Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Joe Duffey – Laureate

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Joe Duffey

February 27, 2021

It’s impossible to tell the story of Laureate without talking about Dr. Joseph Duffey. Joe, as we knew him.

Hearing of Joe’s death yesterday caused a stirring combination of sadness and gratitude, and left us reflecting on his impact and legacy. For there would be no Laureate Education without Joe Duffey.

When you enter the large conference room on the 12th floor of our global headquarters in Baltimore, you quickly realize you’re in the Duffey Board Room. It’s no coincidence that this room – in which so many decisions have been made, and so many new possibilities have been shaped – carries the name of one of the people central to creating the world’s largest network of degree-granting, higher education institutions.

Image of Laureate’s Bell Ringing Ceremony, celebrating launching as a public company in 2017. Those pictured include Laureate Founder and former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Doug Becker, Laureate’s current President and Chief Executive Officer, Eilif Serck-Hanssen, and President and Chief Executive Officer of Nasdaq, Adena Friedman.
Image of Laureate’s Bell Ringing Ceremony, celebrating launching as a public company in 2017. Those pictured include Senior Vice President, Dr. Joseph Duffey, Laureate Founder and former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Doug Becker, Laureate’s current President and Chief Executive Officer, Eilif Serck-Hanssen, and President and Chief Executive Officer of Nasdaq, Adena Friedman.

On January 20, 1999, the New York Times published ‘Sylvan Plans Overseas College Network’ – a story about the bold vision of a 32-year-old Doug Becker who had identified an opportunity to create an international network of for-profit universities. The first name mentioned in the article is Joe Duffey, who was then Director of the United States Information Agency (USIA) with Cabinet status in the Clinton administration, and who was to be appointed to lead the growing network of universities. Joe is quoted as saying Laureate “will only be successful if it is managed wisely and efficiently and is open to academic innovation.” This is certainly what he delivered when Laureate officially launched just months later on April 1, 1999, with Doug as Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, and Joe as Senior Vice President.

Joe was perfectly suited to this role. Prior to joining us, he had served as President of American University, President of the University of Massachusetts, member of the faculty at Yale University and a Fellow of the JFK School of Government at Harvard University. Joe also served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former assistant Secretary of State for Education and Cultural Affairs. He held 14 honorary degrees from American colleges and universities, and countless titles and accolades from universities around the world.

In the earliest days of Laureate, it was Joe who traveled with Doug meeting with education, business and government leaders building confidence, credibility and enthusiasm for the concept of an international network of higher education institutions. As our network matured, it was Joe who consistently advocated for academic quality, bold innovation, and a relentless focus on the best possible outcome for every student. All while expertly navigating multiple, complex regulatory environments.

Beyond this effort, Joe was both an advocate for, and an example of, our Here for Good spirit. He passionately championed our investment in young social entrepreneurs through our partnership with the International Youth Foundation, and was always most engaged when meeting with, or hearing about our students. On multiple occasions, Joe hosted dinners with Laureate Student Ambassadors when they were visiting the United States representing Laureate at events such as the Clinton Global Initiative or the World Business Forum. Earlier today, Daniel Rubio Sanchez, a former Laureate Student Ambassador and alumni of Universidad Europea de Madrid (the first university to become part of the Laureate network), said “It was such an honor to have the opportunity to meet Dr. Duffey. Almost six years later, I recall the dinner he hosted for us in Washington DC. His stories were inspiring, and he encouraged us to see the world as being filled with possibilities. However, what I remember most, was his warmth and his genuine interest in each of us, and the path our families had taken to enable us to pursue higher education.”

Daniel Rubio Sanchez, Laureate Student Ambassador and alumni of Universidad Europea de Madrid, pictured with President Bill Clinton, Laureate’s former Honorary Chancellor.  

It’s difficult to imagine a more qualified leader to partner with Doug to bring the promise of creating access to quality higher education to a generation pursuing this for the first time. When reflecting on the impact Joe had on Laureate, Doug shared “When I was first developing the idea for Laureate Education, I met with more than a dozen top leaders in higher education with extensive international experience to get their reaction and ideas. Each of them told me that my concept wouldn’t work. Then I met Joe Duffey. He immediately understood and embraced the vision, and his enthusiastic support gave me the confidence to launch the company. Soon after, he gave notice to the President of the United States to resign his position as Director of USIA and joined me at Laureate. His passion for education and for helping others inspired me, and he became a lifelong friend and mentor.”

Of course, we’re not the only ones mourning this loss, and celebrating Joe’s life. Yesterday President Clinton, formerly Laureate’s Honorary Chancellor, released a statement which reflected on their relationship which began in 1970, when a young Bill and Hillary Clinton worked on Joe’s Senate campaign – “There were so many of us who were drawn to his deep commitment to peace, economic fairness, and civil rights … he helped redefine the role of public diplomacy in a rapidly changing world with his natural ability to bridge divides and bring people together.” It was Joe who introduced President Clinton to Doug, and thus, to Laureate.

For me personally, when I think of Joe, I think of him as the academic founder of Laureate, as a passionate champion of academic quality, and as someone who embodied graciousness and respect in all interactions, with all people.

Our deepest condolences go to Joe’s children and grandchildren, and today we join a large number of people who are filled with a sense of gratitude for having been the beneficiary of Joe’s leadership, and witness to his example.

Eilif Serck-Hanssen
President and Chief Executive Officer
Laureate Education, Inc.