Johns Hopkins Magazine -- February 1997
Johns Hopkins Magazine



Two months into Bill Brody's presidency, the Magazine spent a day dogging his heels. The pace since he took office as the university's 13th president has been unrelenting, and October 31, 1996, was no exception, as you'll discover in the words and pictures that follow...

O N    C A M P U S E S

The Brody Era Begins
By Sue De Pasquale
Photos by Mike Ciesielski

BILL BRODY STRIDES THROUGH THE ENTRANCE OF Martin's West in Catonsville and quickly makes his way through the lobby. Traffic on the Baltimore Beltway this morning was murder, and the Hopkins president is running a few minutes late for his 7:30 a.m. breakfast meeting, where he's slated to be the featured speaker.

Brody shakes hands with the breakfast's organizers and is whisked into a huge banquet hall, to a table up in front. The room is filled with several hundred people--state and local officials, and a healthy supply of current and retired engineers--who have come to eat hashed browns and eggs, and to honor Volunteers for Medical Engineering (VME), a non-profit group that taps engineers in industry and academia to come up with individualized devices for people with disabilities.

It's the kind of project that Bill Brody--engineer, physician, and entrepreneur--loves, largely because it marks the confluence of his varied areas of expertise. "From the time I was in junior high, I always wanted to be a doctor and an engineer. Not a doctor or an engineer," Brody tells the audience. "At the time I went to college, however, I didn't know if such a career was possible."

The California native made it possible by training in both areas. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from MIT, then went to Stanford for an MD (specializing in radiology) and a PhD in electrical engineering. One of his MIT professors is here at the breakfast: Murray Sachs, chairman of Hopkins's Biomedical Engineering Department. At the podium, Brody acknowledges his former lab instructor, telling those assembled that Sachs "taught me all that I know about engineering."

Earlier, Sachs had paused from eating a danish to tell me he is thrilled to have his former TA at the helm of Johns Hopkins University. Brody, said Sachs, was instrumental in getting Biomedical Engineering established at Hopkins during the late 1980s when he was chairman of Radiology. Today the department consistently ranks No. 1 in the nation. The new president takes an "engineer's approach" to leadership, Sachs said, approvingly: "He analyzes a problem, decides what has to be done, and then he does it. He doesn't mess around."

7:58 a.m. After a quick breakfast, Brody takes the podium to give the keynote talk in a program honoring Volunteers for Medical Engineering. He speaks engagingly, and isn't afraid to make jokes at his own expense.
Brody speaks engagingly, without referring to a prepared text. The audience is left with the sense of a youthful president who knows his stuff but doesn't take himself too seriously. In describing a career path that has taken him into administration, he quips, "Some of my colleagues think I'm brain dead."

He takes a more serious tack in discussing Hopkins's involvement in Volunteers for Medical Engineering. Hopkins's Engineering students in the Senior Design class have been contributing their brainpower to VME for the past six years. "Service is an important part of what we do," he tells the audience. "We want to instill in students that excitement in giving back to the community, where the compensation is much greater than can be measured in dollars and cents."

Once he is finished, a Johnson & Johnson official presents VME with a community health award and the meeting breaks up. Before Brody can leave, he must spend the next 20 minutes shaking hands and posing for photographs.

On the car ride back to campus, Brody checks in on his cell phone with his assistant, Diane Toms, then follows that up with a call to one of the university's accountants. "There's not a lot of down time to return phone calls," he says, apologetically.

Lately there hasn't been a lot of down time, period. Brody was hardly a newcomer to Hopkins when he arrived for work on September 1, having served as chair of the Radiology Department here for eight years, from 1987 until 1994. During that period he also led the influential Committee for the 21st Century, the university-wide effort to chart Hopkins's course for the next century. Despite his familiarity with the place, he says his biggest surprise as president has been to discover just how diverse Johns Hopkins University really is. "I've been meeting as many people as possible within Hopkins and the community, and I've barely made a dent," he says, as our car, driven by assistant Greg Wilts, eases from the beltway onto I-83.

Brody left his office in Garland Hall last night at 10:30 p.m., armed with a stack of paperwork. This afternoon he'll take a later afternoon train for Manhattan for Hopkins's annual New York Convocation, a fundraising event. Between now and the time he boards the train he will meet with a state senator, sit down with his advisors to look over the agenda for next week's trustees meeting, host a luncheon meeting of the C-21 Committee, have tea with three representatives from a hospital and medical school in Great Britain--and rush home to his temporary quarters at Scarlett Place to pack for the trip.

