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Here's to 50 Years of Public Policy at Duke

On September 10, 2021, the Sanford School kicked off its celebration of 50 years of public policy with speeches and refreshments on the lawn.

Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, the Duke University Sanford School of Public Policy is celebrating 50 years of public policy education and scholarship – looking back at history and forward to the next 50 years.

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Founding Director and Professor Joel Fleishman with Dean Judith Kelley in the Sanford Building, alongside a statue of Terry Sanford
Professor Joel Fleishman with Judith Kelley, Dean of the Sanford School.

The celebration includes special events and the launch of a new website featuring events, alumni profiles and a history of public policy at Duke.

Dean Judith Kelley of the Sanford School said that the 50th anniversary comes at a time when the need for policy could not be more important.

“Virtually every major challenge in the world has policy connections and outcomes. We see the need for policy solutions for issues affecting all of us: the pandemic, threats to democracy, climate change, structural inequality, systemic racism, cybersecurity, just to mention a few,” Kelley said. “Our school is driven by the fierce urgency of major policy challenges, to produce knowledge and leadership for the future.”

Launched in 1971 as the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs by Terry Sanford—President of Duke, former Governor of North Carolina, and later a U.S. Senator—the Sanford School of Public Policy is one of the oldest and largest public policy programs in the nation.

“The 50th milestone is an opportunity to celebrate the people, programs and impact this bold interdisciplinary initiative has had on Duke, the nation and the world and to share a bold vision for the future. Fifty years ago, Terry Sanford and Joel Fleishman created a program in the budding academic field of public policy, bringing insights from multiple disciplines to bear on real-world issues,” Kelley said.

Since its founding, the Sanford School of Public Policy has been at the forefront of the movement that carved out public policy as a distinct field. The institute (now school) quickly distinguished itself from other policy programs through an emphasis on undergraduate education and the humanistic dimension of public policy.

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Joel Fleishman, outside, sitting and smiling
Professor Joel Fleishman at the 50th anniversary kickoff.

Founding director Joel Fleishman (of the former Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy) is the longest-serving faculty member in the Sanford School.

“It has been the greatest honor to have been selected by Terry Sanford to try to put flesh on his idea. All of those who have taught and studied in what is now the Sanford School are the beneficiaries of not only Terry Sanford’s ambitious vision but also the commitments of faculty, directors, staff and students who have devoted their lives to making the school what it is today: dynamic, robust and thriving,” Fleishman said.

In 2009, the institute became Duke’s newest school and has had three deans: Bruce Kuniholm, Kelly Brownell and Judith Kelley. Kelley, an expert on international relations, including issues such as human trafficking and election monitoring, became the school’s dean on July 1, 2018. 

The Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke is among the nation’s leading public policy schools, with many points of pride, including:

  • 14 faculty hold distinguished chairs, and seven faculty are members of the National Academies and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
  • The school’s Master of Public Policy (MPP) program is ranked sixth for policy analysis by U.S. News and World Report.
  • The undergraduate major is one of the most popular at Duke, awarding about 200 degrees each year.
  • In 2019, Sanford launched its Strategic Priorities, and has made significant progress to achieving its ambitions.
  • In fall 2020, The Duke Endowment provided a $10 million award to support the school, by funding graduate fellowships, professorships and strategic investments in school priorities.
  • In summer 2021, Sanford announced a new master’s program in national security policy.

“Thanks to the hard work and contributions of many institution builders who worked over the past 50 years and our community of alumni, faculty, staff and students, Sanford is in a strong position for the future,” Kelley said. “Every day, we are delivering on our mission to improve lives and communities by researching the most pressing public policy issues and preparing students for lives of leadership, civic engagement and public service.”

Join the celebration!

Throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, Sanford invites individuals and organizations to join the celebration.