Jay Hamilton is leaving Sanford for Stanford during a time of transition for Duke’s public policy school, leaving behind a legacy that he cultivated over two decades.
Hamilton, director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, informed Sanford administrators Tuesday that he had accepted an offer to direct Stanford University’s journalism program starting this Fall. Hamilton has been considering the Stanford position since Spring 2012, and he received an official offer earlier this month. Hamilton, also the Charles S. Sydnor professor of public policy, leaves Sanford as the school prepares for the arrival of a new dean.
“I was heartbroken,” said Joel Fleishman, professor of law and public policy and former Sanford director, about the moment he learned Hamilton was leaving Duke. “This is truly an extraordinary loss for Sanford and Duke.”
Hamilton was under consideration for the position of Sanford dean, though he did not receive an offer.
Since arriving in 1991, he has had a strong impact on public policy at Duke through scholarship and administrative leadership. Hamilton spearheaded significant changes to the public policy major curriculum and contributed to Sanford’s transition from an institute to a school. Fleishman noted that Hamilton took the DeWitt Wallace Center to “new heights” and became one of the most respected scholars in the field of journalism, economics and technology.
The search for a new Sanford dean began Fall 2011, when current Dean Bruce Kuniholm announced he was planning to step down. In Spring 2012, Duke extended an offer to an external candidate, who did not accept the position. As a result, Sanford conducted a second search and eventually selected Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, this January.
Hamilton was a candidate in the initial search, but he chose not to be included in the second search. Near the end of the initial search, he was invited to consider the position at Stanford’s journalism program, and he delivered a talk on the university’s campus that Spring.
Although he was an initial candidate, Hamilton said he expected that Duke would eventually choose someone with significant policy experience and impact, like Brownell.
“[Brownell is] consistent with what Duke is trying to do with global health and knowledge and service of society,” Hamilton said. “Ultimately, the dean search had a great outcome for the school.”
Other universities have been courting Hamilton for years because of his significant academic achievements—which include authoring several books and receiving numerous awards—but he stayed faithful to Duke and turned the offers down, Fleishman said. He noted that Hamilton taught at Harvard University briefly, and Sanford faculty members were worried he would stay there permanently.
“Sooner or later somebody would poach him from us,” Kuniholm said. “When we have really good people who get extraordinary offers—if it works for them, and it’s better for them—then they should take that opportunity.”
Although he will serve in an administrative capacity at Stanford—overseeing their journalism master’s program and working with the John S. Knight journalism fellows—Hamilton will also have a unique opportunity to expand his research in the field of computational journalism. By working with the Stanford communications department and nearby Silicon Valley tech companies, he can explore innovative and cost-effective ways for investigative reporters to use technology.
“We will be able to draw on the resources and human capital of Silicon Valley and bring them into discussions on journalism’s future,” Hamilton said.
He added that he will have access to more resources than are available at Duke, and he will have the opportunity to teach career-level journalists—his ideal job.
Hamilton noted that the DeWitt Wallace Center faculty will continue their mission to use research and development to aid journalists in a changing media landscape, particularly as it pertains to investigative journalism and holding institutions accountable.
Fleishman added that Hamilton increased the center’s prominence by hosting conferences and seminars—both on and off campus—and recruiting star faculty members.
Kuniholm and Brownell are working together to devise a strategy to find a new director for the center. Kuniholm said they will have a plan in place before the end of April.
“We’re going to miss Jay, there’s no doubt about that,” he added. “You want to celebrate peoples’ transitions to new responsibilities.”
Correction: This article previously said Jay Hamilton changed the center's name from the Dewitt-Wallace Center for Communications and Journalism to the Dewitt-Wallace Center for Media and Democracy. The change happened under the previous director. The article also previously said Hamilton would oversee the Knight fellows program.