Allan Kornberg, professor of political science here at Duke for more than four decades, died July 31 at the age of 87. 

Kornberg was a prominent figure on campus ever since he arrived in 1965. Over the course of his long career, he helped grow the political science department in a number of different leadership roles—serving as the department's chairman from 1983 to 1992. His work focused on comparative politics, legislative behavior and Canadian politics.  

Michael Gillespie, professor of political science and philosophy, wrote in an email to The Chronicle that Kornberg was "one of the most colorful people he has ever met."

"[Kornberg] was a great story-teller and comedian, and a forceful personality, who was instrumental in building in building the Duke Political Science department into one of the top programs in the country,” he wrote. "Kornberg came late to political science but he later became the world's leading scholar of Canadian politics."

Kornberg was born April 6, 1931 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His parents were immigrants from East Europe. 

He was a star athlete in his youth and into his 20s, when he played college and professional football in Canada. 

After retiring from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 1950s, he coached his local high school football team and wrestled professionally as Krusher Kornberg.

In the 1960s, Kornberg decided to forego his athletic career and focus on exercising his mind. 

He received his Ph.D. in political science in 1964 and had started a job at Duke the next year, where it only took him a few years to become a professor with tenure.

He continued to rise in the political science department until he was named chair in 1983—a position he held until 1992. 

During his chairmanship, thanks in part to the University’s desire to grow and his own opportunism, he helped guide the department to its current top-10 ranking in the country. 

"It was surprising to some when Kornberg was appointed as Chair of the Department, because he had the reputation of being something of a maverick," said Thomas Spragens, professor emeritus of political science, in the political science department’s obituary for Kornberg. "He was never shy about speaking his mind, even if there were those who did not want to hear what he had to say."

“But he excelled in scholarship. He excelled in mentorship," Spragens added. "And, as it turned out, he excelled in his academic leadership as well."

Kornberg was also chair of the Academic Council from 1988 to 1990. 


Chronicle File Photo | 11/8/88


His works and works he edited were published prolifically, many of them concerning Canada. 

Some of his published works include “Canadian Legislative Behavior: A Study of the 25th Parliament,” “Representative Democracy in the Canadian Provinces,” “Citizen Politicians- Canada” and “The Resurgence of Conservatism in Anglo-American Democracies.”

When Kornberg retired as the Norb F. Schaefer professor emeritus of international studies in 2008, the political science department named classroom 317 in Perkins Library after him.

A memorial service will be held for Kornberg on campus Oct. 6.

Just before he retired in 2008, Kornberg said in an interview with DukeToday that he loved Duke because the campus combines "the resources of a great research university with the intimacy of a liberal arts college."

"I was able to keep in touch with students: I went to the Duke-Navy football game this year, and I kept hearing my name called by people I had taught," Kornberg said. "That's a wonderful thing about Duke."