Printer Friendly

In his own quiet way, Myles Brand was an agent of change.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Cheyney Ryan

The passing of former University of Oregon President Myles Brand last week has been marked by numerous testimonials to his achievements, especially in changing the culture of college sports.

As president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Brand transformed the academic expectations of student athletes and warned against the "arms race" in which universities competed for ever more lavish sports facilities.

Before heading the NCAA, he was a university president - here, and at Indiana University. He is remembered at both places for his commitment to the academic mission.

At the UO, he oversaw the most extensive academic plan we have had in my 30 years at this institution. Before that, he was a major figure in my own field: philosophy. How many people achieve such distinction in even one area?

Yet Myles was a soft-spoken man whose public achievements did not flow from a naturally gregarious personality.

When he fired famed basketball coach Bobby Knight, his act was likened to Harry Truman's firing Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But there was nothing of Truman's cocky brashness about Myles. He was unpretentious, unassuming, even shy - an improbable public figure.

An easy man to admire, he was a harder man to know.

Yet there was a quiet conviction about him that inspired confidence in others, whatever their background. Over the past week, academics and sport figures alike have spoken to their great regard for his leadership.

I first met Myles when he interviewed me for a job at another institution in the 1970s. His hair was longer then, his dress a bit more countercultural.

He already was well known in our field, but what I remember best was his impish smile. I always thought he had an irreverent quality that linked him to the spirit of the 1960s, for all his orthodox success.

Brand told me once that his favorite philosopher was Bertrand Russell. That made sense. Both Russell and Myles had a cool analytical intelligence. But neither took authority - or himself - too seriously. They didn't much care about who was important. They didn't much care about being important. They were concerned about doing what was right.

His notoriety for firing Knight was not without irony. I have met few men in my life who cared less about sports than Myles Brand.

But he cared about college sports because he cared about higher education, which is why a university president should care about sports. At the time, he said that he worried that Knight's prominence "gave the false impression that the university was obsessed with athletics." Its only obsessions should be learning and knowledge.

Others have spoken of his great concern for issues of diversity. My own experience convinced me that his concern was not a nod to academic fashion, but rather a deep commitment to human rights - no matter how unpopular.

The year that Myles arrived at the UO, a student of mine ran for student body president as an openly gay man.

No one would think twice about this now, but in 1989 it generated lots of hostility. Several faculty and I circulated a petition calling for administrative action on gay and lesbian rights. Myles responded by asking me to co-chair a committee to that end. I was reluctant to do so because I am not a member of the gay and lesbian community. But Myles was relentless in insisting that the issue was one of basic human rights, of concern to everyone.

Professor Sarah Douglas and I co-chaired the committee. Most of the policies we recommended to protect the rights of gay and lesbian students and faculty were instituted, due in no small part to Myles' support.

I last saw him at a philosophy conference in 2003. I was talking to his wife - also a former colleague of mine - feminist philosopher Peg Zeglin Brand. Myles approached, and upon seeing me he flashed that impish smile. He raised the war in Iraq - and chided me that he hadn't heard of much anti-war protest at the UO.

"What's happened to the university since I left?" he joked. "Have all you radicals turned mainstream?"

No one would mistake Myles Brand for a radical. But people like him are often the greatest agents of change.

Cheyney Ryan is a professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon and a co-founder of the law school's program in conflict and dispute resolution. He also works with the program at Oxford University on the changing character of war.
COPYRIGHT 2009 The Register Guard
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 22, 2009
Next Article:No surge in Afghanistan.

Related Articles
Race to Indianapolis in 2011: kiss the bricks, just for kicks.
As pretty as a priceless picture; Sexy Eve Myles stars in this drama about works of art being moved to a village.
Assessing strength.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters