A new leader for Hopkins Inauguration: The university prepares for an age of innovative pragmatism under its 13th president.

February 23, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Dr. William R. Brody, who is to be inaugurated today as the 13th president of the Johns Hopkins University, sees his challenge as a simple if daunting one: He must preserve the ideals and strengths of one of the world's premier research universities while bringing an entrepreneurial vigor to carry them out.

Brody, 53, took office in August but is scheduled to be formally vested with presidential authority today under the watchful eyes of 1,100 assorted dignitaries from campuses across the nation. Brody is expected to speak today on how changes in technology may alter the way knowledge will be transmitted and learned in years to come, aides said.

But the new president and senior administrators believe that any peek into the future will be tempered by a bracing financial reality. Under Brody's tutelage, officials at the Baltimore campus -- where the model of the American research university was invented more than a century ago -- have started to talk about their mission in terms generally reserved for industry. They talk of product quality, market share, customer satisfaction and consumer loyalty.

Each of the school's four sources of substantial income is, Brody acknowledged in an interview last week, at best uncertain -- whether winning grants from federal research agencies, persuading students to pay $30,000 a year to attend, coaxing money from reluctant donors or persuading cost-conscious doctors to send their patients to the school's East Baltimore hospital.

This does not mean, Hopkins administrators stressed, that there would be any reduction of the significance historically placed on research and scholarship there. Brody "understands the core value of Hopkins and what matters to Hopkins, and he would never relinquish those for a good business deal," said Dr. Edward D. Miller, the newly named Hopkins medical czar. "He is very protective of Hopkins' reputation."

Indeed, Brody clearly intends to build on that reputation as he seeks new sources of income for the university. The institution he inherits is a storied one with 16,000 students, 22,000 faculty members and staff, eight schools and two hospitals.

As trustee chairman Michael R. Bloomberg formally invests Brody with the authority of his station this afternoon, Brody is unlikely to forget the university's international scope or the weight of its 121 years of history. Should he do so, he need only glance to the side of the stage at Shriver Hall to see four predecessors -- Lincoln Gordon, Steven Muller, William C. Richardson and Daniel Nathans.

Money is primary

The question of money, however, will loom over all other issues.

"The university has to find a way of becoming affluent," said former U.S. poet laureate Mark Strand, a professor in the Hopkins Writing Seminar. "Without any money, we won't be much of a university much longer."

With an endowment nearing $1 billion and an annual operating budget exceeding $2 billion, Hopkins is by any objective measure a very wealthy institution.

To university officials at Hopkins and elsewhere, however, those figures reflect a precarious balancing act that demands attention. "You can't keep the institution's luster without looking forward and anticipating its needs," said former Columbia University President Michael I. Sovern.

To charm potential customers -- either students or patients -- its reputation may need some burnishing. Reductions in health care bills mean that Hopkins Hospital needs to attract more patients to maintain current levels of income. So those patients should be convinced that it is worth it by a friendly approach lasting from curbside to bedside and back again, Miller said.

Equally important, Brody suggested, is that Hopkins not only be known for serving as a way station for driven undergraduates intent on becoming physicians. Students should also enjoy themselves. That's the way to guarantee future waves of alumni benefactors such as Bloomberg, the trustees chairman, who recently pledged $55 million to Hopkins, or R. Champlin Sheridan, who committed $20 million to the university library, Brody said.

Motivated students

His sentiments were echoed by Jamie Monica, an 18-year-old pre-med student from Short Hills, N.J., who said he is constantly impressed and challenged by his professors. Monica, a freshman who was the varsity football team's starting quarterback for the final few games last fall, also expressed concern about the single-mindedness of his fellow students.

"This is known as a research institution. People are focused on one thing" -- and that's their schoolwork, Monica said. "We need more well-rounded kids."

At Stanford and Duke universities, where razor-sharp students work hard and play hard, presidents are trying to infuse the campus with a greater sense of intellectual rigor. That's not a problem at Hopkins, Brody acknowledged. "If anything, the students are over-focused, over-motivated and extremely well-prepared," he said.

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