Explore the History of the Hart Leadership Program
In the fall of 1985, Mitch Hart came into my office after a number of conversations with Terry Sanford and Joel Fleishman. Mitch, a notable corporate executive and a longtime leader of the Young Presidents’ Organization (probably the best corporate leadership organization then in existence), had an idea for a national leadership program for students and had offered support for basing it at Duke…
Mitch admired Terry, both as a visionary university president at Duke and in his earlier career as a courageous southern progressive Democratic governor – the only one in the South during the early sixties who stood up to the Klan and who had defended the civil rights of African Americans. Mitch and his family had determined that Duke would be a good place to send his kids, and in the process of learning about Duke, Mitch had become a good friend of Joel Fleishman.
Terry and Joel had for almost fifteen years been focused on strengthening undergraduate programs at Duke and on raising Duke’s national visibility. The Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs, [which became] the Sanford Institute, was distinguished among the emerging public policy programs in the country by having a solid and well-planned undergraduate major; and Sanford was known for supporting good teaching and innovative programs for undergraduates. In addition to heading the public policy program, Joel was serving as the university’s principal long term planner.
Both were necessarily and profoundly concerned with bringing strong supporters to Duke. Although the university’s position had been strengthened during Sanford’s tenure, there was no hope of finding adequate money for Duke’s future plans among the alumni or from the great foundations. Money needed to come from corporate leaders and philanthropists, not great foundations, and the money needed to come from corporate leaders and philanthropists not already attached to Duke.
Nevertheless, Joel and Terry turned down the plan for Leadership America based at Duke. The decision to turn down the national leadership program was consistent with their belief that Duke students should be the prime focus of every new initiative. Independent research institutes in many scientific and other fields were being accepted at many major universities in those years, but at Duke the critical question was always whether proposed programs had direct connections with what Duke students would be learning. A national program involving students from fifty or more campuses every summer might be a good idea, but in their view, not for us. So they asked Mitch to think instead about helping them make leadership central to the curriculum at Duke. (Mitch pursued his national idea in Dallas, funding and supporting a Leadership America [program] for five years, fostering some excellent leadership development, but never fully realizing his dream.)
I had been in occasional conversations with Mitch about leadership and politics since the spring of 1984—we shared an interest in presidential politics and we enjoyed arguing about a range of domestic and international activities. But it was only in the early fall of 1985 that it became clear to me that Mitch had decided to support an undergraduate leadership program at Duke, and only that summer did I learn by the grapevine that he was eager for me to be its first head.
He added that he admired my ethics and policy course (PPS 116, “Policy Choice as Value Conflict,”) and that he thought it was a leadership course. He also thought, he said, that my civil rights interests, my passionate concerns about inadequate national political leadership, and my involvements with documentary work and community service gave me at least some of what I would need to run a leadership program.
I was in fact ready with an answer, but it wasn’t one I was sure would persuade him. I said that we ought to help students learn about leadership through well-taught courses, courses that focused on stories, especially on history, rather than management skills or the kinds of leadership techniques advocated in the business schools. Beyond that, I said, we ought to combine serious and thoughtful learning with experience, and more particularly with experience that involved taking on responsibility.
I said that if I had access to the kind of money about which he was talking, I would use it to create classes that would be the kind of “thinking” wing of the emerging student community service movement. There was no doubt, I said, that leadership experience was in principle available in business or governmental organizations, but most internships and entry-level jobs in such organizations didn’t give students much responsibility. Hard pressed social service and environmental organizations and agencies, on the other hand, put students to work making decisions because they were chronically understaffed. They needed help, and bright students who worked hard could quickly play important roles. They could learn about leadership by doing it.
I finished by saying that leadership studies based in the humanities, in history and literature and political theory, were a perfect foil for experiential learning in the small non-profits and hard-pressed local social service agencies. Mitch said simply: “That sounds right. I want you to do it. Put it in writing; get the approvals you need at Duke, and come see me in Dallas.”
The next couple of months were a blur of planning, writing, and negotiating, but by the second week in December we had a plan ready for Mitch, and I flew to Dallas with it.