9:15 a.m. The program is over but Brody can't leave until he first poses for a stream of photographs with local and state officials.
The pace is unrelenting and shows no sign of easing up anytime soon. On this last day of October, the new president's appointment calendar is already booked solid through the end of the year. Brody keeps up by getting in early (most days he's at work by 7:30 a.m.) and by keeping his thoughts focused on Hopkins business long into the night. Toms and others who work closely with Brody say it's not unusual to receive faxes or e-mail from him at 1:30 a.m. "If he's up, and something pops into his mind" he'll get on it immediately, says Toms.

Brody also stays mentally alert by keeping fit. The 52-year-old is an avid tennis player, played on the water polo team in college, and is currently learning the ins and outs of golf. He and his wife, Wendy, made quite a stir during Freshman Orientation Weekend when they strapped on their in-line skates, slipped on their knee- and elbow-pads, and rollerbladed around the Homewood campus to welcome new students and their parents. The couple's athleticism has carried over to their children. Daughter Ingrid is captain of the women's crew at Dartmouth, where she's a senior. Son John, a high school junior, is an avid baseball player. He's remained behind in Minnesota to finish out high school and is living with his coach's family. (Wendy Brody made the move to Baltimore earlier this winter.)

10:03 a.m. Brody arrives at his Garland Hall office and checks in with assistant Diane Toms, who hands him the stack of phone messages and paperwork that have accumulated since he left last night at 10:30 p.m.
Bill Brody also plays classical piano. Though he tends to downplay his skill, faculty who've heard him play say he's quite good. He says he finds making music to be an effective stress reliever. "It's great therapy," he says.

Perhaps the president's biggest stress inducer at this point is the uncertain future facing academic medical centers like Hopkins's. In their push to cut costs, managed care companies have steered patients away from teaching hospitals, which must foot the bill for training and research and are thus more expensive. "We can't keep doing things the way we've been doing them. The trick is understanding how to change in a way that preserves our mission," Brody says, as our car hurtles along.

The situation at Hopkins is not nearly as grim as the one Brody faced in 1994, when he left his tenured position at Hopkins to become provost of health sciences (later of the Academic Health Center) at the University of Minnesota. The state had the highest managed care percentage in the nation--some 90 percent--which meant that the center's revenue from patients and government sources was drying up quickly. Financial disaster loomed.

Brody was brought in with the mandate for wholesale change, and that he did. During his two years as provost of the $750 million operation, he secured a merger between the university's hospital and the Fairview Health System, initiated a "re-engineering" of the academic health center, and pushed cost-cutting, resulting in an annual reduction of $40 million. He also lobbied the state legislature to ante up $20 million over two years to upgrade operations on campus, and forced the center's physicians to merge their various private practice corporations into a single entity, which made for much less complicated billing. Everything, it seems, was up for grabs, under the Brody leadership, including that sacred cow, faculty tenure. Not surprisingly, Brody had his critics.

10:35 a.m. Brody meets with Maryland state senator Barbara Hoffman (right) and special assistant Annie Kronk. With more than $20 million in state money at stake this year, it's important for the new president to make allies.
At Hopkins, faculty members who had worked with Brody on the C-21 Committee enthusiastically hailed his return to Hopkins. Brody, they said, is the right person to have at the helm during this unprecedented time of change within higher education.

"He has a respect for organizational efficiency and a healthy respect for the bottom line, but he also knows very well that academic excellence doesn't come from these things alone, and that Hopkins is what it is because of its singular faculty and students," says earth and planetary sciences professor Bruce Marsh, who served on several different committees with Brody, including C-21. This balance of "corporate savvy and intellectual values," says Marsh, "is hard to come by in these times."

As our car pulls onto the Homewood campus, Brody notes that Hopkins will see a revolution in the way students are taught that is comparable to the revolution under way in the healthcare system. Nationwide, tuition rates can't continue to climb as fast as they have been. There has to be a way of delivering education at lower cost, or at least of controlling tuition costs, he says. Technological innovation and increased collaboration (both within Hopkins and nationally and internationally) will be key.

Brody, who took time out of his academic career to start two successful companies, likes referring to himself as an "academic venture capitalist." He says that as Hopkins president, his strategy in the face of change will be to encourage all faculty, administrators, and students to be entrepreneurs. In fact, the word "entrepreneurial" is one that peppers many of his conversations about the university.

