Monday, March 24, 2008

Two very different university presidents

First, extracts from a WSJ editorial praising recently retired University of Colorado President Hank Brown. Then, below the star line, my comments concerning Duke University’s support for its President Richard Brodhead.

From the WSJ - - -

The modern academy is notoriously immune from accountability, as Larry Summers so painfully learned at Harvard. So it is worth noting, and applauding, the achievements of Hank Brown, the best college president you've never heard of, who retired this month from the University of Colorado.

Mr. Brown took over as interim president in April 2005 when the school of 50,000 was in turmoil. This was a couple of months after CU professor Ward Churchill had become infamous, and a year after the school's athletic department was accused of offering alcohol and sex to recruit football players. A former U.S. Senator, Mr. Brown was reappointed in 2006 in a permanent capacity.

The public was outraged over Mr. Churchill's statements -- including that the 9/11 victims were not "innocent" but a "technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire" driving the "mighty engine of profit to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved." The public anger reminded politicians, and even a few academics, that public universities should be answerable to taxpayers.

Mr. Brown proceeded to oversee a complete examination of Mr. Churchill's work, and the ethnic studies professor was eventually fired because of fraudulent scholarship, not his politics.

Mr. Brown then initiated a complete review of CU's tenure policies, making it easier for his successors to get rid of deadwood. He also took on the equally sensitive subject of grade inflation, insisting that the university disclose student class rank on transcripts. If a B average puts a student at the bottom of his class, future employers will know it.

Frederick Hess, who researches higher education at the American Enterprise Institute, says there may be plenty of other people who know how to fix a university. But the reason there are so few Hank Browns goes back to Machiavelli. "When a leader tries to wrestle with these things," Mr. Hess notes, "there are influential constituencies that he upsets. It's much easier to manage the status quo than to enforce change."

Hank Brown may have upset some students and faculty, but he built support elsewhere, such as among the university's board of regents. He long ago saw the importance of active trustees to improving higher education.

In 1995, he and Senator Joe Lieberman wrote in Roll Call newspaper that "campus political pressures often make it difficult for those on campus to defend academic freedom." During his CU presidency, Mr. Brown got the regents to support his policies and even to adopt a statement encouraging greater intellectual diversity on campus. …

There’s much more to the editorial, including discussion of Brown’s management of the major scandal he inherited involving the CU Athletic Department. The entire editorial's here.



The WSJ editorial left me admiring President Brown, but mostly thinking about President Brodhead and his supporters at Duke.

What I hear most often now from Brodhead’s supporters are statements like “No one could have done better in the circumstances” and “Brodhead’s right. It was a confusing time. He’s done his best and shouldn’t be held responsible.”

Brodhead works to give credence to those statements. The best known example of that is his Oct. 2006 60 Minutes interview with the late Ed Bradley.

With three former Duke students still under indictment in what was an obvious frame-up attempt, Brodhead spoke at length and with feeling about what a difficult ordeal he’d been through.

Do you recall Duke’s President telling a disbelieving Bradley how hard Spring 2006 had been for him because, among other things, “the facts kept changing?”

I can’t imagine Brown in similar circumstances whining for himself. Can you?

And I can’t imagine Brown standing by and saying nothing while many in the media trashed Colorado University sports teams the way Duke’s 2006 Men’s and Women’s lacrosse teams were trashed; or remaining silent while a corrupt DA, many Colorado faculty, certain Boulder Police officers and “community activists” inflamed public sentiment, thereby endangering Colorado students.

If such was the best Brown could do, would the Colorado Regents have given Brown a public standing ovation as Duke’s trustees gave Brodhead last September?

If we agree Brown was a first-rate university president, the best we can say for Brodhead is he’s second-rate.

Duke deserves better.


Anonymous said...

Broadhead couldn't carry Mr. Brown's jock.

mac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks John

Short of what you wrote here, I knew nothing of Brown. I do know the area though.

Boulder is the PC capital of the world, IMO. Brown must be a great man to have accomplished all he did within that city.

Anonymous said...

John - To call Brodhead "second rate" is to give those who are second rate a bad name. Brodhead is unworthy of any rating.

Jack in Silver Spring