In Memory of Mathew McCubbins

Mathew McCubbins
Professor Mathew McCubbins

Our Duke colleague and friend, Mathew McCubbins, passed away on July 1st, 2021 after a lengthy illness that became critical the past few weeks.  He was the Ruth F. De Varney Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at Duke.  McCubbins came to Duke after spending 2013-2014 as the W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellow and the Robert Eckles Swain National Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In addition to serving both in the department and in the law school, Mathew was a leading scholar and a celebrated mentor.  

As a scholar, McCubbins is perhaps best known for the argument that legislative majorities, whether they be the dominant legislative party or a coalition parties governments (even supported minority coalitions) usurp the power resident in the legislature for their own purposes. Within busy legislatures, legislation is controlled as a consequence of a party or coalition of parties capturing control of key legislative assets, such as congressional committee in the US Congress, which because of the rules have blocking (or veto power) and thus serve as a gateway (or gate) to discussion of a bill by the full plenum. McCubbins was the co-author of six books: The Logic of Delegation (University of Chicago Press, 1991), winner of the APSA’s 1992 Gladys M. Kammerer Award; Legislative Leviathan (University of California Press, 1993), winner of the APSA’s Legislative Studies Section’s 1994 Richard F. Fenno Jr. Prize; The Democratic Dilemma: Can Citizens Learn What They Need to Know? (Cambridge University Press, 1998); Stealing the Initiative (Prentice-Hall 2000); Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the US House of Representatives (Cambridge University Press, 2005), winner of the APSA’s Leon Epstein Award; and Legislative Leviathan, Second Edition (Cambridge University Press, 2006). He was also editor or coeditor of eight additional books and authored or coauthored more than 100 scientific articles, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries, in political science, economics, computer science, cognitive science, and biology, with one winning the Congressional Quarterly Prize for best article on legislative politics and another winning the SPPQ Award for best article on state politics. He authored more than three dozen articles in law reviews or law journals.  He has published under the nom de plume of McNollgast with his coauthors Roger Noll and Barry Weingast. 

As a mentor, he taught many undergraduates and guided many graduate students into important collegial careers.  He received the 2008 Chancellor's Associates Faculty Excellence Award for Graduate Teaching, at UC San Diego.

At the age of 64, McCubbins death is untimely and saddening.  Condolences poured out across Twitter.  "I miss my colleague and former teacher, Mat McCubbins," wrote Kyle Beardsley, "His dedication to scientific inquiry has produced a rich harvest of students and scholarship over many years —but not enough years. This is a huge loss and my heart goes out to his family." Miranda Yaver wrote, "So sad to hear of this tremendous loss to the field. Mat’s work on police patrol vs. fire alarm oversight was foundational to my research on bureaucratic control." "This is heartbreaking news," wrote Eric Talley, "I first got to know Mat when I was an undergraduate at UCSD in the 1980s, and he would go on to become a lifelong mentor, colleague, co-conspirator, and friend." Pablo Beramendi remembers, "He was one of the most generous and supportive colleagues I have worked with and a real force for good in the department and the discipline." Kristen Renberg notes in tribute, "He was an incredible mentor. He had a wonderful sense of humor that I will never forget." "Mat was the chair of my dissertation committee," Jan Vogler reflects, "and always deeply cared about all of his grad students, the quality of their work, and their success as scholars. He shaped the field of political science and his work will remain an essential part of our discipline. A few weeks ago, I had my last chance to talk to him on the phone and I am grateful that I had this final opportunity to thank him for his support over many years."

The Duke flags were lowered in remembrance of Professor McCubbins on July 8th, 2021.