Our History

The institution now known as Duke University was founded in Randolph County, NC, in 1838, as Brown’s Schoolhouse. By 1859, it had been renamed Trinity College. Trinity College moved to Durham, North Carolina, and what is now East Campus in 1892.

In 1924, James B. Duke founded Duke University, naming it for his family. Trinity College then became the undergraduate college for men. In 1930, the Woman’s College for undergraduate women opened on East Campus and the men's college (Trinity College) moved to the new West Campus. In 1972, Trinity College and the Woman’s College merged into the coeducational Trinity College of Arts & Sciences as we know it today.

The first dean of Trinity College was William Preston Few (1902-1910). Few ultimately presided over the transformation of Trinity College into Duke University. The first dean of Arts & Sciences was physicist Harold W. Lewis, appointed in 1963. In 1969, his title was changed to dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences.

Anthropologist Ernestine Friedl (1980-85) was the first to hold both the positions of dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and dean of Trinity College. The Friedl Building on East Campus was later named in her honor. Botanist Richard A. White served in the same capacity from 1985 to 1989, and then served as both dean and vice provost for Undergraduate Education from 1990-1997. He then returned to the faculty in the department of biology and later became director of the Sarah P. Duke gardens and led efforts to create the Doris Duke Center. The Richard White Lecture Hall was named in his honor in 2001.

Psychologist Robert J. Thompson served as dean of undergraduate affairs from 1997-1999, as dean of Trinity College from 1999-2004, and then as dean of Trinity College and vice provost of undergraduate education from 2004-2008. He played a key role in developing Duke's Curriculum 2000--a  major revision of the undergraduate curriculum, and promoted the creation of the Office of Undergraduate Research Support to dramatically increase the number of students engaging in research. The Thompson Writing Program was named in his honor in 2008.

Historian Hans Hillerbrand served as interim dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and then returned to the faculty in the department of religion. Economist Malcolm Gillis then served as dean of the faculty from 1991-1993 before leaving to become president of Rice University. Economist Roy Weintraub then served as acting dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences from 1993-1995 before returning to the faculty in the department of economics.

Historian William H. Chafe served as dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences from 1995-1997, and then in the dual role of dean of the faculty and dean of Trinity College from 1997-1999. From 1999-2004 he served as dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and vice provost for undergraduate education. Chafe oversaw the creation of Curriculum 2000, shared in the creation of the John Hope Franklin Center, founded the Duke Center for Documentary Studies, and helped initiate major programs in child and family policy, genomics and brain science.

In 2004, biochemist George L. McLendon became dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences, and from 2008-2010 he served as both dean of the faculty and dean of Trinity College. During his tenure he expanded and renewed the faculty of Arts & Sciences by hiring more than 130 new faculty and was an active fundraiser for the college. He left Duke to become provost at Rice University.

During this time, biologist Steve Nowicki was named dean and vice provost for undergraduate education in 2007. He founded the DukeImmerse program in which faculty and students focus on an intellectual theme for a semester outside the usual classroom setting. He led implementation of a new housing model for upperclass undergraduates, championed faculty-student engagement through programs like Flunch, and deepened support for first generation students through the Washington Duke Scholars program, launched in 2016. In 2008, cultural anthropologist Lee D. Baker was appointed dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate education and he served in these roles until 2016. Baker championed undergraduate research and graduation with distinction opportunities for students.

In May of 2010,  then dean of natural sciences Alvin Crumbliss, who had 40 years with Duke, agreed to a one-year term (2010 - 2011). He then returned to the faculty in the department of chemistry.

Laurie L. Patton, a scholar of South Asian history, culture and religion, became dean of Arts and Sciences and professor of religious studies in July 2011. During her tenure Patton launched the Lesser Taught Languages Initiative, the Language Arts & Media Program, and pioneered the University Course--open to undergraduate and graduate students in any school at Duke and taught by faculty from multiple schools. Patton strengthened faculty governance and encouraged greater use of online teaching technologies in the classroom. At the end of her term, she became the first woman president of Middlebury in Vermont.

Polymer chemist Valerie S. Ashby became dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences in July 2015. Previously, she was the chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. During her first term as dean, Ashby championed faculty mentoring and development, and formalized a department chair training training and support program, junior faculty mentoring, and a faculty leadership talent identification program. Mathematical physicist Arlie Petters was named dean of academic affairs and associate vice provost for undergraduate education in 2016.

Photo caption: Statue of Washington Duke, father of founder James B. Duke, on East Campus, 1935.

Duke on Film

Take a crash course on 150 years of Duke history and traditions from University Archivist Tim Pyatt.