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On Thursday night, Sanford held a reception to welcome David Price again to campus. Duke President Vincent Price, Dean Judith Kelley, Founding Director Joel Fleishman, and Polis Director Deondra Rose, each spoke to the gathered faculty, staff and students about the impact of Price’s return. Some of those words are shared in this story, along with other celebrations from faculty that worked alongside him at Sanford over the years.


David Price speaks about his return to Sanford and his career in Congress. 


Duke President Vincent Price

"In your time at Duke, you were transformative as a teacher and as a scholar, and now that you’re coming back into this academic community, you have a chance to bring that back to us again. We could not be more proud of your accomplishments or more excited to have you back with the Sanford School."



Dean Judith Kelley

"It is an immense honor and opportunity for us to welcome David back to our fold. With such a long career of distinguished service, he has much to offer our students and our university. We look forward to engaging David and his talents!"  - Sanford School Dean Judith Kelley

On a typical morning in 1973, around 11 AM, David Price would lace up his sneakers and run a lap around Duke’s campus. He would pass by the engineering school (not yet the Pratt school), reminding him of a life as an engineer that he had never lived. The jog would take him past Duke Chapel, bringing to mind another alternate future as a minister. Finally, the lap would take him full circle (as laps tend to do) back to Old Chemistry, where he was a faculty member in Duke’s newly formed Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs.

Shaped by the civil rights movement

This wasn’t the first (or last) loop in his career. From the small town of Erwin, Tenn., Price came to UNC-Chapel Hill in the Fall of 1959 as a transfer from Mars Hill University. He was a double major in mathematics and history, the latter of which awakened his interest in the liberal arts, he said.

“I came to UNC at a time when the civil rights movement was gaining steam. I became the president of the Baptist Student Union (even though I wasn’t Baptist), and the religious groups on campus were the ones pushing the rest of the student groups for movie theater integration in North Carolina,” Price recalls.

This leadership led him into student government and a larger role in local movements to further civil rights in North Carolina. He stood in picket lines, passed student government civil rights legislation and “urged local merchants to serve all people.” Price had started to see the path he was meant to take. He enrolled at Yale to pursue a degree in theology immediately after graduating from UNC in 1961.

“I was in divinity school to learn about social ethics and the prophetic aspects of the Christian faith with a vision of a just society. The Hebrew prophets had been rediscovered in the context of the civil rights movement. My personal awakening, in terms of my religious and political views, has been shaped by the civil rights experience,” Price said.


Professor William A. “Sandy” Darity

"It’s very exciting to have David Price rejoin us at Sanford. He brings us a rare combination of vast experience as a Congressional representative from North Carolina with a rich reservoir of scholarly acumen." - William A. “Sandy” Darity Jr., Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy, African and African American Studies, and Economics and the director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity

a call to public service begins

Those early years at Yale were formative for Price. He describes them as “quiet years, but very decisive in my intellectual formation.” The civil rights movement had captured the nation’s attention, and figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. were drawing in thousands at every event. As Price continued his studies at Yale (continuing to a Ph.D. in political science), he started to look south again.


Professor Helen Ladd

"How fortunate the Sanford School is to have David Price return after his many years of outstanding public service. His dedication to Congress, the Democratic Party and his district, along with his solid values, will make him a highly valued member of the Sanford community going forward." - Helen Ladd, Susan B. King Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Public Policy



Having served as an aide to Sen. Bob Bartlett from 1964 to 1967, Price became more involved in national politics and wanted to return to his home state of Tennessee to help the 1970 Senatorial campaign of Albert Gore (Sr.). Gore had become famous for his anti-Vietnam and pro-civil rights views. Price reached out to his Yale colleague, Joel Fleishman, to make the connection.

“Joel connected me to the Gore campaign, and my wife and I moved to Nashville with a six-month-old baby. We rented a house, and I ran the student contact aspect of the Gore campaign. Unfortunately, it was an unsuccessful campaign but a very important one within the civil rights movement. That campaign gave me experience and some friendships that have lasted to this day,” Price said.

After a few more years of teaching at Yale, Fleishman accepted an invitation to Durham from Duke President Terry Sanford to start a new institute focused on public policy. Fleishman recruited Price as a professor of political science in 1973. Price recalls his initial role clearly.

“I was asked to develop the ethics part of the public policy curriculum. Joel is steeped in theology and ethics in his own intellectual life, but nobody in these public policy schools that were starting up knew quite what ethics should look like. This was just after Watergate. We knew there had to be an ethics component,” Price said.


Professor Joel Fleishman

"He cares about good government. He has exemplified good government, and I can’t think of anybody better to add to the faculties in political science and public policy from which students can learn from somebody who has been through the rough difficulties of running for office." - Professor Joel Fleishman, Sanford’s founding director



teaching at duke leads to congress

Price enjoyed his daily run around Duke’s campus for 13 more years as a professor of political science and public policy, but now a different kind of run was on his mind. He worked for the North Carolina Democratic Party while teaching and knew that life was again calling him back to politics. He ran for Congress in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District and was elected in November 1986. For the next 36 years, the cycle of homecoming would repeat. After four terms (and plenty of travel between D.C. and North Carolina), Price lost reelection and, for two years in 1995 and 1996, was again able to teach the next generation of public policy leaders at Duke. After winning reelection again in 1996, he never lost again.


Professor Phil Cook

"I’m delighted to welcome my old friend and colleague back to Duke.  His return provides our students and the entire Sanford community an extraordinary opportunity to learn from his grounded knowledge from over 30 years in Congress. Of course, he never neglected the Sanford School, always available to our students and interns. And I am in awe that despite the demands of his job, he continued publishing, just recently completing the fourth edition of his book on The Congressional Experience. He is that rare combination of a statesman and a scholar." - Phil Cook, ITT/Terry Sanford Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Public Policy Studies



Volumes have been written about David Price’s 17 terms in congress. E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote a farewell to an “institutional patriot” in The Washington Post recently, and Price himself recently finished his fourth edition of The Congressional Experience, a personal recounting of lessons he learned in his time in the “people’s branch” of government.

Price gave the audience a glimpse of his newest life chapter during the reception. "During my time in Congress, I have often visited the many colleges and universities in this district. I've visited Duke many many times, but my presence back here will give me a chance to do that in a more concentrated way. I see many friends here today who have been friends over the years."

Just as his education fostered his love for public service, Price expresses his anticipation for training students for a life in public policy at Sanford.

“We have the pick of the group here at Sanford. It’s not just their intellectual quality, but also the way they pick up on moral and political questions that have left me very impressed and very hopeful."

David Price receives Polis Distinguished Fellow plaque
Price is introduced by Deondra Rose as a 2022-2023 Polis Distinguished Fellow.

Professor Deondra Rose

"As Polis continues to focus our work around the theme of ‘Discourse for Democracy’ and efforts to replace the polarization and division on our political landscape with transformative conversations that can help us move beyond our differences to build a stronger democracy, we are extremely privileged to have the opportunity to learn from Congressman Price and his legacy of service.  Throughout his entire career, he has modeled the power of listening, collaborative problem-solving and using knowledge in service to society.  It gives us great honor to have Congressman Price among this year’s cohort of Polis Director’s Fellows." - Deondra Rose, Kevin D. Gorter Associate Professor of Public Policy and Polis director