Durham County

3 deanships open at Duke ahead of new President Vince Price’s arrival

David F. Levi
David F. Levi Duke Photography

A trio of high-level vacancies among Duke University’s deans will give incoming President Vince Price, starting next month, an early chance to shape the institution’s academic leadership.

The university needs new deans for the Duke School of Law, the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas School of the Environment, all of them high-ranked signature programs.

Law school dean David Levi was the latest to announce his departure, and like Sanford School dean Kelly Brownell will step down after the 2017-18 academic year.

The Nicholas School is already under interim dean Jeff Vincent, after previous leader Alan Townsend announced his resignation in November owing to family issues.

Duke administrators typically work on five-year contracts. Brownell is stepping down at the end of his first, to launch at Duke a new World Food Policy Center that’s in his personal academic wheelhouse. He’s confident that Price, holdover Provost Sally Kornbluth and an in-house search committee will find someone who can keep Sanford on track.

“It’s a very enticing time for the school,” he said, noting that Sanford offers Duke’s single most popular undergraduate major (public policy) to go with a trio of master’s level offerings and its Ph.D. program.

Levi’s departure follows two full five-year terms, and at outgoing President Richard Brodhead’s request he’s staying on an extra year, said Andrew Park, the law school’s spokesman.

Brodhead wanted to make sure he and Levi “would not be stepping down at the same time, and dean Levi agreed to that,” Park said.

A former U.S. District Court judge, Levi heads what U.S. News & World Report ranks the top law school in North Carolina and, with Northwestern University, the 10th-best law school in the country.

Since taking over as dean in 2007 he’s prodded the school, its faculty and students to do more pro-bono legal work. And during the university’s seven-year, Duke Forward capital campaign, he’s helped raise $123.2 million to support a baker’s dozen of new endowed professorships and 69 new student scholarships.

The law school went into Duke Forward hoping to raise about $85 million. “We far exceeded that goal with three weeks to go” before the campaign ends, Park said.

By way of comparison, UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school has raised about $20 million as the public university nears the end of the third year of its own seven-year fund drive, according to figures Vice Chancellor for Development David Routh gave campus trustees in late May.

Levi’s future plans remain unknown.

“He’s not sure of that, but he has more than a year to go and there will be a time for that to be announced when he’s ready for it,” Park said.

Brownell said Levi’s been “a highly collaborative colleague” at a university that prides itself on encouraging and making it easy for professors, departments and schools to work across disciplinary boundaries.

Meanwhile at the Nicholas School, Vincent has been serving as interim dean since August 2016, when Townsend took a leave of absence to attend to family matters and health matters. He followed up by resigning in November, telling colleagues working as dean “would cut too much from my ability to give my children what they need in the next phase of their lives.” Townsend had been dean since the summer of 2014.

The search for a permanent dean for the Nicholas School is ready to start in the fall, said Michael Schoenfeld, Duke vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Ray Gronberg: 919-419-6648, @rcgronberg