A Chair Remembered

Friday, May 29, 2020
Craig at graduation with his daughter

May 31 marks the end of Craig Burnside’s tenure as chair of Duke Economics. It’s been a long road, with lots of twists and turns, and he hands the reins over to James Roberts. But what do Craig’s colleagues have to say about his time as chair? Let’s find out. 

Allan Collard-Wexler-Faculty

Craig took over after Pat Bayer and Tom Nechyba had overseen a huge expansion of the department over the previous decade. Thus he was in charge in keeping this enormous department, over 46 tenure-track faculty, together. I always remember him being calm and ready to listen to what everyone was saying, he certainly did not want to be the center of attention at any point --- he's Canadian that way. Underneath of course, he was dealing with all the stresses of running a multimillion dollar department so we did not have to. Towards the end of his chairmanship, I noticed he was transitioning to communicating all in emoticons --- such as a message of what not to put in the microwave --- which happens after you've written one too many emails. 

Lori Zagiba- Adminstrative Manager

I’ve had the privilege of working alongside Craig for 5 years.  From my perspective, he cared most and worked hardest on what was most important—the people. Craig treated students, staff and faculty with respect and kindness every day.  And he often applied some much needed humor when confronting challenging situations. I will miss working as closely with Craig, but wish him all the peace and productivity that a Chair Emeritus could have!

Charlie Becker-Faculty

Craig became chair during a period that brings no glory to the position. The department had grown vastly and flourished in the prior decade or more, which meant that the chair's role during his tenure was to consolidate gains and defend the department against external predators.  Much like Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black, Craig fulfilled these duties admirably and without fanfare while his subjects went about their duties largely in blissful ignorance. Where the analogy breaks down is  that the department's maturation meant that constraints became increasingly binding, so that resources for one group meant fewer resources for another. The measure of success here is subtle: the competing groups may not -- indeed, by definition cannot -- all be happy about the outcomes, but yet they remain on generally good terms with one another. We have been fortunate at Duke Economics to have had a series of remarkable chairs. Of these, Craig's juggling act may have been the most awesome.

Wendy Stocum, Assistant to the Chair

As someone who loves to travel and enjoys the local food, I have enjoyed hearing about Craig's travels and his favorite places to eat.  His stories of his time in Scotland are great!

Cosmin Ilut-Faculty 

Craig has continued to grow and significantly improve our department. He has lead us through sometimes difficult financial times and managed to keep us together, as my colleagues already noted. He had to juggle many conflicting views but has done so in a very fair way, with a lot of hard work going into it that we did not get to see and probably appreciate enough.

Matthias Kehrig-Faculty

Nothing can throw off Craig, who kept his calm running the economics department. We have become a big — and at times a boisterous — tanker in recent years, and Craig did admirably well in steering us through crises and budget cliffs towards growth.

Patrick Bayer-Faculty and Chair Emeritus

Craig has built on that success in many ways, often in the face of much more severe budgetary and administrative headwinds. Under Craig's leadership, our department successfully recruited a number of great new faculty colleagues and oversaw the promotion to tenure of seven of our Assistant Professors. This completed an incredible run of 11 straight Assistant Professors successfully earning tenure, a success rate which is extremely rare in Economics and which I think speaks incredibly well of the intellectual vibrancy of our department.  

Under Craig's leadership, we have also begun to address some of the deep and long-standing issues related to diversity and inclusion in economics, transforming the way that we have approached faculty recruiting and establishing a post-doc program that has brought exciting young scholars to our department as colleagues. We still have a long way to go as a department and discipline, but we have made important strides in the past few years with Craig's leadership.

James Roberts-Incoming Chair

Craig has been really helpful in explaining how everything works-- going through processes and helping with the overall transition. I saw him almost as a guardian of the department, kind of a protector. And I think that he has set the tone for the university when it comes to our department. He, along with past chairs, have shown me what kind of impact that role can have on a department.