Jed Atkins named inaugural SCiLL dean

A professor of classics and political science, he will lead the School of Civic Life and Leadership.

Jed Atkins
Jed Atkins will serve as the inaugural dean and director of the School of Civic Life and Leadership. (Submitted)

UNC-Chapel Hill has named Jed Atkins, the E. Blake Byrne Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Duke University and director of Duke’s Civil Discourse Project, as the inaugural director and dean of the School of Civic Life and Leadership in the College of Arts and Sciences. He will also hold the Taylor Grandy Distinguished Professorship on the Philosophy of Living. His appointment is effective March 28.    

Atkins, an educator, advocate and communicator, brings a wealth of experience in civic engagement and constructive dialogue to this role. He directs the Civil Discourse Project, which sponsors scholarly activities that promote engaged discourse to create intellectually diverse communities, and is chair of the classical studies department and an associate professor of philosophy and political science at Duke. He also oversees the Transformative Ideas Program for sophomores, which includes an initiative on civic life and thought. He will finish teaching this semester at Duke while beginning his duties at Carolina.   

“At a time of increasing polarization and declining public trust in our institutions, the development of SCiLL represents a remarkable opportunity for America’s first public university to continue to lead our country in preparing ‘a rising generation’ for lives of thoughtful civic engagement required for a flourishing democracy,” said Atkins. “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. 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.”  

Launched last fall with the appointment of nine inaugural faculty, SCiLL will foster a culture of reflection and intellectual curiosity that helps our democracy thrive. The faculty began articulating a vision for the school and designed the curriculum for  SCiLL’s just-establishedminor in civic life and leadership, set to launch in fall 2024. The interdisciplinary minor is designed to appeal to students of all majors, providing them with interdisciplinary training in civics, the humanities and scientific literacy.   

“Jed  Atkins’ deep and long-standing commitment to civil discourse and civic education makes him an ideal leader for the new school, which positions Carolina as a national leader in building capacities for civic life and leadership and confronting the challenges that face our state and beyond,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Interim Chancellor Lee H. Roberts in a campus announcement with Provost Chris Clemens and Jim White, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  

John Preyer, chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees, said, “Dean Atkins’ hiring is the culmination of six years of thoughtful planning by University administrators and faculty, most notably Provost Chris Clemens. Carolina’s School of Civic Life and Leadership is a prime example of the progress we can make for our students and our state when the University’s administration, faculty, staff and trustees work together toward important goals. It’s also an opportunity for America’s oldest public university to lead the nation in promoting active citizenship and civil discourse in our pluralistic democracy. This is truly a great day to be a Tar Heel.” 

A member of the Duke faculty since 2009, Atkins is a scholar of Greek and Roman political and moral philosophy, the history of political thought, and contemporary debates on tolerance, civility and civil discourse. Before joining Duke, he earned his Master of Philosophy in political thought and intellectual history and doctorate in classics, both from the University of Cambridge.    

“Among a field of excellent candidates, Jed Atkins stood out for his broadminded interdisciplinarity, 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, distinguished professor of music and search committee chair. “On behalf of the search committee, I am delighted to welcome Jed as the inaugural director and dean. We look forward to working with him and are excited for the future of SCiLL under his leadership.”  

“We are used to competing with our friends at Carolina on the court at this time of year. But in this case, we are celebrating a win for UNC and also for the state of North Carolina,” said Gary G. Bennett, dean of Duke’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. “Jed is a terrific leader, a creative thinker, and an inspiring educator. His service to Duke and our students has prepared him well for this moment, and we wish him all the best.”