Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead’s upcoming departure to Duke University marks the third time in the last decade that a top Yale administrator has been tapped to lead a major university. Yale historians said this trend reflects Yale’s growing influence in international higher education circles.
Brodhead ’68 GRD ’71 will become Duke’s ninth president this July after spending 40 years at Yale as a student, English professor, department chairman and Dean of Yale College. Brodhead’s surprise announcement last month makes him the latest in a stream of long-serving Yale officials to leave the University.
In 1994, after serving on the Yale faculty for 22 years, former University Provost Judith Rodin became president at the University of Pennsylvania. Last year, former Yale Provost Alison Richard left the University to lead the University of Cambridge as its vice-chancellor.
History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said it is “extraordinary” that major universities such as Duke are tapping Yale administrators for their top posts.
“In the 19th century, Yale was considered the mother of college presidents,” Smith said. “That kind of faded in the 20th century until relatively recently.”
The appointment of another former provost, Hannah Gray, as president of the University of Chicago in the 1970s got the ball rolling, Smith said.
“You have had in recent years four high Yale officers who became presidents of very major universities,” Smith said. “No other university has been a resource for recruitment for other major presidencies the way Yale has.”
Yale Center for International and Area Studies Director Gustav Ranis said this trend is “wonderful” news for Yale.
“It’s a complement at Yale that we produce administrators that go on to very senior positions in the academic world,” Ranis said. “It’s a wonderful apprenticeship. We groom people for these higher positions.”
Some members of the Yale community called Brodhead’s appointment a coup for Duke, but a loss for Yale.
“They’re a very lucky school because Dick [Brodhead] is a complete package — distinguished scholar, superb teacher, inspirational leader, beloved figure,” Yale College Associate Dean Penelope Laurans said of her colleague. “He will go down as one of the great deans of Yale College.”
Duke officials said Brodhead’s academic stewardship, talented speaking ability, fund-raising prowess and personal qualities were important to his selection as their new president.
“[Brodhead] doesn’t do things lightly,” Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts ’68 said. “If he’s taking on the presidency of Duke, you can be assured that he’ll put his heart and soul into it.”
Some professors and administrators expressed hope that Brodhead would someday return to Yale, perhaps as president.
One Yale administrator said there is a “substantial likelihood that when and if [Yale President Richard] Levin ever left the position, there is a chance [Brodhead] would be asked to return and would accept.”
Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said the search committee at Duke made it clear that Brodhead is “presidential material.”
“I’d be a little loathe to speculate about the future, but I will say that Dean Brodhead will be a phenomenal president at Duke and would be a phenomenal president at Yale,” Salovey said.
But Betts dismissed the possibility of Brodhead returning to Yale as president someday, calling it “wishful thinking.”
This week, Levin will appoint a faculty search committee for a new undergraduate dean.