The spring of 1986 was partly taken up with some difficult negotiations with Duke’s President and deans about the terms of the gift. But my main activity during those months was nevertheless teaching a seminar for some of Duke’s ablest students that was aimed at designing a leadership program along the lines I had described. By the end of April we had forged a plan.
– Bruce Payne
The story of the founding of the Hart Leadership Program involves four key figures: Milledge “Mitch” Hart III, Linda Wertheimer Hart, Joel Fleishman, and Bruce Payne.
The Hart Leadership Program was launched in 1986 by Mitch Hart, a Duke trustee (1983-1991) and member of the Board of Visitors of the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy. A Dallas businessman, Hart was—and remains—committed to introducing young adults to ethical leadership through a learning process that combines intellectual study, personal reflection, and practical, hands-on experience.
Joel Fleishman was instrumental in coordinating a major gift to create the Hart Leadership Program. Fleishman was director of the Capital Campaign for Arts and Sciences at Duke at the time, and had previously served as director of the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs in early 1980s. Mitch’s son, Milledge Hart IV ‘87, was a Public Policy major at the time and had taken Professor Bruce Payne’s ethics course. Mitch Hart believed that ethics ought to be at the center of leadership education. This was a novel idea at the time, as most other colleges and universities did not add an ethics component to the curriculum until years, and in some cases decades, later. Hart also admired Terry Sanford’s belief that the Institute should not just prepare students for a rapidly changing world, but should also challenge them to set ambitious goals and to achieve them.
In addition to the leadership classes that I had wanted and the connections to organizations in Durham that seemed to represent good possibilities for leadership experience, that first seminar came up with an idea that was central to the first three years of the program. [The students] concluded that serious classes in leadership weren’t going to be well taught without help, and they thought the best available help would be students like themselves—a student staff that would take on a wide range of responsibilities for this new class…
By Fall 1986 John Ott, a Duke Public Policy graduate and a Stanford Law graduate had joined the program as Associate Director. John had worked in Houston with Ernie Cortez and the Industrial Areas Foundation, and brought to the program a profound commitment to democratic discussion and decision making. He and I agreed that the student staff was the best thing we were doing in leadership education, and by Spring 1987 it had become a regular seminar on its own, taught jointly by John Ott and me, but with John as the principal faculty member in charge.
I continued to teach a full complement of students in PPS 116 as well as teaching the new leadership course and sharing in the teaching of the staff course. John and I were working night and day. I generally held office hours as late as 2 AM, but could fit in about six hours of time for sleeping. As near as I could tell, John managed only about half that much sleep most nights.
The results of this intensive effort in the first year were astonishing. Almost every student had half an hour or more with John or me of advising time each week, and every student also had advising time with one or more members of the student staff. Course work was demanding, community projects were time-consuming; and students were excitedly preparing for their summer plans (eighty of our first hundred or so students participated in the summer program in 1987).
Our plan in those days was to try to revivify the Duke curriculum, and we were hoping to bring other faculty members into the fold. This plan, largely adopted by Marietta College in 1987 (and still in operation), never had much of a chance at Duke. But it was part of the reason that we had no plan for a certificate or a major, just a series of courses and experiences that would help students discover their own leadership capacities and strengths and that would motivate them to do major things in the world.
To begin this process we decided to designate PPS 116 as a Leadership Program course (I was still at that time teaching most of the sections of that course). Because it was a popular course and a required one for policy majors, we generally had at least sixty-five students. For all the work, this seemed something of a golden opportunity to expand our teaching capacities.
– Bruce Payne
Asking Tough Questions: The Hart Leadership Program's Early Evolution, 1987-2001
For many years Bruce Payne taught his signature leadership course, PPS 116: “Policy Choice as Value Conflict,” which was a core requirement for the policy major. A lecturer in public policy studies, Payne was recruited to Duke in 1971 by Joel Fleishman, whom he had gotten to know while earning a master’s degree in political science from Yale University. Payne was interested in broad themes of leadership development, and wanted to attract students from across disciplines. In those early years, the small staff included two chaplains from the Divinity School (Reverends Earl Brill and Nancy Ferree Clark), associate director John Ott ’79, several development colleagues of Fleishman’s who were interested in leadership, and a volunteer staff of a dozen or so students who helped run the program, serving as teaching assistants, arranging internships, and helping with other program tasks.
