President Richard Brodhead Discusses Entrepreneurship at Duke University

Earlier today I had the opportunity to read a particularly insightful interview with Richard Brodhead, President of Duke University. It originally aired on June 16th on China Radio International (CRI), China’s only worldwide radio station.[link] The interview was conducted by Xing Zong, a fourth year Ph.D. student at Duke University. He had the opportunity to ask Brodhead about his unique life as an academic and administrator and about his long-term vision for Duke.

Some people have criticized Brodhead for his lack of business experience, but in the interview, the president made it clear that entrepreneurship is a priority at Duke. Here is what he had to say:

Xing Zong: Once students are admitted, one of the big goals of a great university is to cultivate their independent thinking. It is far from enough to just learn what the textbooks give to the students. How do you think Duke has done in this aspect, so that students can keep learning for the rest of their lives?

Brodhead: First of all, the majority of our classes are small and the majority of classes are based on discussion, rather than allowing the teacher the final word. Therefore mental activity and independence are cultivated at an early stage. Right now we are also expanding the opportunities for independent research. For graduate students, needless to say, you already have to start your own research, but it is also important for undergraduate students. On the teacher’s side, it is important for teachers to realize, when you teach the students, the students also have something to teach you. So I think the real question is that whether the culture of a university favors independence, favors students taking initiatives, and favors students raising their own questions and trying to find the answers. Fortunately, the answer to these questions for Duke is “Yes”.

Xing Zong: I agreed that Duke has improved a lot in this aspect. Still I have a friend who studies in Stanford. He told me that Stanford encourages students to drop out of school and start their own businesses. How do you think Duke would treat situations like this?

Brodhead: This is a very interesting thing. When you think about Stanford, you always think about Yahoo and Google. If you study in Stanford, you will never get your physics Ph.D. (laugh) You will become a billionaire before that happens. We have a lot of students who study engineering, or biomedical engineering and from very early on, the school teaches the elements of design. You also learn entrepreneurship; how to solve the problem. So we are now consciously trying to develop the skills of entrepreneurship. We haven’t had our first Google yet, but just wait.

There’s not much more that I can say other than GO DUKE!