The NCAA lost its fine leader, Myles Brand, yesterday, to a year-long struggle with pancreatic cancer. Myles was a friend and colleague. I first knew him from his years as provost at Ohio State, when I was a department chairperson. I remember strategizing with him on numerous occasions about the university and its problems – how to recognize the research accomplishments of senior faculty, how to mentor fledging professors, how to focus more national attention on Ohio State’s academic programs (which in those days seemed subservient to the Buckeye’s football team), and how to toughen admissions standards for undergraduates.
Myles was cut from different cloth from most university leaders. In an era in which academic administration seems increasingly to attract smiling glitzy schmoozers and hand-shakers, Myles was quiet, sober, and introspective. Public speaking, to put it delicately, was not his strong suit, and his speeches were better read than listened to.
But Myles’ strengths became apparent after one scratched the surface. He had an extraordinarily smart and analytical mind. At heart Myles was a problem-solver, and as a provost (and subsequently president at the U. of Oregon and Indiana U.) he was always seen as a forceful agent for change. He was tough, willing to set limits, and unafraid, when necessary, to play the “bad cop.” To Myles, being respected was more important than being popular. His courage came from his strong academic values and, ultimately, his commitment to the life of the mind.
Like many in academia, I was stunned when Myles took over the reins of the NCAA, because up to that point I hadn’t known he had a particular interest in sports (the Bob Knight affair hardly qualifies as an "interest"). But history will show that he was a brilliant choice; his was an unwavering voice for restoring integrity to an organization that had lost its academic moorings.
The country needs more academic leaders like Myles Brand. Let us all hope that the example of his life will serve as an inspiration to those who follow him.