The independent news organization of Duke University

Keohane plans book, not memoirs

President Nan Keohane is beginning to get a better sense about her post-presidency plans, which will become reality July 1 when Dean of Yale College Richard Brodhead takes her place at the helm of the University. To begin, she is taking a one-year sabbatical at a prestigious research center near Stanford, Calif. Next, she wants to write an important work of political philosophy about inequalities and has no interest in writing her memoirs.

   

    But the big question remains unanswered: will Keohane return to Duke? She is leaving all options on the table, including departing the University for good.

   

    "We're very happy here, we both have jobs in the department, we have lots of friends," Keohane said. "But we haven't made any commitments; we're also aware that there are other places that may want us to come and teach there, and we need to be open to other possibilities."

   

    One sure bet is that she will write a full-length scholarly contribution to her field of study, political philosophy. Following 23 years as a university president, the 62-year-old Keohane will shift her "life's work" to exploring human inequalities.

   

    As a professor at Stanford University in the 1970s, Keohane began to read extensively and to write about gender inequalities, and one of her major endeavors at Duke has been the gender-focused Women's Initiative. She said, however, that she has not decided on which specific aspects of inequalities she will write about.

Keohane said she would draw from her experiences as a university president for her work.

   

    "I discovered there were many ways in which the experiences that I've been able to have [as president] have given me what I hope will be a richer perspective on issues of inequality," she said. "I've had, as a side benefit of being president of Duke, the opportunity to spend time with people from lots of different backgrounds, and some fairly intensive work. So that, for example, I've sat on a couple of corporate boards [including IBM], and I know from the inside how it feels to be running a big corporation and how those humongous salaries get set and why you can justify them in certain contexts.

   

    "But on another level, it also worries me," she continued. "It seems to me that that's part of what contributes to growing inequality in our country. And I've also sat down with people who are struggling to have two jobs, two shifts to keep their families together, and at one level, again, I understand the market forces, and I understand that [Duke is] already paying by any reasonable standard at least market--sometimes even better than market--wages to everyone who works here, but at another level, I worry about it. I think there's something wrong with a world in which some people are making millions and millions of dollars, more than they can even keep track of, and other people are having to struggle to keep their families together by working two jobs."

   

    Keohane said her separation from the cloistered world of academia for over two decades may actually work to her advantage in philosophizing about inequalities.

   

    "Faculty members--unless they've deliberately set out to get involved in the real world--often live fairly sheltered lives," she said. "I haven't lived a sheltered life and I think my goal, my dream, is to put together the philosophical training I've had and the meat of the kinds of experiences I've had... in a way that will be meaningful and will have some real force but will also be philosophically authoritative and attractive."

   

    Keohane said she does not have any interest in writing an autobiography or memoirs, at least in the foreseeable future. She said she would be limited by the filter of her past intentions and imperfect memory and would not have the patience to go through calendars and reconstruct her tenure as president of Duke.

   

    She also said it is not in her nature to look back. "I'm very forward-oriented and not backward-oriented, and it's just boring to me to try to go back on one level and try to reconstruct what's happened," she said. "I'm much more interested in what's going to happen next."

Keohane, who has spent extensive time in the South, Northeast, West and middle of the United States, has a bevy of options and little clarity of what is "next" beyond her California sabbatical with husband and political science professor Robert Keohane. Regardless of where she ends up, however, the president will hold Duke in a special place in her heart.

   

    "I'm quite sure that whatever I do," she said, "I will continue to be involved in Duke as a president emerita, as a Blue Devil fan, with lots of friends and colleagues."

Discussion

Share and discuss “Keohane plans book, not memoirs” on social media.