June 23, 2024


Science It Works

‘You could learn a lot from his perspective’: Duke professor Mathew McCubbins remembered for mentorship, selflessness

Mathew McCubbins, Ruth F. De Varney professor of political science and professor of law, died July 1 at the age of 64. He is remembered as a game-changer in the field of political science, a deeply engaged scholar and a dedicated mentor.

Throughout his career, McCubbins’ work focused on legislative majorities and how they control power in lawmaking bodies.

“He was a giant in the field of political institutions and Congress and legislators,” said Pablo Beramendi, professor of political science. 

Prior to teaching at Duke, McCubbins served as the provost professor of business, law and political economy at the University of Southern California and director of the USC-Cal Tech Center for the Study of Law and Politics at the Gould School of Law at USC.

He was an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2008, he won the Chancellor’s Associates Faculty Excellence Award for Graduate Teaching at the University of California San Diego.

McCubbins also co-authored six books. One of his books, “The Logic of Delegation,” won the American Political Science Association’s Gladys M. Kammerer Award. Another, “Legislative Leviathan,” won the APSA Legislative Studies Section’s 1994 Richard F. Fenno Jr. Prize.

Gary Cox, William Bennett Munro professor in political science at Stanford University, wrote in an email that McCubbins was “a hub in the flow of scholarly information—a position he occupied throughout his remarkable multidisciplinary career.”

Perhaps most admirable, though, was McCubbins’ commitment to mentoring and guiding students. Many highlighted his dedication to developing scholars in political science.

Jan Vogler, a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Virginia, earned his doctorate from Duke under McCubbins, who served as Vogler’s dissertation committee chair. Vogler met McCubbins during a research design class, where he found that he “liked [McCubbins’] engagement and his critical thinking a lot.”

As dissertation chair, McCubbins was responsible for helping prepare Vogler’s dissertation project at every step. 

“In academia, no matter where you go and present your research, people will engage with it very critically,” Vogler said. “It’s important to have someone who really engages with your work, not just someone who looks at it superficially. He looked at our work in a very detailed, thorough way … he would really question every bit of it.”

Beramendi said that McCubbins’s biggest contribution to Duke was the way he trained graduate students.

“He would create almost a hub of students and … give them his office as a working space, have them work together on projects, flush them with data. Through that channel, he had a huge impact on the way a lot of students operated and thought,” he said. 

Colleagues and students remember McCubbins as generous and selfless. According to Vogler, grant funding for graduate research can be difficult to find, but McCubbins never hesitated to share the institutional resources he had. 

“I could ​​say, ‘I need funding for this student’ or ‘Can we get this student a postdoc?’ and he would always say, ‘Here are the resources.’ He wouldn’t really hesitate much in sharing with the department,” Beramendi said. 

McCubbins’s wealth of political knowledge and connections also made him an engaging conversationalist, according to Vogler, who recalled McCubbins inviting him to celebrate after he got his doctorate.

“We had very entertaining and stimulating conversations about research, about political and economic events,” he said. “When you had a conversation with him, you could learn a lot from his perspective on the world and current events.”

McCubbins is survived by his wife, Susan, as well as his sons, Colin and Kenny, as well as his grandchildren, Kieran Alexander, Clark Mathew and Cora Beth.

Anisha Reddy

Anisha Reddy is a Trinity sophomore and an associate news editor of The Chronicle’s 117th volume.