"I don't believe you can sit in an office with the president, and the provost, and vice presidents and say, �This is what it's going to take to succeed [in the future],'" he says, as the car comes to a stop in front of Garland Hall. "A lot of this is serendipity. You need to be sure you have enough ideas generating so that something comes through. If an organism can't change as quickly as its environment does, it goes extinct. We need to induce a lot of mutations."

ENTERING THE ADMINISTRATIVE BUILDING, Brody runs into the wife of vice president for development Bob Lindgren. Cheryl Lindgren is holding 2-year-old son, Gregory. The president's face relaxes into a smile when he sees the duo, and he takes several minutes to chat. Young Gregory is not happy (nap time is imminent, Mom explains), so Brody does his best to coax a smile out of him. "Er, What's Up, Doc?" he says, in his best imitation of Bugs Bunny. After several tries the president's efforts are rewarded. The toddler offers a small grin.

11:48 a.m. With the next meeting of the Board of Trustees just a few days away, Brody and his top advisors sit down to look over the agenda.
The exchange feels natural, not put on for the benefit of the reporter trailing him, and from what his colleagues say, it is natural. Several made a point of noting that Brody goes beyond the perfunctory when it comes to his interest in their families-- and his own. When Brody got the offer to return to Baltimore, son John was loathe to leave Minnesota and finish out his high school career in a different city and a new school. "Concerns for his son's happiness weighed heavily in whether or not he would take the Hopkins presidency," says one colleague. "In fact, if they couldn't have worked something out, he might not have accepted the job."

Inside Garland Hall, Brody checks in with Toms, whose second-floor office sits just outside his own, then readies himself to meet with state senator Barbara Hoffman and Annie Kronk, his special assistant and the director of state and local affairs.

Hoffmann is a 13-year veteran of Maryland's Senate and the chair of the budget and taxation committee. Brody has asked to meet with her to introduce himself and discuss Hopkins projects that will be coming up for funding in the next legislative session.

"Tell me what your plans are," she asks the new president, once the three have settled themselves around his long conference table.

Brody starts by saying he intends to focus on undergraduate life. "We need to create a better sense of community on campus and off," he says. "You can drive by Hopkins and look at the neighborhood and never know there was a university here. At other universities you find coffeehouses and bookstores. We don't have that here." The situation on campus should brighten considerably with the planned addition of a student arts center and recreation center, he adds.

Academically, he tells Hoffman, the emphasis will be on collaboration. He ticks off several curricular innovations already under way: a new undergraduate major in public health that is proving very popular; a new business minor for Engineering students; Peabody courses being offered at Homewood for the first time.

"How about medicine?" the senator asks.

Brody expresses his concern about the current healthcare environment that places so little value on medical education and research. Hoffman is sympathetic, but says that Johns Hopkins shouldn't have anything to fear since the hospital's outstanding reputation "will keep people coming."

Brody is quick to correct what is a common misconception. "Once you get 70 percent of people enrolled in managed care," he tells her, "that choice disappears." HMOs "avoid academic health centers like the plague. We do well against other academic health centers. Our competition is the beltway hospitals."

Hoffman is receptive to Brody's point. "We need a recognition at the federal level that graduate medical education is central to the nation," she says. Her conviction and gratitude are based, in part, on personal experience. "I had all my children at Hopkins, and my friends would say, �Why are you going all the way down there?'" During the birth of her second child, an attentive Hopkins resident discovered unexpected complications and whisked her off for an emergency C-section. "At any other place I would have had a child who was brain damaged," she says.

Brody nods attentively. "It's so hard to get that message out," he says. "When people are well, they don't think they'll ever get sick, so they'll pay the lowest premium possible."

12:25 p.m. The president chats with newly named Provost Steven Knapp on the short walk to Shriver Hall.
The conversation goes on like this for more than an hour, with the trio talking about Hopkins initiatives that will go before the legislature. Under a longtime program of state aid to independent universities, Hopkins expects to receive $13.6 million (including $750,000 for Peabody.) The university will also request $4 million toward construction of its new cancer research building, and the final $5 million for its clinical cancer facility (the tail end of a $30.5 million commitment.)

As Brody rises to see Hoffman and Kronk out of his office, he can't help reminding the state senator of how crucial it will be to generate support for graduate medical education. Calling on one of his favorite analogies, he says that abandoning academic health centers in the face of having too many hospitals, "is like saying to Johnson & Johnson, you have too many manufacturing plants, so therefore close your R & D center. It makes no sense!"

Brody has barely seen Hoffman out the door when it's time for his next meeting. This one involves a half dozen of his top advisors- -including newly named Provost Steven Knapp and several vice presidents--and it doesn't take long. With the next meeting of the Board of Trustees just a few days away, the group needs to review the agenda.

