Sanford’s School Builder

Sanford School of Public Policy Dean Bruce Kuniholmhas a no-nonsense style of communication. That’s probably not surprising for a former Marine rifle platoon commander in Vietnam. Provost Peter Lange believes this trait – sometimes seen as a drawback – is one of Kuniholm’s greatest strengths as a leader.

“He is extremely straightforward,” Lange said, “and conveys a high level of integrity and an absence of guile. In the long term, it’s an asset because it builds trust and any transition relies heavily on trust.”

Kuniholm is in year two of a five-year appointment as dean. A professor of public policy and history at Duke since 1975, Kuniholm led a previous Sanford transition: Planning and fund raising for construction of the Sanford Building and the move from the Old Chemistry Building in 1994.

From 1996 to 2001 he served as vice provost for academic and international affairs and had a hand in the rise of Duke’s global ambitions. He became Sanford Institute director a second time in 2005 and chaired the task force that made the case for Sanford becoming a school.

“I’ve spent a good portion of my life at Duke in administrative roles. I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t enjoyed it,” Kuniholm said. “I see my role as inaugural dean as getting everything in place, and handing it over at the appropriate time to a successor who can carry the ball forward.”

Kuniholm’s license plate reads Ironyman, a reference to his participation in Ironman triathlons and an indicator that he relishes a challenge.  But his decision to lead the school transition sprang from a love of Duke, one faculty member suggested.

One measure of that dedication is the number of Duke degrees held by Kuniholm and his family. He and his wife, Liz (whose father chaired the physics department), each hold three degrees from Duke. His daughter, Erin, earned an MD and his son, Jonathan, is pursuing his PhD in biomedical engineering. His daughter-in-law, Michele Quinn, is also a Duke MD.

 “One of the great things about Duke is that it has made itself much more interdisciplinary and international since I first came here,” Kuniholm said, “which makes it an exciting place to be. “

Read about the Sanford School's first year here.