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P&S Journal

P&S Journal: Winter 1998, Vol.18, No.1
Alumni News and Notes
A leader, according to Keith Brodie'65, president emeritus of Duke University, is "someone who takes people where they might not have thought they wanted to go or might not have thought they had the capacity to go. But, of course," he adds with a genial laugh, "they're very happy when they get there."

Having shepherded Duke through a formative decade--first as chancellor from 1982 to 1985 (under President Terry Sanford), then as president from 1985 to 1993--Dr. Brodie helped reshape the school's reputation from respectable regional contender to national front-runner and one of the country's top research institutions. Among other notable achievements, he doubled Duke's endowment, substantially increased the level of corporate giving, promoted interdisciplinary research, and helped boost the applicant pool. In 1993, the year he left the presidency, young people wanted to attend Duke more than any other American private university.

There were debacles along the way, including the issue of divestment in South Africa (Duke was the first major Southern university to divest); the political correctness "wars" that swept academe in the 80s, in which Duke took part; and the controversial "Black Faculty Initiative," an effort Dr. Brodie championed to increase the number of minority faculty. Two national college basketball championships helped further enhance the image of an institution he likes to describe as "an academic Harvard of the South, an athletic Notre Dame, and an intellectual haven in the Berkeley mold, all rolled in one: a little microcosm of America's best."

A Private Man in the Public Spotlight

With a psychiatrist's appreciation for the dynamics of conflict, Keith Brodie appears to thrive on apparent contradiction. A mild-mannered Connecticut Yankee, he has spent the greater part of his career south of the Mason-Dixon line. A private man who relishes and protects family time, he has always maintained a high public profile. Once dubbed a "wunderkind psychiatrist," he enjoyed a meteoric academic and professional rise. In 1982, at age 43, he ascended to national prominence, becoming the youngest president in the history of the American Psychiatric Association.

Still trim and youthful-looking at 58, he is clearly more at ease in sweater and shirtsleeves rolled up to the elbow than a three-piece suit and tie. And he is more amenable to one-on-one colloquies than the committee room diplomacy of high office. He remains passionately and absolutely devoted to intellectual inquiry as a way of life and to fostering a climate to help it thrive.

Keen on chemistry as a kid, he attended Princeton, where an undergraduate biochemistry research project on the Bence-Jones protein led him to Walter Kauzman's laboratory at Columbia and Elliot Osserman's myeloma ward at the old Delafield Hospital. "The 60s," Dr. Brodie explains, "was an era of relevance and working to make a difference." So the budding young chemist switched to a medical track, despite the qualms of his mother, a practicing Christian Scientist--who later allowed that "even Mary Baker Eddy said you've got to get a doctor to, maybe, set a bone."

Intrigued above all by the biochemistry of mental illness, it was the biological substrate and pharmacological potential of psychiatry, not the more popular psychoanalytic focus of the field, that grabbed him. On a third-year elective at P&S, he participated in a pioneering clinical study of lithium. At Columbia he also broadened his intellectual horizon at the University's International Fellows Program in the School of International Affairs, honing his cultural and medical skills in another third-year elective at the Firestone Plantation in Liberia.

Rounding out his medical knowledge after graduation on an internship at the Ochsner Foundation Hospital in New Orleans (his first tantalizing taste of the South), he returned to New York to pursue his residency in psychiatry at Columbia and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Applying to the Public Health Service, Dr. Brodie joined the National Institute of Mental Health in 1968 and spent the next two years as clinical associate in the psychiatry section's clinical science lab, studying the use of lithium in manic-depressive illness. He became assistant professor at Stanford in 1970, researching a newer and cleaner generation of anti-depressive drugs. Among his discoveries at Stanford was an untapped talent for administration, successfully running the General Clinical Research Center.

He left Stanford in 1974 at age 35 to head up and invigorate Duke's psychiatry department. In Durham, his administrative talents blossomed along with his academic prowess. He was named the James B. Duke Professor of Psychiatry and Law in 1981, became acting provost then chancellor in 1982, and president in 1985 after Duke President Terry Sanford retired.

Leading by Listening

Having observed a number of fellow university presidents in action, Dr. Brodie forged his own unique leadership style, "inextricably bound up with my background as a psychiatrist," he writes in the introduction to "Keeping an Open Door, Passages in a University Presidency," a 1996 collection of his speeches co-edited with Leslie Banner, former special assistant for university affairs. "The listening, reactive side of me," he adds, "served the institution in large ways and small."

Intent upon building a consensus as opposed to ruling by decree, he maintained an open-door policy to all members of the university community. He enjoyed regularly scheduled "sign-up" lunches with undergraduates and used a "President's Suggestion Box" in the student center to seek out and address student concerns. Faculty were at first disarmed and then delighted by his decision to not live in the official presidential residence but transform it into a university guest house under the able management of his wife, Brenda, a 1965 graduate of the Columbia School of Nursing.

An educator to the bone, President Brodie continued teaching for the sheer love of it and "to ensure that the administrator in me did not lose touch with the student-faculty point of view." Throughout his tenure, he conducted a freshman seminar in psychobiology, which he still teaches today.

He invested a great deal of time and effort in recruiting outstanding academic leaders, including the deans of divinity and engineering and the director of development. He is particularly proud of having handpicked "the perfect provost," Phillip Griffiths, formerly a tenured mathematics professor at Harvard, to whom he gave an active role in reshaping the school's academic profile. Together they built a vital and highly respected School of Environmental Studies, reassigning the resources of an outmoded School of Forestry, a neglected marine laboratory, and other elements from the medical center. Dr. Griffiths subsequently left Duke to become director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. Another major initiative was creation of the Terry Sanford Public Policy Institute, modeled after the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton.

Committed to interdisciplinary study, Dr. Brodie, whose own teaching experience bridges the disciplines of medicine and law, encouraged collaboration between physicists and physicians in Duke's cancer center, where new cancer technologies have emerged.

Nurturing Talent

Dr. Brodie evinced the rare ability to identify and nurture talent. "Those who lead research universities are not the possessors of superhuman wisdom," he acknowledges in his book, "but are privileged to have daily access to more of what is currently known and thought in more fields of knowledge than those in any other occupational group." The psychiatrist in him delights in cultivating the genius of complex personalities, even if it means going out on a limb.

Perhaps his most famous, even controversial, recruit was Stanley Fish as chairman of the English department. Professor Fish, a noted Milton scholar, has been associated by some with the academic vanguard of political correctness. A scintillating classroom teacher, his dynamic personality and challenging manner helped revitalize a lagging department, eventually dispelling the doubts of conservative alumni who questioned his devotion to literary tradition.

Respecting and courting originality in all domains, Dr. Brodie managed to attract the support of such business mavericks as Wendy's president Dave Thomas, whose $4 million gift funded an executive education program at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. Other generous corporate support during his administration came from RJR Nabisco CEO Ross Johnson.

Dr. Brodie understands what he calls "the unique synergy between academia and industry." Corporations have a vested interest in access to intellectual property and well-trained graduates. "If the university is proud of what it produces in ideas and people, corporations are going to be proud of it too," he says, "and they'll respond with their support."

Duke's loyal supporters did not, however, always see eye to eye with the president. A strong believer in the importance of using his high profile to weigh in on pressing public policy issues of the day--"because university presidents get instant access to the press"--Dr. Brodie decided to take a stand on South Africa. Heeding the advice of Bishop Desmond Tutu, he backed divestment as an economic weapon to combat apartheid, ultimately convincing his board of trustees. Duke became the first major Southern university to divest.

Dr. Brodie's firm stand in favor of affirmative action troubled some alumni. "Duke had not been in the vanguard of integration in the South, and it was only just, therefore," he writes in his book, that a sense of historical imperative should inform our deliberations. The university first admitted blacks to its graduate and professional schools in 1961 and to its undergraduate colleges in 1963. Determined to redress an old wrong, he believed it to be "both ethical and logical to add race to such other factors as alumni status, gender, geography, athletic ability . . . etc., which we use in selecting . . . a balanced class each fall."

He also supported the 1988 Black Faculty Initiative in an attempt to erode old prejudice and build new academic strength. "Given Duke's historically white professoriate, it seemed at the very least disingenuous not to consider racial diversity a legitimate goal for aggressive faculty recruitment," he writes. While the initiative ultimately floundered, Duke doubled its number of African-American doctoral candidates during Dr. Brodie's tenure.

"Universities are one of the longest standing institutions in our culture, and so hold enormous sway for our future." American institutions of higher learning have, in his view, "been the laboratories of tremendous inter-generational tensions, from the relative conservatism of the 50s to the social explosion of the 60s, the healing of the 70s, the focus of the 80s on money, mergers and acquisitions, and," he is pleased to note, "a renewed interest in volunteerism and community service in the 90s.

Dr. Brodie, who was invited to address the new commitment of American youth at a New York Times luncheon, bemoaned the dearth of national volunteer programs, like the Peace Corps, "a truncated shadow of the vibrant force for good it once was."

Decompressing after the Presidency

While glad to return to a full-time focus on psychiatry, he hasn't easily put the presidency behind him. During a sabbatical in 1993, he chaired a special commission on the behavioral aspects of AIDS research for the National Academy of Sciences, co-authoring a major report strongly recommending enhanced needle-exchange programs and much more funding for prevention and research on the behavioral differences of diverse communities affected by AIDS.

Returning to Duke, he resumed his teaching, taking particular pleasure in his first-year psychobiology seminar. Before his presidency, he created and co-taught with a member of the legal faculty a course on forensic psychiatry to law students. He recently applied his knowledge in behavioral psychiatry to creating a law school course on interview techniques in conjunction with the nearby federal correctional institute at Butner, the mental health unit for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

A member and past board chairman of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Brodie has received countless professional honors, including the Psychopharmacology Award of the American Psychological Association, the Outstanding Alumnus Award of the Alton Ochsner Medical Foundation, and the P&S Alumni Gold Medal for outstanding achievement.

Co-author of numerous papers and four books, Modern Clinical Psychiatry" (the definitive textbook in the field),Psychiatry at the Crossroads, "The Importance of Mental Health Services to General Health Care," and "Keeping An Open Door," he is now at work on a book concerning his experience in the university presidency from a psychiatric perspective.

Keeping an open door to the future, Dr. Brodie delights in family time and his newfound freedom--as he noted in a profile in the Durham Herald-Sun--"to step on toes and risk breaking a few eggs.

copyright ©, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center

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