Despite the groundswell of good intentions and support for undergraduate leadership development at Duke, some behind-the-scenes issues threatened to derail the Hart Leadership Program in its early years. Several proponents of the program thought Hart should focus solely on community organizing and community service, while Payne and others were emphatic that the program’s grounding in ethics and policy could prepare greater numbers of students for leadership positions regardless of their career choices. Other issues included funding and fund raising, control over new faculty hires, and conflicting opinions about how decisions should be made at the senior administrative level (not, it may be noted, an unusual set of growing pains for a new academic program).
Still, the program continued to gain strength as it offered students opportunities to engage in the kind of co-curricular community-based work—both domestically and internationally—that would eventually expand into a campus-wide emphasis on interdisciplinary and international experiences and the Research Service Learning movement. For example, Hart launched the Interns in Conscience project, an outgrowth of Student Action with Farmworkers which sent groups of students to southern Florida during summer breaks to work directly at agencies serving farmworkers. Later, in the mid-1990s, Hart students and faculty formed the Refugee Action Project, which organized humanitarian aid trips to the former Yugoslavia, Turkey, Slovenia, and Austria.
Looking back, the best thing about the on-campus part of the Leadership Program of those years was surely the intense involvement of students in the classes. Most years, in addition to the readings and the weekly quizzes, there were required individual or group projects. One of these resulted in the “Green Dorm,” environmental housing for students; and another led to SAF (Student Action with Farmworkers). But in fact there were dozens of them: school and after-school projects; work with senior centers; projects with cancer patients, environmental work, and regular connections with organizations like Habitat for Humanity…
A second great strength of the program was our advising—in many ways we were a “leadership coaching” operation, talking with students about the organizations they were running or the ones they wanted to initiate, talking with them about how to be effective in the groups they were part of, or against those they opposed. A fair number of the most interesting and innovative things that happened on the campus in those years were deeply but unofficially connected to our work in this way, not least the successful student campaign, led by leadership staff member John Humphrey, to end Duke’s investments in apartheid South Africa.
Alex Harris was not directly part of what we were doing, but his and Margaret Sartor’s and my work in South Africa led to one more significant curricular development in the early phase of the program, and that was the hiring of Allister Sparks, South Africa’s leading journalist, to teach a course about leadership and politics in South Africa. In his first two semesters of teaching at Duke, Allister was not only a fascinating teacher capable of adding quite unusual stories and perspectives to our subjects, he was also talking about and writing The Mind of South Africa, easily the most important book on that country written during its period of greatest transition.
As part of our courses we had a lot of visitors. Our first was Bob Moses, the leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi 1962-64 (and now director of the Algebra Project nationally). Michael Eisner, then new in his job as CEO at Disney, spent two hours with each of two classes, answering tough questions. Susan King, then Senior VP at Corning, theatrical producer Manny Azenberg, and a host of corporate and governmental leaders also joined us in classes or in evening seminars at my apartment in the warehouse.
There were non-course activities as well. The Leadership Program took the lead in sponsoring Birth Rights and Blood Rites, a huge exhibition of sculpture by Seymour Gresser and paintings by Charlotte Lichtblau that filled the Duke Chapel (and some other venues on campus) for five weeks in the spring of 1987.
– Bruce Payne
Neil Boothby, director from 1992-1995, was an advisor to international organizations and governments involved with war and refugee populations in Southeast Asia, Central America and Africa. His interests and network of contacts helped the Hart Leadership Program further its connections to a number of international NGOs and humanitarian initiatives, and laid the groundwork for what would become the post-graduate Hart Fellowship, a highly competitive and prestigious program that places recent graduates with international humanitarian organizations for ten months.
