Brodhead in reflection

On Sunday, the Editorial Board held an hour-long interview with President Richard Brodhead. Over the next three days, we will use his responses as a lens to examine three topics: Brodhead’s tenure and legacy at Duke, problems at Duke under Brodhead and the future of Duke after Brodhead’s retirement. Today, we begin the arc by discussing his tenure, history and legacy at Duke.

We framed this part of the interview by asking Brodhead about his favorite Duke president. Prepared for the inevitable “Nan Keohane” or “William Few” answer, we were surprised when Brodhead instead told us that his favorite Duke leader was John Franklin Crowell. Crowell, he explained, had been a bold champion of change at Duke: appointed to the presidency at the young age of 29, Crowell revolutionized Duke (then Trinity College) by transforming it from a small schoolhouse in Trinity, North Carolina into the infant version of a research university in the much larger city of Durham.

In a way, Brodhead has redefined Duke University in the same manner Crowell did. When Crowell relocated the university to a large city, he opened it up to the rest of the country, emphasizing the need for its broad interconnectedness. And although Brodhead has not relocated Duke’s main campus to a bigger city, he has sought to open the university up to the wider world through the creation of Duke Kunshan University. DKU, Brodhead explained, serve two purposes: satisfying the hunger for rounded US-style education in China and allowing students from both the U.S. and China to cross-pollinate their deeply held [political] principles with firsthand experiences of foreign systems. We are especially interested in the second goal. Despite the dismay of many, our world is rapidly globalizing; as such, it is critical for students to be able to move beyond monolithic ideas about foreign countries, including China, and grow to understand them better. Although we have previously criticized some efforts related to DKU, we acknowledge that within a broader context of global education at Duke, it plays an important role. DKU is, in that regard though, overshadowed by Brodhead’s signature program, DukeEngage. In Brodhead’s words, DukeEngage creates a model of education in which things that can only be learned in the classroom are merged with global knowledge that can only be learned outside the classroom. We concur. Although not all DukeEngage programs are equally valuable, DukeEngage, at its best, trains students to move seamlessly between world perspectives and academic lenses, an international paradigm that fits well into Brodhead’s outward pivot and satisfies our desires for a 21st century university.

Although we have extensively discussed his international educational philosophy in this editorial, when we asked Brodhead about his favorite moment at Duke, it turned out to be markedly unrelated. The moment occurred in 2005 when he found out that the Duke Endowment had given the University $75 million as part of a challenge grant. We were surprised at his response, but Brodhead made clear that an outward focus for Duke need not mean inward neglect for its students and campus.

We believe his legacy will positively reflect that sentiment. But it will not, as this editorial has largely been, be wholly positive. In tomorrow’s editorial, we will more critically discuss the persistence of scarring issues on campus during Brodhead’s tenure, and the lack of progress that was made on resolving many of them.

This is the first of a three-part editorial arc inspired by our interview with President Brodhead.


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