Sanford School on Track in First Year

The Sanford School of Public Policy celebrated its inauguration as Duke’s 10th school last fall with congratulatory toasts and dinners, a guest lecture series, and a Founder’s Day address by Sanford’s first director, Joel Fleishman.

A year later, the celebrations have ended. The journey from Institute to School—papered with a strategic plan, a new name and logo, new faculty by-laws and a system of governance, a code of professional conduct, fundraising goals, frameworks for future hiring and multiple financial planning spreadsheets—is officially over.

Now, the school’s emphasis is on delivering the promised benefits of becoming a school, said Dean Bruce Kuniholm.

“A key part of our vision was ‘transforming student lives,’ and the question is how do you do that? The short answer is you hire more and better faculty who can teach new courses, and do a better job of mentoring and advising students,” Kuniholm said.

A 2006 self-study showed the Sanford Institute had a high faculty-student ratio compared to its peers. With the hiring latitude afforded a school, Sanford has added 17 regular rank faculty in the last three years, and may hire as many as five more this year. The school is on track to achieve its goal of doubling the faculty by 2014, and “it has made a big difference.”

One measure of the value of additional faculty members is the record number of undergraduates—21—who chose to research and write an honors thesis in 2010. Each student works with a faculty member on the project. In 2011 as many as 33 undergraduates could graduate with honors in a class expected to number about 185, Sanford’s largest ever.

Sanford's school builder

Sanford School of Public Policy Dean Bruce Kuniholm has a no-nonsense style of communication.

See how that leadership style helped shape the school through not just one, but two key transitions.

Sanford School of Public Policy Dean Bruce Kuniholm

Another measure is new elective courses. New faculty member Phil Bennett, former managing editor of The Washington Post, co-taught a course on Islam in the media last spring, for example. This fall, newly hired Assistant Professor Marc Jeulands course on “Water Cooperation and Conflict,” covers theories of hydro politics, water security and international water law. Jeuland is among a cohort enhancing the faculty’s depth in environment and energy, one of four policy focus areas for the new school. Another cluster of faculty members affiliated with the Duke University Population Research Institute (DuPRI) expand expertise in large-scale research.

The school’s role in the life of the university also has subtly shifted. Forging strong collaborations with other schools and departments to make the most of Duke’s resources is an important part of Sanford’s strategic vision, said Provost Peter Lange.

Assessing change in the school’s national visibility is more challenging. U.S. News and World Report ranked the school tenth overall and fifth in policy analysis among more than public policy programs and schools in 2008 “Many of our peers thought of us as a school even before we became one,” Kuniholm said. “Our success is tied to Duke’s success.”

Becoming a school has given Sanford “freedom to be entrepreneurial,” Kuniholm said. With that freedom come obligations to raise money and manage its own budget, rather than “go to the dean with your hand out and take what he gives you,” Kuniholm said.

Sanford’s capability of raising the necessary resources to become a school faced tough questioning by the Academic Council a few years ago. However, the school successfully met its threshold fundraising goal of $40 million while raising an average of $14.1 million a year over the last four years, Kuniholm said. Creating the school was “directly related to a university priority— putting knowledge in the service of society —and there was no reason that a recession should have impeded a high university priority.”

Although Sanford will face continuing challenges in maintaining a balanced budget, it intends to operate within its means, and Provost Lange said he is confident it can do so.

The transition hasn’t been without obstacles, Kuniholm said. Sanford’s endowments suffered from the economic downturn, as did those of every other school. Because of underwater endowments Kuniholm said he has been “very careful to develop long-term budget projections that enable me to sleep at night.”

Faculty growth has been kept on track by hiring junior faculty and hiring in partnership with other schools and institutes at Duke, including Nicholas and Fuqua, the Nicholas Institute and the Global Health Institute. Joint hires require faculty to juggle more obligations, he said, but they spread the financial burden and encourage interdisciplinary collaborations.

An array of factors can influence the school’s bottom line, including the economy, enrollments, fund-raising success, and senior faculty retirements. Kuniholm joked that he’s one of the senior faculty he needs to talk with about retirement.

“We’re going to work hard to continue the course we’re on,” he said. “But it’s not an onerous task. While we have no control over the economy, we can manage our enrollments. And when it comes to fundraising, it’s our responsibility to excite future donors about helping us accomplish our vision. If you believe in the vision, it’s fun.”

A Multidisciplinary Partner

A partial list of campus-wide projects that the Sanford School is involved in

• Duke’s campus under construction in Kunshan, China. Sanford plans to partner with The Fuqua School of Business to offer a master’s in management, and is exploring distance learning and executive education programs.

• Global Semester Abroad (GSA). In the spring, about two dozen students will embark on Duke’s first GSA. The program is co-led by Anirudh Krishna, Sanford’s newly promoted associate dean for international academic programs, and Ralph Litzinger in cultural anthropology.

• A Duke “platform” in Washington, D.C. Along with other schools at Duke, Sanford is considering a presence in D.C., and hopes to offer students an academic semester coupled with an internship (approximately half to a third of Sanford undergrads and MPPs currently do intern-ships in Washington).

• A cross-disciplinary initiative in energy and the environment, under discussion with Fuqua, the Nicholas School of the Environment, the Nicholas Institute, the Law School and Pratt School of Engineering.