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Commentary: Ethical Leadership and Gerald Brouder

This commentary, about ethical leadership, almost wrote itself, because it is about Gerald Brouder. Dr. Brouder, who died on June 22, was one of Columbia’s leading citizens. In 1995 he was appointed president of Columbia College, where I was his executive vice president and dean for academic affairs for seventeen years. Before that he had a distinguished career as a faculty member, department chair, provost and interim chancellor at MU.

Dr. Brouder had a unique and uncommonly successful leadership style that was influenced by four life experiences: his modest upbringing, his military service, his training as a nurse, and his deep religious faith.

He never forgot his south Chicago roots and never took for granted his many achievements. He served in the Army in South Korea as an enlisted medic. He was deeply patriotic and proud to be a veteran.

He earned four degrees in nursing and was a practicing nurse for many years. Nursing got him close to the human condition as only close patient contact can. It made him compassionate, empathetic, and observant. Effective nurses are also good teachers. Dr. Brouder was a wonderful teacher.

He was a devout Catholic. He never imposed his beliefs on anyone. He just lived them and led by example. All who worked for him felt his spirituality and were motivated by it.

During his years as president Columbia College became known for service to underserved populations, innovation, excellent teaching, a beautiful campus, strong athletics, an academic and organizational emphasis on ethics, and a campus culture of civility and respect. Many talented faculty, staff and students were attracted to the college’s mission and vision.

Dr. Brouder’s leadership style was humble, quiet, unassuming, collaborative and empowering. He hired good people and let them do their jobs. He shared credit, probably more than he should have. He inspired trust.

During his presidency enrollments tripled and the endowment grew from $2 million to more than $150 million. He built a student commons, a large athletic facility, and a state-of-the-art science building that was named for him.

His personal expectation of civility, respect and ethical behavior at all times inspired us all and permeated throughout the institution. Other than the run-of-the-mill petty quibbles that even saints must endure I never heard anyone say anything bad about him. It was a privilege to work for him.

I could not tell you what his politics were. He never shared and it was none of my business. That was another way he was a model for me.

I have thought often in recent years, and especially since his passing, how much better off our community, our state, our country and our world would be if more leaders were like Gerald Brouder. Well done, sir. Rest in peace.

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and a regular commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics