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President Richard Brodhead to Step Down in 2017

Brodhead will take a year’s sabbatical before returning to teaching and writing

Richard H. Brodhead is the ninth president of Duke University.

Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead will step down on June 30, 2017, at the conclusion of his current term.

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Brodhead spoke to the Board of Trustees and the Academic Council on Thursday to share his plans.  

In a subsequent message to all Duke faculty, staff, students and alumni, he wrote, “When I first came to Duke, I encountered a school that was clearly in the top rank of universities but that had a distinctive spirit within this group. Duke has an unusually strong sense of community, and what binds people together is a vision that Duke is still being created, still reaching for the further thing it could become … It is Duke’s nature to keep pressing to live up to its highest potential, and we have made striking progress in the past 12 years.”

“With many critical initiatives nearing completion,” he added, “it seems the right time for Duke to recruit a new leader to guide the next chapter of its progress. Meanwhile, there will be plenty to do in the year ahead. Nothing in a university is the work of a single person, and in the year to come, I’ll look forward to chances to thank and celebrate with each of you who have helped build the Duke of today.”

“Dick Brodhead is one of Duke’s transformative presidents,” said David Rubenstein (T’70), chair of the university’s Board of Trustees.  “The entire Duke community is therefore very much in his debt for the leadership he has provided over the past 12 years -- and no doubt will continue to provide.  That Duke will have another year of Dick’s commitment, vision and energy is our good fortune.” 

Brodhead, who is also the William Preston Few Professor of English at Duke, will take a year’s sabbatical before returning to teaching and writing, “the passions that lured me into the academic life in the first place,” he noted in his message.

Under Brodhead’s leadership, undergraduate education at Duke has undergone a significant transformation, with new opportunities for internships, faculty-mentored research and academic collaborations such as Bass Connections projects, as well as changes in housing and student life.  Brodhead also launched the signature program DukeEngage, a fully funded summer service program that has given 3,600 Duke undergraduates the opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge in the U.S. and in 79 countries on six continents.  

In addition, Duke’s culture of interdisciplinary research and teaching has expanded with the successful launch of new initiatives that include the Duke Global Health Institute, which works to translate research findings to address health-care inequities and improve the health of people around the world, the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, and Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Duke.

Brodhead has led a renewal of Duke’s physical campus, initiating more than $1 billion in construction and renovation projects such as Baldwin and Page auditoriums, the Rubenstein Library, Duke Chapel, Duke Medicine Pavilion and Cancer Institute, athletic facilities and other structures.  The transformed West Union student gathering space will open this summer, and a new arts center has already broken ground. 


President Brodhead with Duke Engage in Belfast. Duke greatly expanded its international reach under Brodhead's leadership.

Brodhead has made globalization a major strategic priority for the university.  He oversaw the creation of the Duke-NUS Medical School in partnership with the National University of Singapore, and he was deeply engaged in the creation of Duke Kunshan University, a new joint-venture institution created by Duke University, the city of Kunshan and Wuhan University in China, which opened in August 2014.

Closer to home, Brodhead -- along with his wife Cindy -- has been a champion of the relationship between Duke University and the City of Durham. Under his leadership, Duke’s investments have spurred downtown renewal; today, more than 2,500 Duke employees work in renovated leased space downtown.  Duke has also made investments that have strengthened K-12 public education, funded several new community health clinics and fostered neighborhood revitalization through the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.

Brodhead is leading Duke Forward, the largest comprehensive fundraising campaign in Duke’s history, which has already raised $3.1 billion on its way to a goal of $3.25 billion by 2017.  In the last fiscal year, Duke raised a record $478 million in private philanthropy.  In addition to supporting faculty and groundbreaking research, the campaign has made access and opportunity a major priority.  Following on an earlier initiative Brodhead led to expand Duke’s financial aid endowment, this commitment enables Duke to maintain a policy of need-blind admission and meeting full demonstrated need for all admitted U.S. students. 

Also during Brodhead’s presidency:

  • Two Duke faculty members won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry -- Robert Lefkowitz in 2012 and Paul Modrich in 2015 -- the first Nobel Prizes awarded for work done by Duke faculty on the Duke campus. 
  • Nine undergraduates were named Rhodes Scholars.
  • Applications for undergraduate admission nearly doubled, from 16,702 in 2004 to more than 32,000 in 2016, while the Regular Decision admit rate fell to 8.7 percent. 
  • Duke’s athletic teams won 10 national championships while earning a 98 percent graduation rate.
  • The Duke University Health System grew to play an increasingly vital role in the community. In 2015, more than 64,000 patients were admitted to Duke University Hospital, Duke Raleigh Hospital and Duke Regional Hospital & Davis Ambulatory Surgical Center, and more than 1 million outpatient visits occurred at Duke University Hospital alone. 

Nationally, Brodhead is a leader in education issues and a spokesperson for the value of the humanities. Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004, he was named the co-chair of the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences, created by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences at the request of a bipartisan group of congressmen and senators to bolster teaching and research in the humanities and social sciences. The commission issued its report, The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a vibrant, competitive, and secure nation, in June 2013.  Brodhead discussed the report on the PBS NewsHour and “The Colbert Report.”    

Brodhead is a trustee of the Mellon Foundation.  He previously served as a trustee of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and as a member of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

In 2013, he received the Carnegie Corporation’s Academic Leadership Award, which recognizes “vision and an outstanding commitment to excellence and equity in undergraduate education, the liberal arts, curricular innovation, reform of K-12 education, international engagement, and the promotion of strong links between their institutions and their local communities.”  He holds four honorary degrees. 

Brodhead was named to succeed Nannerl Keohane in December 2003 and took office in July 2004. He came to Duke from Yale University, where he had earned three degrees, served as the A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English and American Studies, and had been dean of Yale College for 11 years, in which role he was responsible for undergraduate academic and student life.

A noted scholar and teacher, Brodhead has written or edited more than a dozen books on American literature and authors.  At Duke, he team-taught a course on American legal and cultural history in the Duke Law School and has guest-lectured to many English and literature classes.  Earlier, he won the DeVane Medal for outstanding teaching at Yale and spent eight summers teaching high school teachers at the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. 

Rubenstein stated that the Board of Trustees would appoint a committee at its May meeting to begin a search for Duke’s 10th president, noting, “But we will do so fully recognizing that Dick’s vision, work ethic, intellect, and eloquence will be extraordinarily difficult to match.”