Academics: From the first weeks of his presidency, Myles Brand was dedicated to enhancing the academic environment and eliminating the phrase "dumb jock" from the American perception.
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Presidential Leadership: From the beginning of his tenure, Myles Brand understood the significance of presidential control of intercollegiate athletics as a means of reforming the enterprise.
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Diversity and Inclusion: Myles Brand realized the value of diversity and inclusion so much that he created its own department at the NCAA national office.
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By Gary Brown
One year after his death, Myles Brand is still making a difference.
The principles that the former NCAA president held dear in intercollegiate athletics remain vibrant – academic integrity, student-athlete well-being, diversity and inclusion, and integration of athletics into the educational mission.
But Brand, who died on September 16, 2009, after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer, also continues to change lives through an effort to conquer the disease that took his own.
Shortly after Brand’s death, Indiana University President Michael McRobbie announced the establishment of a Myles Brand Chair in Cancer Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine to honor the man who not only reshaped intercollegiate athletics during his seven years as president of the NCAA but also elevated higher education during an eight-year tenure as president of Indiana’s eight campuses statewide, including the flagship institution in Bloomington.
Now, less than a year after its creation, the Myles Brand Chair is valued at $2.8 million in gifts and pledges, including a $1 million gift from the university and another $500,000 from the NCAA. The endowment is expected to generate about $140,000 annually for pancreatic cancer research.
Patrick J. Loehrer M.D.
Officials at the Indiana University School of Medicine have assembled a search committee of faculty members who specialize in researching and treating gastro-intestinal cancers to begin recruiting a new faculty member to hold the Myles Brand Chair. Patrick J. Loehrer M.D., professor of oncology and director of the IU Simon Cancer Center, is heading the search. The committee began its initial screening of candidates earlier this month.
“We already have amassed a number of candidates from many of the outstanding cancer facilities around the country,” Loehrer said. “Quite frankly, I’ve never seen a collection of physicians and physician scientists like this group for any other job I’ve advertised here before.”
Loehrer, already acquainted with Brand at Indiana, came to know him well when Brand was referred to him after the diagnosis in December 2008. Loehrer, who said cancer “can either bring out the best or the worst in a person,” was struck by the philosophical approach that the man who taught that discipline took during the most challenging time of his life.
“It’s hard to imagine a person who was more thoughtful and gracious than Myles,” he said.
Loehrer said that early on in his treatment, Brand was receiving dozens of e-mails and letters with unsolicited advice on how things should be progressing. While Brand found inspiration in them, it was one particular suggestion later on that resonated.
“He came into the office with almost an embarrassed smile, and he noted that someone thought enough of him to think that we could have a Myles Brand Chair,” Loehrer said. “It really did lift him up. He was a man who knew the importance of legacies, and this was something that gave even more purpose to his life at a time when he knew there were other outcomes he was going to have to face.”
The suggestion came from a longtime colleague at Indiana, Angela Lieurance, who now is the vice president for development and marketing at the University of Colorado Hospital. She was devastated upon hearing of Brand’s diagnosis and wanted to do something that would honor a man who has helped influence so many people’s lives.
“I work at a great hospital and have contacts to the latest and greatest medical treatments both here and all over the world, and none of that would help him,” Lieurance said.
Instead, she decided to pursue the endowed chair as the highest honor for a person who had spent so much of his life in academe. Even his work with the NCAA reflected Brand’s commitment to academic excellence. “There’s no better way to honor someone like that than by doing an endowed chair,” Lieurance said.
The most difficult challenge was getting the idea past Brand himself.
“Raising the money paled in comparison to convincing him to let me do this,” Lieurance said, noting Brand’s concern about asking people to donate during a spiraling economy, and that people were too busy to worry themselves over this initiative in the first place.
“I respected Myles beyond belief, but I had to talk back to him like I’d never done,” Lieurance said. “I had to tell him, ‘This isn’t about you – there is a whole group of people who want to do something for you.’
“For all that he’s done for literally thousands of people all over the world, he had a very hard time letting just a few of us do this for him.”
The discussion of the idea of an endowed chair during the 2009 Men’s Final Four in Detroit finally convinced Brand that he could affect future generations by lending his name to the initiative.
“Because there is neither an early detection mechanism nor any cure for pancreatic cancer, Myles felt that an initiative of this nature would allow family and friends to ‘keep the banner high’ in fighting such a vicious disease,” said Brand’s wife, Peg, who continues to teach as a professor at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis. “For Myles, going public with his situation had one hopeful aspect – it would provide an opportunity to make a better situation out of a very grim one.”
Brand’s son, Josh, also knew how meaningful the chair was to his father.
“In the months following his diagnosis, my father received numerous awards and honors, all of which I believe helped him keep his fighting spirit,” he said. “One of the most meaningful honors was the announcement by the Indiana University School of Medicine to create the Myles Brand Chair in Cancer Research.
“My father was a great supporter of the IU School of Medicine and was instrumental in its rise to prominence as one of the nation’s leading cancer programs while he served as IU president.”
Lieurance collaborated with friends and colleagues from around the country to build momentum for the endowed chair. She said there was never any resistance to getting it done.
Loehrer said the impact of the position will be immense, not only to Indiana but to cancer research globally. Already considered one of the top programs for gastro-intestinal cancer research, Indiana can now devote even more resources toward a disease that claims the lives of more than 90 percent of the people diagnosed with it.
“There’s not a more lethal disease, perhaps with the exception of glioblastoma, which took the life of Ted Kennedy,” Loehrer said. “Almost every other cancer, if you catch it early, you have a great chance of curing it. With pancreatic cancer, even when it is caught early, the odds are against you. There is something very unique about this disease – its biology and how it spreads, how difficult it is to catch early because of where it is located in the body, and its unique insensitivity to chemotherapy – that makes this a profound challenge.”
Also challenging, Loehrer said, is the relative lack of advocates for a cure. Unlike other cancers for which there have been significant groups of survivors who push research efforts, the lack of pancreatic cancer survivors makes this kind of patient advocacy difficult. “We don’t have many poster children for pancreatic cancer,” Loehrer said.
But people like Myles Brand are changing that.
“Myles and Peg really have put a face on this disease, which few people have done,” Loehrer said. “While he knew he was dying from this disease, Myles wanted to be someone who made a difference. He made a difference not only for Indiana University and the NCAA during the time he served those organizations, but he also made a difference in ways that superseded higher education and college sports – he made a difference in the lives of people.”
Donations for the Brand Chair are still being accepted and can be made online or by contacting the Office of Gift Development at the IU School of Medicine, P.O. Box 660245, Indianapolis, Ind., 46266-0245 or (317) 274.3270.