Making a Difference will provide an additional $100 million above normal budgets during the next five to eight years in a new initiative to recruit, retain, and support outstanding and diverse faculty at all levels. Many of these positions will be in existing fields, such as the humanities and social sciences, while others will cross institutional boundaries to address important issues in the world.
You can’t have a stellar university without top-notch professors. Schools fight these days over the best researchers and teachers, though, and universities need a smart approach in a seller’s market. Duke has a plan for achieving its strategic goal of attracting and retaining top faculty, and one of its best success stories lies within the economics department.
“We’re competing for faculty from departments we’ve never competed with before -- and we’re winning,” says Tom Nechyba, chairman of the department.
Twenty new faculty members joined the department in the past five years, six of them in 2006-2007. Many have come from more highly ranked schools than Duke, giving the department a national reputation as a “department on the rise” and attracting professors who see a chance to make a real impact.
“Recruitment and retention of faculty is tough these days,” said V. Joseph Hotz, a professor of economics who was recruited in 2007 with Professor Duncan Thomas from the University of California at Los Angeles. “What impressed me about Duke’s Department of Economics was that it entered this competition with a coherent plan to which its faculty and administration were truly committed.”
The transformation of the department began in earnest about five years ago, fueled in part by increased student demand, Nechyba said. Economics, the study of how people, governments, and societies choose to use resources, is the most popular undergraduate major at Duke and produces about 350 graduates a year.
Faculty, Nechyba said, helped him draft what amounted to a battle plan and decided to adopt a “cluster” strategy -- recruiting a mix of young and established professors who already have existing working relationships or who might be expected to form such relationships quickly if they were in the same department. The strategy – combined with the lure of genuine interdisciplinary relationships – is working, Hotz said.
“The fact I could continue my interactions and collaborations with my colleague at UCLA, Duncan Thomas, added a great deal to my desire to come,” Hotz said. “I was attracted not only to the economics department here but also to Duke's broad-based interdisciplinary research environment, with which I was already somewhat familiar through my participation in a research project on the evolution of the family headed by Phil Morgan of Duke’s sociology department.”
Thomas agreed, noting that the way professors at Duke work across departments appealed to him. “In addition to building first rate discipline-based departments, Duke is one of few institutions that has successfully developed a rich tradition in interdisciplinary research,” Thomas said. “There are a number of very exciting initiatives under way at Duke in global health and population sciences that struck a chord with me and provide unparalleled opportunities to collaborate with some of the intellectual leaders in these fields.
“In short, at Duke I have outstanding colleagues both inside and outside economics who are open-minded, broad-thinking, doing outstanding work, and eager to engage in new and innovative ways to tackle important problems,” Thomas said. “What more could one want?”
Pictured above, left to right: (back row) Timur Kuran, V. Joseph Hotz, Andrew Sweeting, Thomas Nechyba; (front row) Rachel Kranton, Hanming Fang.