John Brademas, a political, financial and academic dynamo who served 22 years in Congress and more than a decade as president of New York University in an all-but-seamless quest to promote education, the arts and a liberal agenda, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 89.
His death was announced by N.Y.U.
Mr. Brademas liked to say that being a university president was not much different from being a congressman: You shake hands, make speeches, remember names and faces, stump for a cause and raise money relentlessly. The difference, he said, is that you do not have to depend on voters to renew your contract every two years.
As a Democratic representative from Indiana from 1959 to 1981, Mr. Brademas became known as Mr. Education and Mr. Arts. He sponsored bills that nearly doubled federal aid for elementary and secondary education in the mid-1960s and that created the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. He was also instrumental in annual financing of the arts and humanities and in the passage of Project Head Start, the National Teachers Corps and college tuition aid and loan programs.
He opposed the Vietnam War and many defense measures, rebuked President Richard M. Nixon in the Watergate scandal and voted for civil rights legislation, environmental protections, day care programs and services for the elderly and people with disabilities. He became majority whip, the House’s third-ranking official, and was re-elected 10 times in a mostly conservative district, winning up to 79 percent of the vote.
But he was swept out of office in the 1980 Republican landslide that elected Ronald Reagan president. Mr. Brademas lobbied hard for the N.Y.U. job and, as president from 1981 to 1992, transformed the nation’s largest private university from a commuter school into one of the world’s premier residential research and teaching institutions.
When he took over, Mr. Brademas had no experience running a large organization. The university had seven undergraduate colleges, 10 graduate and professional schools, 13,000 employees and a $500 million annual budget. There were 45,000 students and housing for only a few thousand, in crowded Greenwich Village and scattered sites around New York City.
But he was a gregarious leader with voluminous contacts in government and corporate life. His skills as a politician and fund-raiser had been honed in a whirlwind of congressional and civic responsibilities. And, as his admirers came to believe, he was — if there is such a thing — a natural university president.
“No one hit the ground running as well as Brademas,” said L. Jay Oliva, N.Y.U.’s vice president for academic affairs, who became chancellor and succeeded his boss 11 years later, and who died in April 2014. “All his instincts were university presidential.”
Looking collegiate in tweeds and sweaters, displaying boundless energy,Mr. Brademas plunged into meetings with deans, trustees, students and faculty members to learn N.Y.U.’s strengths and weaknesses. He joined the boards of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (he later became chairman), the New York Stock Exchange, the Rockefeller Foundation, RCA and the Loews Corporation. He courted investment bankers, foundation executives, real estate moguls and private philanthropists, and reached out to N.Y.U. alumni across the country and around the world.
He also cultivated relationships with Mayor Edward I. Koch, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, leaders of the State Legislature and the City Council, newspaper publishers and other media V.I.P.s, union officials, leaders in the arts and the heads of museums, cultural institutions and other colleges and universities. He was often in Washington, conferring with education officials and members of Congress. He stoutly opposed the Reagan administration’s education cutbacksand attempts to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts.
By the end of his tenure — he stepped down in late 1991 but retired as president emeritus in 1992 after a sabbatical — he had raised $800 million for N.Y.U. and nearly doubled its endowment, to $540 million. He had recruited top scholars from around the country to join the faculty; added new fields of study, like the Onassis Center for Hellenic Studies and the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies; enlarged the campus; and added 11 residence halls, providing housing for half of the undergraduates. He also had established N.Y.U. study programs in Cyprus, Egypt, France, Israel and Japan.
“I find in Washington Square a tremendous sense of diversity, vitality and excitement, products of the enlivening mixture of New York University and New York City,” Mr. Brademas said in his farewell address to 6,500 graduates. “With all its troubles, New York City is still the place to be. And N.Y.U. is still the place to get an education.”
John Brademas was born on March 2, 1927, in Mishawaka, Ind., the son of Stephen and Beatrice Goble Brademas. His father, a Greek immigrant, ran a restaurant and quoted Socrates to him: “Things of value come only after hard work.” His mother was an elementary-school teacher, and one grandfather was a college professor. In 1945, he graduated from Central High School in nearby South Bend, where he was valedictorian and the star quarterback on the football team.
He enrolled at the University of Mississippi, where he joined a Navy officer training program. After his freshman year, he won a scholarship and transferred to Harvard, a change he called head-spinning.
He became a top student and president of the Wesley Foundation, the campus Methodist student group. In successive summers, he worked at an auto plant in South Bend, lived among Indians in Mexico and was an intern at the United Nations temporary headquarters in Lake Success, N.Y.
After graduating from Harvard with high honors in 1949, he attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and in 1954 earned a social studies doctorate.
Back home in northern Indiana, he resolved to run for Congress in a largely Republican district with diverse demographics: farmers, small-town retailers, auto-industry workers, members of East European ethnic groups, affluent and blue-collar voters, and college communities that included the University of Notre Dame.
It took three tries. After losing races in 1954 and 1956, he gained political experience as an aide to two members of Congress and in Adlai E. Stevenson’s 1956 presidential campaign. He taught political science at St. Mary’s College for a year, was active in civic affairs and in 1958 finally won the seat for Indiana’s Third Congressional District.
Mr. Brademas was unmarried for most of his political career, but in 1977 he married Mary Ellen Briggs, a third-year medical student at Georgetown University and the mother of four children by a former marriage. After the couple moved to New York, she became a dermatologist at N.Y.U. Medical Center.
She survives him, as do three stepchildren, John Briggs, Katherine Goldberg and Jane Murray; a sister, Eleanor Brazeau; and six step-grandchildren. His stepson Basil Briggs Jr. died in 2003.
Mr. Brademas was the author of “Washington, D.C., to Washington Square” (1986) and, with Lynne P. Brown, “The Politics of Education: Conflict and Consensus on Capitol Hill” (1987). From 1994 to 2001 he was chairman of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and from 2004 to 2007 he was a member of the New York State Board of Regents.
In 2005, N.Y.U. established the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress, a research and teaching facility. He was the recipient of more than 50 honorary degrees and scores of awards, many of them conferred by European governments or cultural organizations, particularly those of Greece and Spain, whose histories and politics had been among his lifelong interests.
Source: NY Times