School of Civic Life Dean Appointed

A Duke University professor has been named the inaugural director and dean of UNC’s School of Civic Life and Leadership.

Jed Atkins, the E. Black Byrne Associate Professor of classical studies and faculty director of Duke’s Civil Discourse Project at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, will begin working at UNC’s newest school on March 28.

Atkins is also director of Duke’s Transformative Ideas Program, and his research focuses on Greek, Roman and early Christian moral and political thought. He has written two books, Roman Political Thought, published in 2018, and Cicero on Politics and the Limits of Reason: The Republic and Laws, published in 2013.

At UNC, Atkins will hold the Taylor Grandy Distinguished Professorship on the philosophy of living. Other finalists included Daniel DiSalvo, a political science professor at City College of New York; Thomas Merrill, a professor at American University; and Sarah Truel Roberts, a professor in UNC’s political science department and the faculty director for UNC’s Program for Public Discourse. Roberts is the interim director and dean of the School of Civic Life and Leadership until Atkins takes over later this month.

Each candidate presented during four sessions in January, submitted scholarly publications for review and met with the search panel, which included faculty, staff and students, according to The Daily Tar Heel.

Atkins, who earned his doctorate in classics and his master’s degree in political thought and intellectual history — both from the University of Cambridge — recommended in his presentation the school operate as a residential learning community.

“Among a field of excellent candidates, Jed Atkins stood out for his broadminded interdisciplinary, his formidable body of fine scholarship, his considerable leadership experience and his thoughtful and bold vision for the School of Civic Life and Leadership,” said Mark Katz, the John P. Barker Distinguished Professor of music and the founding director of the Next Level Cultural Diplomacy Program, who served as chair of the search committee. “We look forward to working with him and are excited for the future of SCiLL under his leadership.”

In a statement released by media relations, Atkins said the School of Civic Life and Leadership represents a remarkable opportunity for UNC to continue leading the nation in preparing “a rising generation” for lives of thoughtful civic engagement that’s required for a flourishing democracy.

“During the search process, I was deeply impressed by the commitment of so many members of the Carolina community to this mission, including faculty and students associated with SCiLL and the Program for Public Discourse,” Atkins said. “I am honored to be joining them in their vital work of providing a civic education that promotes the common good of the Carolina community, the state, nation and world.”

The School of Civic Life and Leadership was launched in fall 2023 with the appointment of nine faculty members. Its aim is to increase students’ capacities for debate and deliberation with the goal of developing better citizens and leaders. When former Board of Trustees Chair Dave Boliek ’90 introduced the resolution for the new school in January 2023, he said its core mission would be to develop both the capacities and knowledge necessary for healthy democratic citizenship and that its curriculum would pay particular attention to the foundation of the American experience and all that comes with it.

Plans for the new school were met with criticism from some faculty members who called it unnecessary and said they were blindsided by the announcement. Beth Mayer-Davis, dean of the Graduate School and the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of nutrition and medicine, said the University’s Program for Public Discourse already addressed the issues raised by the trustees and questioned why UNC couldn’t simply “build out the Public Discourse program.”

After the school’s inaugural faculty members were announced, Chair of the Faculty Beth Moracco said she was cautiously optimistic about the school’s direction given the range of disciplines they represented.

“I was really excited to see the list of the nine, and they do represent a breadth of experience and fields all within the College of Arts and Sciences,” Moracco told the Review. “We have had assurances from the dean, from the provost and from the Board of Trustees that this initiative will really be faculty-led. There was an ad-hoc committee that put together recommendations for how development of the school and the curricula should proceed, and I really hope, we are cautiously optimistic, that those recommendations will be followed.”

Moracco said more faculty are feeling better about the development of the school and are excited “about the opportunity to create something really new and cutting edge and uniquely Carolina, with the caveat that it has to be faculty-led.”


— Laurie D. Willis ’86

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