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Only a few can say they were part of the founding of public policy at Duke 50 years ago. Professor Emeritus Bruce Payne is among them.

Payne joined Duke in 1971 and established the present-day Hart Leadership Program in 1987 in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke. This program was the first leadership program of its kind and has made an impact on thousands of students over the years. Payne served as a faculty member for 35 years, retiring in 2006.

In recognition of his leadership and service, Sanford has received a major gift from an anonymous Duke alumni family, creating the endowed Bruce L. Payne Professorship Fund at Sanford.

Man, glasses, slight smile
Bruce Payne

Dean Judith Kelley of Sanford said the gift is meaningful on many levels.

“This is an extraordinary way to pay homage to a beloved faculty member and to contribute to the future of public policy. The fund will allow Sanford to hire an assistant or associate professor and scholar in the field of public policy, and additional support will enable Sanford to hire scholars of Bruce's caliber,” she said. 

Payne described his first reaction to the gift in his honor as a mix of surprise and gratitude.

“The 35 years I spent on the Duke faculty were the most productive time in my life, and no work that I’ve done – in philanthropy, or politics, or university administration – has been as satisfying as teaching,” he said. “Joel (Fleishman) was doing something hugely worthwhile, and he thought I could help. That was the best decision of my career.”

Payne recalls his early days at Duke.

My first task was to design and then to teach our ethics course, PPS 116, awkwardly named Policy Choice as Value Conflict. The awkwardness was intentional.  We wanted our students to see that disagreements about values, not just competing interests, were at the heart of many of the conflicts most in need of resolution,” Payne said.

Payne and his colleagues said they found students were willing to imagine themselves as decisionmakers and wrestle with questions of conscience and responsibility – in increasing numbers.

“We had seriously underestimated the likely popularity of the undergraduate policy program.  Before we were able to hire another teacher for PPS 116, I found myself teaching classes of more than 100 students,” Payne said.

Payne developed a grading system for the growing program that focused on quality of the program, helping to earn him an Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award in 1983.

Payne also had a direct role in proposal writing that led to a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The grant led to faculty hires in history including Bruce Kuniholm and Peter Decker, to bring the humanities more fully into the field of public policy.

“These excellent historians added context and depth to our students’ perspectives on public policy, and the same was true of Carol Stack, a superb anthropologist whose focus was on American communities of color,” Payne said.

Duke’s public policy program was distinct from others by its inclusion of a full-scale undergraduate department, by a commitment to ethics, and by its emphasis on history and on documentary studies. Payne was persuaded that combining these fields with quantitative perspectives of economics, decision theory and more would enable students to work productively on deeply-rooted problems. 

“The Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, later the Sanford Institute, was distinguished among the emerging public policy programs in the country by having a solid and well-planned undergraduate major and a commitment to ethics and to history. The Institute was also known for supporting good teaching and innovative courses for undergraduates,” Payne said.

Payne said Fleishman and others faced serious and substantial challenges to the creation of the public policy institute and to some of the programs, including Payne’s creation Leadership in the Arts, a program he designed and led from 1996-2005.

In 1985, Mitch Hart came to Payne’s office to talk about a program in leadership, after already having several conversations with Terry Sanford and Joel Fleishman. Hart had an idea for a national leadership program for students based at Duke. Sanford and Fleishman agreed to pilot a program focused on Duke students as a kind of model for a possible national effort. Payne and Hart discussed the idea, with Payne invited to head the program in leadership.

Payne agreed and worked on a plan unlike any leadership program that had existed before.

“Teaching was at the heart of the Hart Leadership Program from the very beginning; passionate, demanding teaching that helped students think about their own leadership capacities. That teaching was involved not only with stories about past and present acts of leadership (and failures of leadership).  It was also, from the beginning, involved with students having experiences of leadership about which they could reflect,” Payne said.

Payne describes the early leadership program and summer internship. Course work was demanding, community projects were time-consuming; and students were excitedly preparing for their summer plans (80 students participated in the summer internship program in 1987) to help homeless people in New York, troubled kids in DC, migrant workers in North Carolina and Florida, and people with health problems in North Carolina and Georgia.

“The results were in the main terrific. It provided an opportunity in which I still profoundly believe. Students had a chance to work for change alongside people who believed that injustice was wrong and that both generosity and indignation made sense as a response to the problems of those in need. Students had a chance to exercise not only their analytic capacities, but also their moral judgment and their capacities for caring.”

Payne said the professor who joins Sanford will have many benefits, including the community of faculty and students.

“The best part about being a faculty member at Sanford is the students – ardent, thoughtful, full of energy, and amazingly quick to learn,” he said.

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Bruce L. Payne Professorship Fund

The Bruce L. Payne professorship, in honor of the founding director of the Hart Leadership Program at Sanford, enables the Sanford School to hire an assistant or associate professor and scholar in the field of public policy.

Contribute to the Bruce L. Payne Professorship