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New $11M Gift to Duke to Invest in Public Policy as Primary Focus

The Sanford School of Public Policy.
The Sanford School of Public Policy.

An anonymous Duke alumni family has made an $11 million gift to Duke, $8.75 million of which will endow two public policy professorships and support the Sanford School of Public Policy. The public policy program founded by Terry Sanford—former Duke president, North Carolina governor and United States senator—is celebrating 50 years at the university.

The largest part of the gift, $4 million, will create the Grand Challenges of Public Policy Fellowship Fund, which will be used to support Sanford graduate students who have demonstrated a commitment to addressing the biggest problems that can be solved by public policy. Preference will be given to master of public policy students. 

“We are so grateful for this momentous gift, which will support our mission of empowering faculty and students to solve the world’s most pressing challenges,” said Duke President Vincent E. Price. “Throughout its 50-year history, the Sanford School of Public Policy has pursued knowledge and discovery to improve lives—and this gift will lay the foundation for an even more exceptional future to come.”

Giving to Sanford was important to the donor and his family because of the impact studying public policy had on him while he was an undergraduate at Duke.

“I had a phenomenal experience at Duke academically and experientially,” the donor said. “Academically, the public policy curriculum gave me the toolkit to think critically, to write well, to analyze problems, and to develop solutions. I benefitted from the intersection of the academic, the intellectual and the practical, and I had the good fortune of having great professors and developing close mentoring relationships with them.”

Bruce Payne, left, and Tony and Teddie Brown. Two additional endowed professorships, $2 million each, will create the Tony and Teddie Brown Professorship in honor of Sanford professor of the practice emeritus Tony Brown and his wife, Teddie, and the Bruce L. Payne professorship, in honor of the founding director of the Hart Leadership Program at Sanford. Both professorships will enable the Sanford school to hire an assistant or associate professor and scholar in the field of public policy.

Payne, a public policy professor at Duke 1971-2006, established the Hart Leadership Program in 1987 as the first endowed leadership program for undergraduates in the U.S. and one that brought community activism, the arts, and the humanities into the study of leadership. Since its inception more than 10,000 Duke undergraduates have participated, including the donor.

“I wouldn’t have been able to go Duke if it hadn't been for those who had gone before me,” he said.

Judith Kelley, dean of the Sanford School of Public Policy, said that the gift comes at the perfect time as the Sanford School continues to execute its core priorities. In 2020, the Duke Endowment awarded the school $10 million to support graduate fellowships, professorships and strategic investments in school priorities. Now, this new gift from private funding will help Sanford continue to bolster its impact on students as it continues to mark 50 years of impact and the legacy of Terry Sanford into 2022.

“Terry Sanford had outrageous ambitions for public policy at Duke – where students could learn and apply their knowledge to the biggest problems in the world,” Kelley said. “Today, we are continuing to fulfill this mission in a rapidly changing world. This gift moves us closer to solutions for the next generation of policy challenges.”

The remaining $3 million part of the anonymous gift will support expendable faculty funds at Sanford, which provide flexible dollars for faculty of the school in key areas such as health, tech and social policy; the Sanford annual fund; the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences annual fund; the Duke Athletics Legacy Fund; and an endowment to provide faculty support in Trinity College’s Department of Economics.

“Institutionally and as a society, we have very large challenges that we face,” the donor said, “and I want to ensure that Duke can be at the forefront of solving these issues—whether it's through research or implementation of research, or just supporting students well and enabling them to contribute to society.”