Joel Fleishman portrait
Centennial Spotlights

Joel Fleishman

Few people remain at their jobs for a decade, let alone more than five decades. Joel Fleishman is among the latter. The founding director of the Sanford School of Public Policy stepped down from teaching in April 2023 at the age of 89. He has not retired, however.

Fleishman joined Duke in 1971 at the request of then-President Terry Sanford, for whom the school is named. The two previously worked together, Fleishman as a legal assistant to Sanford when he was governor.

Thanks to significant fundraising efforts led by Fleishman, the Institute of Policy Sciences and Public Affairs began offering undergraduate courses in 1972 and opened its doors to graduate students in 1974.

Fleishman served as director of the institute until 1983 when he “reluctantly” agreed to chair a capital campaign for the arts and sciences. The administration believed he would be a good fit for the role given his success in raising money for the institute. They were right; he raised $500 million for the campaign.

Though he taught several classes, he spent 53 years teaching LAW 585 — Philanthropy, Voluntarism and Not-For-Profit Law and Management. Upon stepping down, Fleishman said he didn’t think a 90-year-old should be teaching 17- to 22-year-olds.

“I thought they should have teachers more of their generation,” he said.

That doesn’t mean, however, he won’t be found at Duke. Fleishman said he was simply “downsizing.” He continues to run the Foundation Impact Research Group seminars, in which he brings in presidents of foundations or nonprofit organizations to speak about strategic choice-making and impact measurement in their fields. He also will continue to play a role in Duke’s fundraising efforts.

And, in his spare time, he hopes to write another book — the fourth in his series about nonprofits and foundations.