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New term, better approach

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to reappoint President Richard Brodhead for a third term. The announcement follows a board initiated four-month review of Brodhead’s leadership to this point. The decision to reappoint comes ahead of major transitions for the direction of the University. With the implementation of the house model, renovation of the West Union and opening of Duke Kunshan University on the horizon, the presidential position should remain stable. In addition to this, the president must be prepared to handle unforeseen circumstances and cultivate confidence through a coherent vision for the future.

In his time as president, Brodhead has demonstrated an aptitude for representing and promoting the Duke brand. The creation and execution of the Financial Aid Initiative, a $300 million campaign, remains a highlight of his presidency, the effects of which can still be seen in the growing monetary contributions to the University. His humanities-oriented background has fostered the creation of new interdisciplinary initiatives, adding depth to the research-oriented nature of Duke. Brodhead’s global focus—as evidenced by the launching of the DukeEngage civic engagement program, the establishment of the Duke-National University of Singapore Graduate Medical School and the opening of DKU—reflect a conscious effort to promote the University by attracting international talent and support his vision of a more global Duke.

However, while effective in his work as a representative for the academic and civic initiatives of the University, Brodhead has been lacking in his ability to connect with students. Student response to administrative changes is often overlooked or misunderstood, and it has remained difficult for students to connect with the president in a substantive manner. Changes in policy that influence student life are often left to the hands of other administrators, with Brodhead’s voice noticeably absent from conversation or simply insufficient to create dialogue. This stands in contrast to the work of previous presidents: When former President Nan Keohane proposed the relocation of freshmen to East Campus, she personally advocated for the change. Brodhead has been less involved in matters of student life. When frustrations regarding the house model reached their peak, his input was limited to support of other administrators. Before Brodhead can act in the interest of students, he must understand their perspective.

Brodhead has also faced difficulty in articulating his vision for the University in a manner satisfactory to faculty and alumni. Confusion about the motivations for investing in DKU remained veiled for far too long, leading to frustration and feelings of exclusion among faculty. This initial lack of transparency has plagued the initiative, with many still not understanding the reasoning behind the venture. This is a crucial gap in Brodhead’s previous terms—he has been less effective in conveying how the numerous initiatives undertaken in the past few years add up to a coherent plan that will benefit the University. To increase confidence in University initiatives, Brodhead must be willing to involve the community.

As he prepares for his third term, Brodhead should increase his focus on student life and administrative availability. For the University to remain successful, attention must be paid to both internal cohesion and external outreach.

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