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A multifaceted search

The search for a new dean to head the Sanford School of Public Policy has been extended after the selected candidate declined his offer. As the search committee gears up to continue looking for candidates, we hope they do so with eye towards a leader capable of continuing the school’s strong suits while charting new paths.

In Sanford’s 41 years, undergraduates have been the prime beneficiaries of the public policy program. Interdisciplinary course offerings give students the opportunity to experience a wide range of fields through a single major, certificates allow students to delve deeper into the material. Students receive strong career guidance and are in fact required to complete an internship in a public policy-related field. The early exposure of students to widely-applicable skills of public policy analysis is a plus for the University, and the school has done well to develop a strong global focus—one which the new dean should deepen and expand. The school has an international career adviser, a global policy pathway, and a study abroad program in Glasgow, Scotland. The new dean should be supportive of such programs and bring in ideas for new ones, in addition to how to having a conception of how Sanford’s goals fit into Duke’s global expansion projects like Duke Kunshan University.

The continuation and growth of Sanford’s global presence will require deep pockets. The school recently announced plans for a $90 million fundraising campaign, one for which the new dean will likely bear responsibility. The search committee should consider candidates’ fundraising experience in light of this looming task.

A possible explanation for Sanford’s weaknesses has to do with inherent geographical limitations. Programs in law and medicine depend on resources within the school’s control, but public policy programs benefits from close proximity to sites where international and domestic policy is formed. For its other strengths and relative closeness to Washington, D.C., Durham will not be that hub of policy-making. The nascent Duke in D.C. program is a step in the right direction in terms of recognizing the importance of geographic ties to policy makers. An attractive candidate for the dean position would have connections in the capital and be able to leverage them to boost Sanford’s curricular and pre-professional resources.

The school’s new dean must understand the challenges posed by geography and offer innovative ways of overcoming them. The school’s improvement is contingent on its ability to attract the brightest students and faculty. The future dean must have a vision for the school that is attractive enough to overcome its unavoidable disadvantages. This pull must be strong enough to lure a prospective student who would otherwise be interested in pursuing big-name internships during his or her course of study.

We trust that the 13-person search committee has the internal perspective necessary to make those decisions. We support the priorities previously expressed by members of the committee, including the importance of considering candidates of diverse backgrounds and ones with experience in both academia and public affairs. The bridging of the ivory tower and the real world is central to the Sanford School’s mission, and it is imperative that the selection of the next dean reflects that balance.


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