In planning the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, Joel Fleishman conceived of several topical centers that anchored the Institute, providing clusters of expertise around certain areas.
In addition to teaching the substance of those policy areas, those faculty clusters—a mix of tenure-line academics and professors of the practice—would also prepare students for internships and help them process their experiences. The center model was another way to keep public policy at Duke fresh and up-to-date.
One challenge was deciding the policy arenas that would be the Institute’s specialties.
Initial proposals for the Institute discussed centers on environmental policy; housing, land use, and urban policy; law and justice policy; health policy; education policy; and one devoted to the methods and theory of public policy, justifying the Institute’s “policy sciences” title.
In the early years, faculty interests led to a proliferation of centers, often one-person outfits with few tethers across the university.
“It became a joke that we had as many centers as we had faculty,” says Philip Cook. “You could create a center pretty much just printing stationary that said your name.”
The centers that initially became most robust at Duke benefited from early philanthropic support.
A major grant from the Commonwealth Fund in New York supported the Center for the Study of Health Policy, keeping it a focus despite challenges keeping faculty members hired for that cluster.
Another notable cluster that set Duke apart from its policy peers was its devotion to the study of journalism and communications, manifest today in the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. The Wallace Center had its roots in the Institute’s first year.
A chance exchange with Terry Sanford led the Institute to hire journalist Eugene Patterson—who had grown weary of editing the Washington Post—as the first professor of the practice.
Patterson did not stay long, but he set a template enshrined with the Duke Fellows in Communication Policy (later, the Media Fellows Program), which brought in a rotating cast of visiting journalists. The Markle Foundation supported the Center for the Study of Communication Policy with a $300,000, three-year grant given in the summer of 1973.
In 1991, the Institute’s work around communications was endowed by a major gift from George Grune, a Duke alumnus and the former CEO of the Reader’s Digest Association.
Renamed the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, it thrived under the leadership of Ellen Mickiewicz, James T. Hamilton, Philip Bennett, Bill Adair and now Philip Napoli.
While Duke University had little interest in creating a journalism school, the DeWitt Wallace Center provided the opportunity for research and teaching in media studies, crucial aspects of the politics of policymaking.
Some centers have come together around shared faculty interests. A prime example is the Center for Child and Family Policy, which started from faculty conversations about how to make a bigger difference with their work.
With support from William Chafe, then dean of Arts and Sciences, they hired Kenneth Dodge from Vanderbilt to lead the cross-cutting center, which launched in 1999.
The initiative brought together research on education policy, adolescent problem behavior, and child abuse prevention, seeking government partnerships to study and spin off programs. In its first ten years alone, roughly 8,000 children received services through center projects.
It helped cement the Sanford School’s reputation as a leader in social policy research. For the past eight years, faculty members Helen Ladd and Charles Clotfelter have been ranked among the most influential scholars in the nation’s dialogue on education by Education Week, in the top 100 on the list of 200 scholars.