At the same time, a number of visiting and adjunct faculty members provided greater depth across the curriculum. Publisher, investigative journalist, and philanthropic and organizational management expert Katherine Fulton taught courses that encompassed democracy, organizational leadership, and women as leaders. Tony Brown, who joined the faculty as a professor of the practice in 1994, brought his business expertise to bear on an expanded leadership curriculum. A former chair and CEO of the Covenant Insurance Company, vice president for external affairs at the University of Connecticut, and COO of Credit Suisse First Boston’s Equity Division, Brown developed courses that combined public policy, leadership models, business ethics, and community development. In 2002, Brown launched the Enterprising Leadership Initiative (ELI), which helps students pursue innovative solutions to local and global problems.
ELI placed a heavy emphasis on teaching, coaching and supporting the leadership development of students and alumni during their time on campus, and well into their professional careers. Students in ELI addressed problems in the community through Tony Brown’s signature leadership tactic: defining outcomes and equipping students with the necessary tools and resources. Each year during the Initiative’s long tenure, a dynamic group of students and alumni worked together on Enterprising Benefit Projects to identify a community problem and create a project to address it, with a strong emphasis on defining and creating real results.
ELI courses helped students clarify and develop their social values, their identities as change makers, and their sense of self-efficacy. Brown’s distinctive approach to leadership development—rather than leadership studies—and teaching combined a results-oriented philosophy with high-touch teaching methods and coaching. In ELI courses, students quickly realized that the success of the course and their own projects depended upon the initiative they took to build strong collaborative relationships with their peers and with community partners. This teaching was premised on a key tenant: when students take responsibility for the quality of their projects and for course outcomes, it improves their self-confidence, enhances their awareness of their civic engagement and “changemaker” capacities, and encourages their own personal development as they discover and capitalize on their motivation to improve community well-being. ELI courses included the signature "Enterprising Leadership," a results-oriented undergraduate leadership development course which provided students with analytical competence, leadership identity, and personal agency important to exercising enterprising leadership in organizations, in communities, and in life; as well as "Social Entrepreneurship in Action," "Moral Leadership & Courage," and "Leadership & Civic Engagement."
Alumni continue to benefit from the lifelong lessons of ELI and the relationships they forged in Tony’s classes. ELI alumni-engagement programs, like the Duke Leadership Accelerator, 36 Hours at Duke, RIPPLE, and the Durham Action Tank have also served to connect and catalyze alumni throughout their careers. ELI concluded with Tony Brown’s retirement from Duke in 2021, but its alumni network remains very active and Tony’s wide-reaching impacts are still felt at Duke and far beyond.
Alex Harris, founder of Duke’s Center for Documentary Photography and co-founder of the Center for Documentary Studies, introduced Hart Leadership Program students to the uses of documentary work to bring attention to social issues, and effect change in diverse communities. With Kirk Felsman, a senior research scholar at the time, Harris augmented the Hart Fellowship by adding a documentary component to the Hart Fellows’ work, as well as an increased emphasis on issues affecting adolescents and vulnerable children.
Documentary work, including the art of writing personal narrative essays about what Fellows are observing, continues to be a hallmark of the Hart Fellowship even as the design of the program has become more structured around community-based research projects. Author David Guy, the Hart writing coach, provided training and ongoing feedback to Fellows, as well as to students in the Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) program. The process of critical reflection helps students make sense of their experiences, and also to understand their own character and orienting principles, what we call their “compass of values.”
Lecturer Alma Blount joined the Hart Leadership Program in 1994 and in addition to teaching courses about civic engagement and political participation, helped refine what was then called Summer Opportunities in Leadership. Originally a sister program to the Refugee Action Project, SOL tailored to the needs of students interested in domestic issues. From the start, SOL was a student-driven initiative that addressed students’ desire to combine academic coursework with meaningful, “real world” internships. SOL evolved to be a yearlong leadership development program consisting of an introductory spring course, a summer internship, and a fall capstone seminar. As with Hart Fellows, critical reflection exercises are a central requirement of SOL students.