It's pretty straightforward stuff: faculty promotions, the acquisition of a new building in Washington, D.C., the need to find donors to fund a new Interfaith Center on campus. Throughout the 25-minute meeting, the mood around the table is one of no-nonsense efficiency (the men have all shed their suit coats and are down to shirtsleeves). At one point Brody does get a small chuckle out of the group when he looks up from the agenda he's been scanning and says, "We can save $23,000 a year by changing the exit signs? That's pretty impressive. We must have a lot of exit signs."

Outside the president's office at Toms's desk, the phone never stops ringing. A friendly, efficient woman, she manages to maintain an oasis of calm despite the flurry of faxes, phone calls, letters, and visitors. Toms is well-acquainted with her boss's work style; she served as his office manager during the latter half of the time he was chairman of Radiology, and has become a close friend of the Brody family's (including Charlotte, the family's corgi). Near her desk sits a twin photo frame: one holds a shot of her favorite nephew, the other a picture of John Brody, whom she describes with affection as "a baseball nut."

In the two- and three-minute breaks Brody has between meetings, Toms routinely hands him a thick pile of pink phone messages, which he quickly flips through. Says Toms, smiling, "He's always had his hands in a lot of pots, but I had no idea there would be so many people who needed to touch the president this early on."

12:40 p.m. Inside the Shriver Hall board room there's an air of reunion. The faculty members gathered here were all key players on the C-21 Committee, which Brody led until leaving for Minnesota in 1994.
INSIDE THE SHRIVER HALL BOARD ROOM there's an air of reunion. The 16 or so faculty members who have gathered for lunch were all key players on the Committee for the 21st Century. From 1993 until 1995, when the committee's 23 final recommendations were published (See the April 1995 issue of Johns Hopkins Magazine), they met together regularly, putting in long hours in a herculean effort to map out a blueprint for the university's future.

It's not unlikely that these men and women will be the movers and shakers of the Brody administration. Like the president, many in the group are relatively young; most importantly, they share his conviction that change is something to be embraced, rather than feared; that collaboration and the creative use of technology will be key to maintaining the university's excellence as we head into the next millennium. Though Brody left Hopkins for Minnesota before the final report was issued, he's made it clear that he considers the committee's findings to be a solid starting point for his presidency.

"This is sort of a reunion, and a how-are-you-doing, and a get-your-thoughts-on-where-we-should-be-going meeting," Brody says by way of welcome. The next 20 minutes or so are given over to social chitchat and a heart-healthy lunch of dijon chicken, grilled vegetables, baby lettuces, and focaccia.

Before the lunch dishes have been cleared away, the group gets down to business. From his spot at the end of the long conference table, Brody says he's been "truly impressed" to find out how many of the C-21 recommendations have already been implemented. Key to getting Hopkins on track in the area of information technology, for instance, was the recommendation to hire a chief information officer with university-wide vision; JHMI's David Kingsbury assumed the post last year.

Most around the table agree that progress has been encouraging. "I've found that even more useful than the specific recommendations has been the guiding principle of selective excellence," says Engineering professor Nick Jones. In an age of dwindling resources, the idea is to do a few things very well, rather than a lot of things just satisfactorily. "That's a really good principle to have at the departmental level," Jones says. "It winds up spawning new recommendations that we never could have imagined."

Several people around the table say that another positive outcome of C-21 was that it got faculty from many different divisions talking to one another for the first time. (The 16 committee members chaired eight different subcommittees that brought together dozens of faculty.) "When you bring people together from across the university you get synergies," says Paula Burger, vice provost for academic programs. "Casual conversations can lead to collaborations."

"What happened to the uniform academic calendar?" someone asks, generating laughs from all around. Committee members knew going in that the seemingly innocuous recommendation #4: "Adopt a single academic calendar by 1997," could well end up generating the most resistance at decentralized Hopkins, and it has.

Anthropology professor Katherine Verdery raises the issue of Recommendation # 18, which called in part for implementation of a post-tenure review process. "If there was one thing I heard when you were named president, it was, �He's the guy who doesn't like tenure,'" she says to Brody.

He shakes his head. The issue at Minnesota, he says, was not tenure itself, but the tenure code. The need for the protection of academic freedom (and tenure's role in that process) was never questioned. What was discussed, he says, was how the university can manage its human resources in the face of declining state funds and clinical revenues. For instance, can faculty salary only increase, or can it decrease?

