Paula D. McClain will complete her service as dean of The Graduate School and vice provost for graduate education at the conclusion of her term in 2022. A professor of political science and public policy who is internationally regarded for her work on race, ethnicity and politics, McClain was initially appointed in 2012, becoming the first Black dean of a school at Duke.
The Graduate School is home to 3,500 master’s and Ph.D. students enrolled across more than 80 departments and programs at Duke. During her 10-year tenure, McClain oversaw significant increases in financial and professional development resources for graduate students, and enhanced efforts to support diversity, equity and inclusion in graduate education.
“Paula has led The Graduate School through a period of significant change and evolution in graduate education, both at Duke and nationally,” said Provost Sally Kornbluth. “Under her excellent leadership, The Graduate School has vastly expanded opportunities and support for our students, while also serving as a valued partner to graduate program leaders throughout the university.”
Under McClain’s leadership, The Graduate School’s annual student fellowship support has increased by 40 percent, and summer research fellowships have tripled. In 2014, The Graduate School began providing guaranteed summer research fellowships for the first two years of Ph.D. study, and beginning in fall 2022, all Ph.D. students in their first five years will receive full 12-month stipends. Those improvements were made possible in part by McClain’s efforts to build a development team and significantly expand The Graduate School’s fundraising activities.
The Graduate School has also worked with departments and campus partners to institute other financial resources, including tuition-and-fees scholarships for Ph.D. students in their sixth year, a research grant for master’s students, student dental insurance, and funding extensions for Ph.D. students whose progress has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Being dean has allowed me to use my passion for graduate education to make a difference in the experience of Duke graduate students, and to take many of the initiatives we developed at Duke to a national audience,” McClain said. “It has been an incredible experience to work with my dedicated colleagues in The Graduate School, as well as students, faculty, staff, university leaders, and alumni over the past decade. Duke is a leader in graduate education, and I am proud to have been a part of that excellence.”
McClain has also been a champion for diversity, equity, and inclusion in graduate education. During her term, The Graduate School created fellowships to support research on systemic racism and on women or girls of color, incorporated implicit bias training into its Responsible Conduct of Research programming, and helped more than 50 of Duke’s graduate programs adopt more holistic admission practices.
Since 2017, The Graduate School has housed the Duke University Center of Exemplary Mentoring, an initiative funded by a $1 million grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to recruit and support underrepresented minority students across 10 Ph.D. programs in physical sciences and engineering.
Graduate student professional development has been another area of emphasis during McClain’s tenure, as Duke and other universities have responded to an expanding landscape of post-degree career paths for Ph.D. students in particular. The Graduate School has built a robust offering of programming and resources to help students prepare for a broad range of career paths in academia and beyond.
McClain has also played an active role in shaping graduate education nationally, serving as president of the Association of Graduate Schools and on the executive committee of the Council of Graduate Schools.
A member of the Duke faculty since 2000, McClain also served as chair of Duke’s Academic Council from 2007 until 2009. She has remained active in her discipline while serving as dean—training graduate students and publishing research on race, ethnicity and politics. The fifth edition of her book, American Government in Black and White: Diversity and Democracy, was published in 2021 by Oxford University Press. She has also served as president of the Midwest Political Science Association (2015-2016) and the American Political Science Association (2019-2020), the discipline’s top academic organization. In 2014, she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. After concluding her deanship, McClain will take a sabbatical and then return to her faculty role as the James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Political Science and a professor of public policy.
A national search for a new dean of The Graduate School will begin within the next few weeks.