What has four letters, is among the nation's top research universities and claims Richard Brodhead as one of its top brass?
If you said Yale, right you are, but we also would have accepted Duke.
Brodhead, current dean of Yale College, was introduced as Duke's ninth president at a press conference Dec. 12 that included local and national media, University officials, Trustees and members of the Presidential Search Committee.
Twice during his prepared marks, Brodhead said "Yale" when he meant to say "Duke"--understandable, perhaps, because of their four letters and his more than 38 years of service to the Ivy League school.
"That's okay, I did it too," chimed in President Nan Keohane,
Brodhead's predecessor, who flanked him to the right, after the second Freudian slip.
Brodhead said he was not looking for a job when Duke search committee members came calling, and described himself as "America's least disaffected employee," one who has had "a wonderful life at a great institution." But his curiosity got the best of him, he said, and he began to learn about Duke and all that it offered.
"Duke is one of the handful of top universities in the world, after all, and if I went anywhere, it would only be to somewhere like that," Brodhead said.
The longtime English professor said Duke is a university "with the feel and human scale of a small school but the intellectual resources of a big school" and that he was impressed by the interaction among its schools, departments and centers, not to mention its youth, quick rise through the ranks and fearlessness in questioning the status quo. Ultimately, he said, it was the overwhelming friendliness of the people he met when he visited that was most impressive.
Brodhead said he deliberated for several weeks. "And then came the day when, as Huck Finn, said, I had to choose, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it: my wonderful life in a known world or the adventure. Well, you know my choice."
Presidential Search Committee Chair Robert Steel said Brodhead impressed the committee with his decency, his ability to listen and to learn, and his vision for higher education and Duke.
"We have heard from many and seen firsthand during our conversations with him that [Brodhead] is a remarkably eloquent and substantive speaker, a careful listener, a thoughtful strategist, an intellectual of great breadth, a leader and a consensus-builder of the first rank," said Steel, also vice chair of the Board of Trutees. "He also has a wonderful sense of humor, which is a prerequisite for any university president."
Brodhead takes the reins at a high, yet critical point in Duke's history. Ranked in the top five nationally on both the University and Medical Center sides, Duke is just completing a wildly successful $2 billion capital campaign that is fueling the most ambitious wave of strategic initiatives and facility construction since James B. Duke founded the University in 1924.
Yet, perhaps mostly due to its youth, Duke still lags behind its peers in terms of national and international reputation. University officials hope Brodhead will propel Duke into the creme de la creme of national research universities---Yale included.
"Dick is a scholar with a deep commitment to undergraduate and graduate education, a proven and effective administrator and fundraiser who understands how research universities work, and an eloquent spokesman about the central role of higher education in American life," Board of Trustees Chair Peter Nicholas said in a statement. "As one of his faculty colleagues at Yale put it, 'His performance is brilliant. Students love him, the faculty trust him, the alumni are in awe of him.' Duke's Trustees are confident that the qualities that have led Dick Brodhead to be so revered in New Haven will also serve him well as our next president."
Brodhead received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in English from Yale and immediately entered the Ivy League school's faculty as an associate professor in English. He rose swiftly through the ranks, taking over as chair of the English department in 1988. He stepped down from the chair when he was named dean of Yale College, a position with broad power that combines aspects of the provost and dean of the faculty of Arts and Sciences positions at Duke.
He has garnered a reputation as a dean that students love and faculty respect, and has long been sought by other schools looking for presidents.
When Brodhead takes over this summer, he will face very different challenges from those that Keohane met in 1993. Most significantly, Brodhead will not have the pressure to devote a considerable amount of his time to fundraising, as the University wraps up its seven-year Campaign for Duke in just 19 days, having amassed an astounding $2.2 billion. Brodhead also inherits Building on Excellence, the University's strategic plan that has spawned hundreds of initiatives, both large and small, and the construction of countless new facilities.
The president-elect, will, however, need to help form and lead the Campaign and strategic plan's eventual successors, as well as continue to fine-tune the relationship among the Duke University Health System, the Duke University Medical Center and the University. Brodhead has little experience in this latter area, and it may present his steepest learning curve. Other issues closer to Brodhead's heart should also prove critical during his tenure, especially undergraduate student life issues, where the building of the new West Campus student center and the Central Campus University Village promise to become the most significant and campus-altering student life endeavors in recent memory.
Not just popular academic buzzwords, interdisciplinary and international initiatives will likely continue to gain ground as some of the most significant academic priorities for Duke, and the direction the new president takes in these areas may be the greatest measurer of his ability to translate his work as a top academic dean to that as president.
Duke's current senior officers and school deans--a highly cooperative and ambitious crop of administrative prowess, the collection of whom may be Keohane's greatest legacy--will buttress Brodhead's work.
The Presidential Search Committee has been meeting since the summer, and was expected to make its recommendation to the Board of Trustees before its February meetings. Steel said the committee considered more than 200 candidates before selecting Brodhead unanimously.