On a summer afternoon in 1993, with the fall semester set to begin, a youthful, athletic economics professor and a tall, popular American literature professor began their work at Yale’s helm.
Nearly 11 years after the men took office, the literary scholar turned Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead is preparing to assume Duke University’s presidency this summer, a move that will end his professional partnership with the economist turned University President Richard Levin. Cohorts at the Graduate School and colleagues as they climbed the faculty ranks, the duo seized upon their mutual trust and respect to advance a University they inherited in turmoil.
“There was this simultaneous succession to office,” History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith, a Yale historian, said. “[Levin and Brodhead are] two people who I think worked better than any pair of president and dean of Yale College than any time in Yale’s history.”
‘A decisive period’
In 1993, when Yale’s new duo took office, the University ran a $15.2 million budget deficit. The endowment — then less than a quarter of today’s $11-billion total — could hardly make a dent in the estimated $1.5 billion of physical neglect on Yale’s then-crumbling, storied campus.
“It was a very decisive period there,” Smith said. “It was chaos. There was enormous need for healing and a reconciliation — between the faculty and the administration.”
The new president and dean relied on complimentary skills to propel the University forward after the crisis of the early 1990s, administrators and professors said. Levin’s economic training enabled him to effectively capitalize on a flourishing national economy, while Brodhead’s literary scholarship brought eloquence and wit to the deanship, professors said.
While Levin is known for his quiet stewardship, Brodhead’s skill with words has balanced Levin’s more private approach, administrators and professors said.
“They believe in the same things and have the same values, and there is an additional strength in their relationship beyond deep friendship — they approach problems in different ways,” University Vice President Linda Lorimer said. “Rick and Dick are neatly complementary.”
Nina Glickson, Levin’s longtime assistant, said Levin and Brodhead share a “dedication to Yale.”
“They know what the other one means, and they have an intuitive sense to what the other one is seeking,” Glickson said.
Tragedy and trust
As Levin and Brodhead were building a better Yale, unforeseeable tragedies struck the campus. Many students remember their calming presence at campus-wide memorial services and candlelight vigils, but the administrators’ unified front was not limited to remarks delivered at the podium.
The 1998 murder of then-senior Suzanne Jovin alarmed and saddened the Yale community. Brodhead called the murder “one of the great scarring moments of my life.” Levin and Brodhead sought each other for reassurance in healing the campus.
“When you tend to work closely with people in difficult situations, that’s when you really see a person’s character,” Humanities professor Jane Levin, Richard Levin’s wife, said. “You really have a sense of the way you can — trust in them and respect their judgement.”
Three years after Jovin’s still-unsolved murder, on Sept. 11, 2001, the campus awoke to news of a major terrorist attack on American soil. Brodhead and Levin immediately convened.
“I was sitting at [my] desk writing a letter of recommendation when the first tower [was] hit,” Brodhead said. “My son called to tell me that the tower had fallen. We all converged on Woodbridge Hall, and we had a meeting within minutes.”
A year ago this weekend, Levin and Brodhead once again calmed a grieving campus. On Jan. 17, 2003, four Yale undergraduates were killed and five more were seriously injured when their car struck a jackknifed tractor-trailer on I-95 while returning from a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity event in New York City.
Levin and Brodhead quickly scheduled a memorial service. Students and faculty members stood silently, filling bleachers lined with tissue boxes during what Brodhead told them was, “as black a day as I have ever experienced.”
Levin and Brodhead trusted each other’s convictions during these tragedies, administrators and professors said.
“Sharing is a matter of sensibility,” History chairman Jon Butler said. “They have that shared kind of sensibility.”
The confidence Levin and Brodhead fostered in one another created a relationship that relies as much on cooperation as on trust.
“It’s been something that’s characterized Rick’s presidency to have a team of officers that he could work so well with — people he could feel complete confidence in and give these people the autonomy to fulfill the potential of their positions,” Jane Levin said.
At Yale’s tercentennial celebration in 2001, Levin charged Brodhead with leading the University’s first comprehensive undergraduate curricular review in more than 30 years. Levin entrusted Brodhead with leading the review.
“Brodhead is a real source of wisdom and a true confidant to President Levin — especially about academic policy,” Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said.
Levin and Brodhead have a symbiotic relationship, feeding off each other’s different strengths to advance generations of Yalies, administrators and professors said.
Over the years Levin and Brodhead polished their partnership to a level where their habitual e-mail communications grew as humorous as they were frequent.
“They carry on the greatest e-mail exchange — incredibly witty,” Jane Levin said. “That is sad to think that that will change.”