From the beginning, I had been in favor of the ‘leadership’ designation for the program because I thought it was a way to reach out to the large number of Duke students who in one way or another saw (and see) themselves as leaders: people planning careers in business, medicine, the military, politics, government, and the non-profit world. I was pleased to be able to give special assistance to the political and environmental activists, and pleased that their presence in the program would challenge or involve other, less civically concerned students…
John’s view was that the activists should be the center of the program, and that training in a highly egalitarian style of community organizing should be at the heart of our pedagogy. The disagreement was never really settled, but after that semester, we worked out a compromise that let John work with the most ardent activists while I worked more closely with the others.
And the Leadership Program became a lightning rod for disagreement in another way around the same time, leading efforts against Duke’s plans to replace some poor people’s housing near the university with new academic facilities. Although this disagreement was eventually settled fairly, with substantial relocation assistance, the program was developing something of a reputation for controversy.
– Bruce Payne
Robert Korstad, director from 1995-2001, helped further expand Hart’s emphasis on community-based research opportunities. At the time a tenure-track scholar (he was awarded tenure in 2001), Korstad also brought an additional measure of credibility to program located in a department whose emphasis is rigorous research combined with policy engagement, and a university whose emphasis is knowledge in the service to society. With the help of trustee emerita and inaugural Hart Leadership Program Leader in Residence Susan King, Korstad attracted outside funding for the program from major foundations, and an additional gift from Mitch Hart allowed the program to establish an endowment for faculty salaries.
Susan King served as Leader in Residence from 1995-2001; her successor was former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa James A. Joseph, emeritus professor of the practice of public policy studies.
In 1996, founder Bruce Payne launched Leadership and the Arts in New York (LANY), a robust program that continued for a decade. Through the program, Duke undergraduates spent the spring semester in New York City exploring questions of leadership, policy, philanthropy, and creativity in the arts. The group usually consisted of majors in the social sciences and humanities. Some had career interests in law, medicine, or business, while others planned to work in government, international organizations, schools, or non-profits.
We were playing a role in the emerging national movement for leadership studies, and in the national community service movement. I spoke regularly at meetings in Greensboro, Washington, and a range of other locations. I cherish my friends in the leadership studies movement from those days, and I still play a role on the board of the International Leadership Association, but we had more than enough to do at Duke, and [I] probably shouldn’t have taken time for anything else in those first two or three years.
The excitement of those first three years of the program remains in my memory, and so does the exhaustion. I had, from the beginning of my leadership course, included the importance of considering convalescence to what we were teaching about risk as a part of making changes—something I had learned about in a deep way during my civil rights years. But we had in many ways run the Leadership Program with the all-out commitment of a social movement—trying too many new things, building more alliances than we could sustain, pushing our students and ourselves to the limit.
My original agreement in 1985 was that I would run the Leadership Program for three years, at the end of which I would have a sabbatical. Mitch was pretty confident I could do the job. I was not. I had already had more than fifteen years in academic life, and during that time I had learned that my own ups and downs left me ill-suited for high-level administrative responsibility.
Still, at the end of our first three years or so, I was not willing to leave. I meant to stay and try to fix the things we hadn’t done well. I owe my friends a great debt of gratitude for talking me into resigning from the job as director and going back into full time teaching. When I did, I soon discovered that I had along the way acquired far more practical knowledge about leadership than that with which I had begun, and the business of teaching once again became the principal satisfaction of my life.
Still, the hopes that were stimulated by those early days were never entirely stilled. I thought I had learned something about strategy, how to think about teaching and universities in ways that would make a more substantial impact on the lives of our students, and a bigger difference on the worlds in which they would inhabit. As I taught leadership and ethics over the next five years, working happily with my colleagues and learning more every week from Tony Brown and Susan King, I was, gradually, working on a plan. That plan, in 1996, became Leadership and the Arts: A Duke University Semester in New York City.
