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Brodhead and beyond

On Sunday, the Editorial Board interviewed President Brodhead; for the past two days, we have reflected on his history at Duke, mulling over the roses and thorns of his legacy. Today we shift gears and use the interview to look forward on the university-time continuum to when Brodhead steps down and his successor, current University of Pennsylvania Provost Vincent Price, takes over.

In our first question to Brodhead about Price, we asked if he had a plan he wanted to lay out for Price. His answer was resolute. “If I [started with] a plan on day one, I would’ve wanted people to run in terror. He [Price] will need to figure out what the university will be called to do in the future [for himself] and how to plan for that now.” We, of course, concur with that sentiment. Price will need to come into the presidency on his own and, in Brodhead’s words, find the “pulses” on campus he must take to enable himself to make good decisions.

An example of such a campus pulse is that of middle class students on campus struggling to keep up with constantly rising tuition. When we asked Brodhead about that specific pulse, he noted three things: that real cost of attending Duke had declined for students on financial aid over time for several years, that we were likely in a temporary era of rising tuition/rising financial aid which might eventually come to an end and that stabilizing or reducing tuition could hurt students by preventing the maintenance of certain institutions. Such was the pulse he took and such was the measurement the university operated on. Whether the measurement was proper or not is up for debate. The point still stands though that the measures taken by the president on behalf of the administration have significant impacts.

Along those lines, if we were to channel Brodhead’s words and combine them with our own, we would advise our incoming president to establish proper roots in the ground at Duke, learn to take proper pulses on campus and to come to truly know the university before seeking to change it. While Duke certainly has problems worth fixing, its institutional problems, just like those at the University of Pennsylvania, are formed by unique local conditions and are riddled with complexities. Without exploring the facets of those conditions and becoming intimate with the history that has constructed them, it is nearly impossible to fix those problems and effectively move the university forward. Only after developing roots can Price, like the Duke presidents before him, set out on a personal mission to improve the university with his own mark.

Taking a step back from the future and returning to the here and now, we look back on Brodhead’s presidency and personal mission with mixed but overall positive feelings. To be sure, it has had its stumbles—the 2007 handling of the lacrosse case and recent lukewarm handling of racial problems on campus chief among them—but it has also been a period of growth and evolution for the university. Under Brodhead, we have become a truly global university with pointed academic outreaches like DukeEngage and DKU that benefit not only Duke, but the broader world; we have tapped into the innate engaged nature of many Duke students through programs like Bass Connections; and, despite rising tuition, we have made an enormous drive to keep Duke University affordable through aid. In the next era of Duke, we hope to steepen our ascent and overcome our troubles while carrying forward the positives of the Brodhead years.

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