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McClain Appointed Dean of Graduate School

Professor of political science and public policy previously served as Academic Council chair

Political scientist Paula D. McClain will oversee graduate education as dean of the Graduate School.  Photo by Duke University Photography.
Political scientist Paula D. McClain will oversee graduate education as dean of the Graduate School. Photo by Duke University Photography.

Paula D. McClain, a professor of political science and former chair of Duke University's Academic Council, will become the dean of the university's Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education, effective July 1, Duke's president and provost announced Tuesday.

A member of the Duke political science faculty since 2000, McClain also holds an appointment in the Sanford School of Public Policy. She has been active on the Academic Council, which she chaired in 2007-09, and on a number of other high-level committees and activities at the university and in the wider academic community.

"Paula McClain is a distinguished scholar and outstanding university citizen whose work as a graduate mentor has been widely acclaimed," said Duke President Richard H. Brodhead. "With her belief in the importance of graduate education and her concern for the well-being of individual students, she will make an exceptional dean. Duke is lucky to be able to draw on her talents in this new way."

Provost Peter Lange, the university's chief academic officer, praised McClain's leadership and extensive service to the university and higher education.

"She was an outstanding chair of the Appointments, Promotions and Tenure committee and an exemplary chair of the Academic Council. She has been an excellent mentor of graduate students and her contributions to building a diverse and inclusive community have been invaluable," Lange said. "As dean, she will provide outstanding leadership in a period of great opportunities and significant challenges in graduate education."

McClain will become the first African American to serve as the dean of one of Duke's schools. She earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in political science from Howard University. She held academic positions at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Arizona State University and the University of Virginia before coming to Duke in 2000.

Her research has focused on racial minority group politics, particularly inter-minority political and social competition, as well as on urban politics and related issues. Her recent work has focused on the effects of Latino immigration into the South, which was cited in a New York Times article last month that examined relations between blacks and Latinos in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

McClain is co-author, with Steven Tauber, of "American Government in Black and White," a textbook honored by the American Political Science Association that is scheduled to be reprinted in a new edition by Oxford University Press. She and Joseph Stewart Jr. co-authored "Can We All Get Along? Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics," whose sixth edition is forthcoming. McClain also has written numerous scholarly articles, served on more than a dozen professional editorial boards and spoken at multiple conferences and other settings.

Since 1995, she has served as director of the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute, an intensive five-week program at Duke that trains minority students from across the country to pursue doctoral degrees and careers in political science. She also is co-director of Duke's Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Gender in the Social Sciences.

In her new role as the graduate school dean, McClain will serve about 2,200 Ph.D. students and 600 research master's degree students enrolled across more than 60 Duke departments and programs. She also will work with more than 1,000 faculty members who serve as mentors and research leaders for these students.

"The academic excellence that characterizes Duke's national reputation is core to the Graduate School's mission and identity," McClain said. "I want this essential partnership to become more visible within the university, as well as nationally and internationally. This appointment gives me a critical opportunity to enhance Duke's leadership in both local and global conversations that focus on graduate education. It is a mission I eagerly embrace."

McClain, a former president of the Southern Political Science Association and vice president of the American Political Science Association, among other positions, is well known among political scientists and other scholars.

"In her new role as graduate dean, she will be a powerful voice on Duke's campus and nationally for the critical role of graduate education for our nation," said Richard McCarty, provost at Vanderbilt University, who worked with her at the University of Virginia and on several national organizations. 

McClain said she hoped to build on the "strong foundation" established by Jo Rae Wright, the cell biologist who served as graduate school dean for nearly six years before stepping down this past October. Wright died of breast cancer in January. David Bell, a professor of Romance studies, has been serving as the school's interim dean.

McClain and her husband Paul Jacobson, the managing principal in the North Carolina office of Sands Anderson, a Richmond-based law firm, are the parents of two daughters: one a teacher in Virginia and the other attending college in Massachusetts.

Calvin Howell, professor of physics and director of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory, chaired the nine-member search committee that assisted the president and provost.