Brody goes on to predict that as the financial situation tightens within all of higher education, "tenure is going be taken on"-- probably by the state universities first. And that's fine with him. "It's not in our interest to be on the leading edge of this one," the president says.

2 p.m. Professor Bruce Marsh matches steps with Brody on the president's way back to Garland Hall. They chat briefly about where the Homewood campus ought to be headed.
In terms of post-tenure review, he says, one question is, "How do you ensure excellence after mandatory retirement has been uncapped?" He's asked the provost to pull together demographic information on Hopkins's faculty to see just how long older faculty members are staying on. "If we find that we have sufficient turnover, it may be that post-tenure review is time consuming and just not necessary," Brody says. Hopkins might also consider offering more creative inducements to retire. Allowing retired faculty to maintain office space, research support, and some role in the university would probably generate more goodwill than would post-tenure review, he says.

Brody wraps up the lunchtime gathering by telling the group that he appreciates all they've done, and that he's "extraordinarily proud" of the C-21 Committee's work.

OUTSIDE, THE AUTUMN MAPLES form a golden backdrop as Brody, accompanied by Bruce Marsh, makes the short walk back to Garland Hall. They begin a discussion about where the Homewood campus should be heading, but run out of sidewalk (and time) before they can get into the topic in any depth. "We need to get together and talk soon," Brody says by way of goodbye to Marsh.

In what will be his final meeting of the day, the president ushers into his office three distinguished British visitors. They have come for advice, explains Sir Cyril Chantler, who is dean of Guy's and St. Thomas's Medical School. The school is soon to merge with the university and medical school and hospital of King's College, which will create a multi-faculty university. Since Hopkins is similarly structured, the trio (which also includes physician Michael Shillingford and Dunhill Medical Trust director Kay Glendinning) has come to ask Brody, in Chantler's words, "about the pros and cons."

Brody keeps his suitcoat on for this meeting. "This is a complicated subject," he says cordially. "Would you like some tea and cookies?" The president, known throughout the halls of Garland as an Italian espresso afficionado, opts this afternoon for a cup of Sinful Cinnamon tea.

Over the course of the next hour, the conversation shifts freely between the Hopkins model of medicine and American medicine in general. Brody's breadth of knowledge in both areas is impressive. Before giving a brief overview of Hopkins's history, he points out the bust of "Mr. Hopkins" that sits on his bookcase. "And that's his desk," he says, gesturing to the massive piece that takes up almost a third of his office. The desk was in storage at Evergreen House until President William C. Richardson had it brought out and dusted off for his use. Brody opted to keep it.

"Every medical school I've ever been with believes they are being bled by the university," Brody says at one point. "On balance, though, there's far more to be gained by integrating the medical school with the university." He notes how young doctors in training at Hopkins benefit from their associations with the schools of Public Health and Nursing. That many take music classes at the Peabody Conservatory.

"Are there too many medical schools here [in the U.S.]?" Chantler asks.

"There are," Brody responds, then goes on to predict that some of them will be forced to close.

By 3:30 p.m. the tea and cookies are gone and the conversation has run its course. On their way out the door, Glendinning politely asks Brody how he likes being a university president.

He pauses a moment, then smiles. "Being president of a university is like being a caretaker of a cemetery," he says. "You have a lot of people under you, but nobody ever listens." The trio chuckles delightedly.

4 p.m. Brody races home to pack, then to Penn Station to make the 5:36 train. He won't be idle during the ride: Development V.P. Lindgren will use the time to brief him for the weekend-long New York Convocation.
Brody doesn't seem hurried while the British guests are there, but once they've left it becomes clear that he's racing the clock. He moves quickly back and forth between his office and Toms's; since he'll be gone the next few days, he needs some time to square things away with her.

Clearly, every moment of the new president's time is precious. Vice president for development Bob Lindgren stops by to tell Brody that he'll brief him on the New York Convocation during the three-hour train ride to New York. During their brief conversation in the hallway they are joined by vice president and secretary Ross Jones. He needs to schedule a conference call with Brody on Monday afternoon; after a careful perusal of the president's itinerary, he's managed to carve out time for the call in midafternoon, just after one meeting and before another. Brody nods his consent.

Finally, by 4 p.m., Brody is ready to dash home to pack. If traffic is good, he should have just enough time to get to Scarlett Place, fill his suitcase, and then get to Penn Station to board the 5:36 p.m. Metroliner.

With two months of the Hopkins presidency under his belt, Bill Brody says he knows one thing for sure: "It's not a boring job."

Sue De Pasquale is the magazine's editor.