– Bruce Payne
A New Approach: Research Service-Learning, 2001-2022
Alma Blount succeeded Korstad as Director of the Hart Leadership Program in 2001, and during the next decade Hart became nationally known for its pedagogy that combines academic coursework, experiential learning opportunities, and critical reflection. There has also been an increased emphasis on Research Service Learning, both through Hart courses and Scholarship with a Civic Mission, a four-year initiative created by the Hart Leadership Program and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, and designed as a campus-wide demonstration project about research service learning. Through the research service learning model, students work with community partners to design field-based research projects that serve community needs and interests. As they conduct their research they also engage in a rigorous process of critical reflection, which helps them discern the ethical issues and leadership dilemmas inherent in their work.
In 2006, Bruce Payne left Duke to become executive director of the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Due to his departure, Payne's signature LANY program morphed into the Leadership and Arts Policy Internship (LAPI) grants, which support students completing internships at the intersection of arts and policy.
In 2008, Hart launched Connect2Politics as part of an effort to increase the number of structured educational opportunities that expose undergraduates to politics, and promote political participation. The motivation for Connect2Politics stemmed from the major conclusion in Educating for Democracy, the Carnegie Foundation’s groundbreaking study on student political engagement:
“We know that well-organized efforts to strengthen political participation among undergraduates and other young American can succeed, suggesting that young people will respond favorably to being treated seriously as potentially powerful political agents” (Colby et al., 2007, 43).
Connect2Politics events have included visits by Sen. Cory Booker (then Mayor of Newark, NJ), former HUD Secretary (then-San Antonio Mayor) Julián Castro, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Although Connect2Politics's form evolved, it continued to provide valuable opportunities for students to engage with pressing political questions, and the 2018-19 speaker series was centered on Youth Leadership.
Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) has been one of Hart's signature programs for more than 20 years but has not been static. It has served as a testing ground for curricular innovations and has run with a modified structure in certain circumstances.
Alma Blount served as director until retiring in 2018. She was succeeded by Gunther Peck, associate professor of history and public policy. Although much remained the same at the Hart Leadership Program programmatically, some things changed. In January 2019, Lalita Kaligotla joined Hart as associate director. They co-taught the gateway course of the SOL sequence during the Spring 2019 semester with an added emphasis on political engagement. In 2019-2020, Hart piloted a new domestic Hart Fellowship.
During the 2019-2020 year, two fellows worked in the United States, while three worked abroad. Traditionally, fellows have left the United States for their work, collaborating with organizations in 40 countries since the Fellowship’s inception. But there are also gripping problems closer to home that may provide graduates the opportunity to learn and engage deeply with a community partner’s work. This pilot sought to help Hart understand how it can best implement a domestic version of the program. Hart also revived the Connect2Politics program with a set of six events focused on youth leadership during the 2018-2019 year.
Throughout the Hart Leadership Program’s history, thousands of students have taken our courses or participated in our programs. We consistently hear from former students who report that their Hart Leadership experience was either the best, or one of their top experiences at Duke. Our faculty have received praise for helping students mobilize different perspectives in the problem solving process, and for encouraging alumni to continue to promote systemic interventions that build healthy communities and institutions.
As the number of courses has expanded and the ranks of our faculty have grown over the years, the Hart Leadership Program has stayed true to its original mission of helping students recognize their own potential for ethical leadership. The Terry Sanford Institute has now become the Sanford School of Public Policy, and the Hart Leadership Program is still playing an integral role in sustaining the strength of the undergraduate public policy major, while continuing to serve as a foundation for the study of ethics and leadership at Duke.
Looking Forwards, Looking Back: The Hart Leadership Program 2022-Present
In 2022, Gunther Peck stepped down as director and was succeeded by Andrew Nurkin. The Hart Leadership Program currently offers four signature initiatives: the Hart Fellowship, Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL), the Patman Political Engagement Project (PEP), and the Leadership and Arts Policy Internship (LAPI). Hart faculty continue to teach flagship courses like “Women as Leaders,” “Ethics in an Unjust World,” “Leadership, Policy, and Change,” and “Business and Human Rights.”
The Hart Leadership Program continues to foster a culture of ethical, community-oriented leadership, while constantly innovating to make sure our programmatic and pedagogic offerings meet the needs, interests, backgrounds, and passions of our students today.
Timeline of Directors