Former UO, NCAA president Myles Brand dies

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Former University president Myles Brand died Wednesday at age 67 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Brand was the 14th University president, serving from 1989-94. During his tenure and after it, he earned a reputation for making tough decisions, as well as being an ardent supporter of underrepresented communities, especially American Indians. From 2003 until his death, he served as president of the NCAA.

Brand entered the University with high hopes and ideas, but he ended up leading the institution through perhaps its worst financial crisis.

Oregon Ballot Measure 5 passed in 1990, little more than a year into Brand’s tenure. The initiative all but eliminated a property tax that had previously funded primary and secondary education, dropping the burden of funding mandatory education on the state’s general fund, which also supported state universities and colleges. The subsequent competition slowed to a trickle already scarce funding for the University — even in 1989, it got 75 percent as much state money as schools of comparable size.

After painful cuts in 1989-90, in which Brand eliminated majors, laid off faculty and staff and hiked tuition, Brand was forced to cut even further. However, he also started the first major fundraising drive in school history, which eventually raised $255 million. It was a strategy his successor, Dave Frohnmayer, would use to great effect.

“(Brand) was a builder and a visionary who came in with strategic ideas to change the University,” Dave Hubin, senior assistant to the president, said. “He was blindsided, ironically, with having to be a president who cut programs. The legacy, I would say, is that he did it with integrity, with balance and with attention to the core values of the University.”

Brand left Oregon abruptly in 1994 to become president of Indiana University, where he made his most well-known decision, firing volatile but successful basketball coach Bobby Knight.

As president of the NCAA, Brand pushed through extensive new academic standards and regulations for student athletes — part of his belief that academics should not take a back seat to athletics.

But Brand’s longest-lasting legacy may be the relationship he fostered with the Native American community, both on campus and abroad.

George Wasson, a member of the Coquille tribe and a former University faculty and administration member, described Brand as “very sincere, committed and eager to learn. He followed through.

“He wanted to learn about Native Americans in Oregon, so he visited every tribe in the state,” Wasson said.

It was Brand who started the University’s Native American Initiative, which, according to the Many Nations Longhouse Web site, seeks to “enhance recruiting and retention of Native American students and faculty, increase academic and social support for native students, and foster a core of programs that will make the UO a major center for American Indian education and research.”

Brand continued his commitment to American Indian issues as NCAA president, pushing against mascots Native American groups found offensive, such as those with tribal names, and helping institute a policy against holding playoff games at such schools.

Wasson said Brand was instrumental in helping to repair the aging Many Nations Longhouse on campus, which was in dire need of a new roof and floor. The building, a World War II army barracks, was gifted to the Native American Student Union in 1974.

“It was dilapidated and falling apart,” Wasson said. “You could fall through the floor.”
Gordon Bettles, the steward of the longhouse, said Brand made the initial promise to eventually build a new longhouse. After Brand left, Frohnmayer picked up the commitment, and the new longhouse was completed in 2003.

And it was at the new longhouse that a traditional healing ceremony was held for Brand last May. Members of the longhouse stood under the skylight and offered prayers and words of support.

Bettles said “the prayers go up and out and find the person that needs them.” The longhouse also sent Brand a traditional healing blanket and stone.

University President Richard Lariviere offered his condolences on his blog: “It is with tremendous sorrow that the University of Oregon community received news of the death of Myles Brand,” Lariviere wrote, adding, “Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally, each of us in the University of Oregon community encounters the legacy of his leadership every day.” 

Sitting in the longhouse, Bettles concurred: “Myles’ influence is still felt,” he said.

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