduate programs and making graduate students feel like true Duke students. Ashby is working to foster communication among directors of graduate studies and institute a policy that requires DGSs to be approved by divisional deans.

“We would never have [directors of undergraduate studies] that we had not approved,” she said.

Ashby was re-appointed in February to a second five-year term as dean of Trinity College, and she reiterated her desire to create a “culture of consistent excellence” throughout the college during Thursday’s meeting. This includes three areas of focus: hiring faculty who will promote research and service, improving leadership and mentorship amongst faculty and fostering diversity.

Since she first came to Duke, there has been significant progress, she said. Trinity College has hired stronger and more diverse faculty, improved leadership mentoring of new professors through a variety of initiatives and increased racial and economic diversity in the student body, she explained. 

However, faculty must become more diverse in the future, she added.

“We have a long way to go,” she said, though she noted that there has been improvements. The number of black faculty in Trinity College has increased from 35 to 50 since she came to Duke, she said.

Ashby has been repeatedly vocal about her priorities. She lamented the “inconsistent excellence” of Trinity College in a 2017 speech to the Duke Student Government Senate, and she outlined her priorities to DSG again in 2018 and 2019

Although she outlined things that should change, Ashby was clear that she is happy here at Duke. She said that she loves the faculty, the administration and the trust between them. Most importantly, she loves the students.

“I still love my job. I jump up and down when I love something,” she said. She jumped as she spoke.

In other business:

Chair of the Council José María Rodríguez García, associate professor of romance studies, noted that a Q&A with Matt Serra, director of Trinity College’s Office of Assessment, had been postponed until the next Academic Council meeting because Serra was ill. 


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