Duke University President and former Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead ’68 GRD ’72 had no way of knowing his first day as a Blue Devil would entail a trial by fire.
Hours after reports circulated through the Durham, N.C. campus that the school’s legendary basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, was considering an offer from the Los Angeles Lakers, Brodhead joined students for an impromptu rally at Krzyzewskiville, the grassy courtyard behind the school’s basketball arena that famously turns into a tent city before games. Megaphone in hand, Brodhead yelled for “Coach K” to stay — and he did.
Brodhead, who left New Haven this summer after 40 years at Yale as a student, professor and undergraduate dean, said the day provided “a very rapid education.”
“Let’s just say that the Los Angeles Lakers had not tried to hire any members of my staff when I was in the Yale College Dean’s Office,” he said.
As president, students and administrators at Duke say, Brodhead has engaged the campus early and in turn has gained widespread respect.
“I was pretty impressed,” said Anthony Vitarelli, a senior and president of the Duke Campus Council, an advisory group for residential life. “He sat down with us in the grass. He was wearing nice clothes, but he was willing to get them all wet and dirty and he was willing to sit there and support us and support Coach K staying at Duke.”
Brodhead will be inaugurated as the university’s ninth president on Sept. 18, culminating a week-long celebration in his honor featuring cultural and community events as well panel discussions on global issues. So far in his presidency, Brodhead has yet to unveil any sweeping proposals. Rather, he has begun his work by listening and learning and setting his own tone on campus.
This winter Brodhead and his wife Cindy expect to move into the Hart House, a 7,000 square-foot house on Duke’s campus, after workers complete a $1.4 million renovation on the building so he can make the community his home. Brodhead’s move will mark the first time in four decades that a Duke president has lived on campus.
Larry Moneta, Duke’s vice president of student affairs, said Brodhead appears at home with students, having already hosted the entire freshman class for cookies and milk at his current residence near campus.
“He’s been in front of, around, and between incredible numbers of students already. He’s really reached out unbelievably,” Moneta said. “I was walking out with one of the students and I said, ‘What do you think of him?’ and she stopped and said, ‘He’s enchanting.’ I think that’s the word that describes best the connections he’s made with students here.”
Moneta called Brodhead the “cherry on top of the sundae” that is Duke.
“He loves to just walk around,” Moneta said. “His calendar is getting out of control, but I think he is using any time he has to engage with students.”
This fall, Duke received much media attention when it distributed free iPod digital music players engraved with the school’s crest and the words “Class of 2008” to freshmen in their goodie bags. The gadgets, which came pre-loaded with a welcome address from Brodhead and other senior administrators, are intended to be used as high-tech educational tools.
“That was done as a part of an information technology project to see if that is an effective way to connect students and classrooms,” Brodhead said. “It’s all an experiment.”
Duke junior Brandon Goodwin said Brodhead is more in touch with students than his popular predecessor, Nan Keohane.
“As a freshman and sophomore, I saw President Keohane twice on campus,” Goodwin said. “So far as a junior, I’ve seen President Brodhead countless times. He doesn’t hold himself out to be exclusive. He usually walks around by himself or with students, but you rarely see him with a congregation of administrators like you’d expect the president of a university to be.”
Duke Provost Peter Lange said Brodhead’s Freshman Convocation speech, titled “A Commonwealth by Choice,” best exemplifies the tone Brodhead is setting on campus.
“He said to our freshmen [that] you make the community that Duke is going to be for you,” Lange said. “In a sense, I think that’s very much his mark. There’s so much we can do. Duke is, in a very positive way, a plastic institution, flexible and innovative, but it takes initiative from those who are part of the community to realize that potential. He kind of challenges people in a way that gets them motivated.”