Inaugural Moments

November 30, 2004
Down the aisle: Brodhead's ceremonial departure

 Down the aisle: Brodhead's ceremonial departure. Photo:Les Todd


Excerpts from the September 18 inaugural address of President Richard H. Brodhead

This place has always had the character of a rising school. Duke could have leveled off in any number of inertial orbits but it never did. Instead, from generation to generation, it has been driven by the desire to be more than it has thus far succeeded in becoming, to push toward the limit of what a great school could be. Another striking trait, Duke's extraordinary institutional plasticity, derives from this first. Much as it might admire what it had already become, Duke is a school that has been continually willing to remake itself in sometimes fairly drastic ways to the end of becoming better.

This fall Duke freshmen read Tracy Kidder's biography of Paul Farmer ['82], the humanitarian doctor in rural Haiti and leader in the fight to secure the benefits of medical research for the world's poor. Paul Farmer went to Duke, but it might be truer to say that he became Paul Farmer by going to Duke: This is where he found the calling we know him by, through an unplanned convergence of experiences in class and out. I'd like every undergraduate to run the risk of such self-discovery and self-enlargement by enrolling at Duke. Toward that end, we need to find more and more ways to include Duke students in the excitement of direct academic inquiry, and to make the whole of college life a maximally stimulating, growth-inducing experience.

It does seem that a school of Duke's character has special opportunities to lead in certain crucial areas, one of which is global health. Duke medical researchers are already active from Tanzania to Singapore to Honduras and back to the Carolinas and are working on virtually every health challenge a growingly populous, growingly interdependent world will face.... In my dream, Duke would be the place where people from around the world come to learn and contribute to a growing understanding of our shared health future; and no student would leave without a deeper understanding of this dimension of our common lot.

[U]niversities must do everything they can to mitigate the problem of cost for those who can't pay the full fare, and to advertise the availability of aid to those who might miss such opportunities out of ignorance. This university admits undergraduates without regard to need and spends in excess of 40 million dollars a year meeting their financial need, and on my watch it will continue to do so. But the comparative youth that gives Duke enviable vigor does have a downside, namely that we lack the endowment older schools have accrued through time to meet this fundamental need. Recruiting the support to assure that this school never closes its doors to a worthy applicant will be a project especially close to my heart.

One thing that amazes and delights me every day I spend here is the way this school permits, even encourages, the crossing of intellectual boundaries. Duke has the same divisions by school and department as everywhere else, but at Duke these administrative conveniences have not hardened into the walls and barriers they form elsewhere. Faculty here are in conversation with people in a wide array of other fields, combining and recombining their expertise in compelling new compounds and conjunctions.