An increasingly international research agenda and student body reflects one way that the school has become more diverse over the past 50 years.

Regarding other markers of diversity, such as the percentage of students and faculty who are women or African American, the Sanford School long struggled to achieve a representative balance.

White men dominated the faculty during the early years.

Following Duke’s standard recruiting protocols, the Institute made a conscious effort to target women and minority prospects. In the first decade, the Institute hired several women who became major academic figures, including Deborah Stone, author of the popular introductory textbook for public policy, Policy Paradox; Jennifer Hochschild, who flourished at Princeton and Harvard; and Carol Stack, an anthropologist who produced oft-cited ethnographies with policy implications, All our Kin and Call to Home.

But only Stack was tenured at Duke, and in the 1980s, she left for the University of California–Berkeley. Though each of these women moved on from Duke for different reasons, the overall pattern was troubling: during those early years, women were not establishing long-term careers at the Institute.

Economist Helen Ladd, hired in 1986, was the first woman on faculty who spent the majority of her career at Duke. Her hire came as part of a university-wide initiative to increase the number of tenured women at Duke.


Helen "Sunny" Ladd, undated photo


Helen "Sunny" Ladd, undated photo

“I benefited from affirmative action, but affirmative action that I would describe of exactly the right type,” says Ladd, who retired in 2017. “The standards were still high, as high as they would be for anybody else, but it just opened up a slot for me, and that made a lot of sense for Duke. We needed more women at that time.”

Since then, women have gradually increased in proportion of the Sanford faculty. The current dean, Judith Kelley, became the first woman to lead Sanford when she was appointed in 2018.

Hiring people of color to the Sanford faculty proved to be a challenge as well.

Sunny Ladd wearing cap and gown. Man also in cap and gown. Both laughing.
Helen "Sunny" Ladd with William "Sandy" Darity, Jr., 2017

While William “Sandy” Darity, an economist who is African American, joined the Institute as a research scholar in 1999, he did not become full-time at Duke until a decade later.

Sherman James, an epidemiologist, was the first tenured black faculty member at Sanford. James was hired in 2003, after almost three decades as an academic at the University of North Carolina and the University of Michigan.

James had become convinced that his research on health disparities along lines of race, ethnicity, and social class required a better understanding of what policy levers were available.

“From my point of view, it turned out to be quite a good fit,” says James, who is writing a book that clarifies the policy implications of his research . “I had 11 really wonderful years at what became the Sanford School of Public Policy.”

James helped reframe the hiring plan at the Sanford School with an eye towards diversifying the faculty without compromising on research and teaching quality. 

“My experience was it was a very cohesive place, but at the same time a place that has very high standards,” says James. “So if you don’t live up to those standards, you’re not going to make it, and that’s irrespective of any demographic characteristic that you might possess.”

Committee on Diversity and Inclusion 

The School’s Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) has institutionalized a focus on faculty recruitment and retention to ensure that the Sanford School becomes and remains more representative of the larger population. In 2019, the Sanford School and five of its peers co-founded the Public Affairs Diversity Alliance to support diverse scholars in public affairs and public policy.

“My students certainly let me know that they notice what the sort of the demographic or identity related character of their faculty looks like,” says Deondra Rose, a faculty member who has co-chaired the CDI. “They can rattle off how many faculty of color we have at Sanford, or what the Sanford faculty ‘looks like.’ They’re in tune to it, and we’re in tune to it, I think, on the faculty in important ways.”

Woman in classroom, smiling, holding paper, students watching
Deondra Rose, past CDI co-chair