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’DEIS Impact gets better and better

Fred Lawrence and panelists at the SoJust Forum, part of 'Deis Impact.

Fred Lawrence and panelists at the SoJust Leadership Forum, part of ’DEIS Impact.

’DEIS Impact — our festival of social justice — gets better and better. For the capstone event, we welcomed more than 200 students, dozens of alumni and more than 50 employers to campus for the third annual SoJust Leadership Forum.

The forum, organized by the Hiatt Career Center, provided our students an opportunity to learn from our alumni and others about their careers in social justice.

I was honored to introduce Julia Simon-Mishel ’09, who moderated the alumni panel discussion. As a Brandeis student, Julia co-founded the Student Peace Alliance. She recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is now serving as a clerk for the Honorable Norma L. Shapiro in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In the fall, she will join Philadelphia Legal Assistance, where she will help low-income workers with wage theft and unemployment compensation cases.

A special thanks to our alumni panelists:

  • Yos Bugallo ’03, assistant director of inclusiveness recruiting, Ernst & Young
  • Tara Cook-Littman ’97, founder, GMO Free CT
  • Will Tickle ’03, director of impact investing, Ballentine Partners
  • Blanca Vega ’98, director of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, Marymount Manhattan College
President Fred Lawrence speaks at 'Deis Impact.

President Fred Lawrence speaks at ’DEIS Impact.



Sister Helen Prejean visits Brandeis

Sister Helen Prejean and Fred Lawrence

Sister Helen Prejean and Fred Lawrence

Anti-death penalty activist, bestselling author and Roman Catholic nun, Sister Helen Prejean visited Brandeis on Feb. 6 to share her firsthand accounts of the people she’s ministered to on death row.

Sister Helen was invited to campus by the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism as part of ’DEIS Impact, Brandeis’ annual festival of social justice.

She began the day talking with the students in David Cunningham’s Protest, Politics, and Change: Social Movements class, which was packed not only with Brandeis students, but also 20 visiting Waltham High School juniors and seniors. Cunningham’s class was featured as part of ’DEIS Impact College, which spotlights academic engagement with social justice. These sessions of courses taught by Brandeis faculty represented a range of disciplines and shared a common goal: grounding college students’ passion for changing the world in solid theory. They are open to the public during ’DEIS Impact.

The Schuster Institute hosted a lunch at the Faculty Club honoring Sister Helen, where I was privileged to welcome her to Brandeis.

Later in the afternoon, Sister Helen attended a pre-event supper with Brandeis student research assistants who work at the Schuster Institute. Students, some of whom do in-depth research for the Institute’s Justice Brandeis Law Project (JBLP) and its two cases of suspected wrongful conviction, had the opportunity to have an informal discussion with Sister Helen, as well as with the mother of one of the inmates whose case the JBLP is investigating.

Sister Helen concluded the day at Levin Ballroom, where, in the words of Jess Linde writing for the Brandeis Hoot, she “stunned the crowd” with her message.

Sister Helen Prejean, Fred Lawrence, and Schuster Institute advisory board member Cynthia Berenson

Sister Helen Prejean, Fred Lawrence, and Schuster Institute advisory board member Cynthia Berenson

Talk-back with actress Debra Messing ’90

I had the pleasure of moderating a talk-back with actress Debra Messing ’90 for 125 Brandeis alumni after we saw her star as Rosemary in John Patrick Shanley’s “Outside Mullingar” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway.

Fred Lawrence and Debra Messing ’90

Fred Lawrence and Debra Messing ’90

Debra told us that she was a very proud Brandeisian and “would not be an actress without (Professor) Ted Kazanoff, a miraculous teacher.”

She graduated summa cum laude from Brandeis and informed our group, with a laugh, that achievement “was what my father was most proud of.”

She said that at Brandeis she was made to feel that if she worked hard, her career would eventually work out.

When she was shown photo of herself and Valerie David Barrish ’90 when they were sophomores at Brandeis, she said, “We felt at the time that we were adults doing serious things and were going to take over the world. Now we look like kids at an amusement park.”

Debra had the opportunity to see many Brandeis friends, including Sue Loeb-Zeitlin ’90 and her husband, Andy Zeitlin ’90.

The program was chaired by Rachel Reiner ’97, vice president of the Alumni Club of New York City, and Andrea Soloway ’89. It was co-sponsored by the Performing Arts Network and the Alumni Club of Westchester/Southern Connecticut.

WBRS Interview Recaps Trip to Asia

I sat down recently with WBRS reporter and Brandeis student David Huang ’16 to give an update on my recent trip to Asia and what it means to Brandeis. (My interview is from 2:05 to 20:25 in the clip.)

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Brandeis condemns ASA’s boycott

Brandeis University condemns the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of institutions of higher education in Israel. I am proud that Brandeis was one of the very first institutions in the world to withdraw as an institutional member of the ASA, and I urge other institutions to follow our lead and disassociate from the ASA.

The boycott defies the explicit opposition of the American Association of University Professors, founded nearly a century ago to protect academic freedom; no organization has devoted itself more durably to the defense of such rights than the AAUP. The boycott also defies the stance of the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities, which has denounced the ASA’s attempt to delegitimize Israeli institutions of higher learning.

Remarkably enough, the boycott even defies the position of the president of the Palestine Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who has criticized such boycotts of Israeli institutions.

I find disturbing the uniqueness of the target of the ASA decision, with Israel representing the only nation on the planet whose universities are thereby stigmatized. The boycott even defies commonsense; what Israeli universities can do that would end the policies that the ASA has condemned is hard to imagine. As former Harvard president Lawrence Summers has said, boycotts targeted solely at Israel are, if not anti-Semitic in intent, anti-Semitic in effect.

Brandeis University values its many relationships with Israeli academic institutions. We will not allow the ASA’s action to undermine those relationships or the principle of academic freedom.

Visiting Korea for the first time

Jeff Jang, International Summer Campus manager; Walter Foreman, communication and protocol manager; Brandeis President Fred Lawrence; Professor Sung Jin Kang, and Albert Wonsuk Choi, student mobility manager.

Jeff Jang, International Summer Campus manager; Walter Foreman, communication and protocol manager; Brandeis President Fred Lawrence; Professor Sung Jin Kang, vice president for international affairs; and Albert Wonsuk Choi, student mobility manager.

I have just concluded a very successful visit with Korea University’s Sung Jin Kang, vice president for international affairs, to discuss how to expand student exchanges between our two universities. I received a wonderful campus tour and met with Jeff Jang, manager, International Summer Campus; Albert Wonsuk Choi, manager, student mobility; and Walter Foreman, manager, communication and protocol.

As we work to expand and diversify Brandeis’ global footprint, I have been delighted to meet with top-flight universities in various parts of Asia. Korea University, like Brandeis, is a relatively young (but old in Korean terms), highly selective private university. It has a Graduate School of International Studies and a business school that is the first in Korea to have AACSB accreditation. I am looking forward to returning to Brandeis to share some interesting potential areas of collaboration with my faculty colleagues.

New Year’s Greetings

From the entire Brandeis family to your family — may the new year bring you peace, joy and fulfillment.

Traveling in India

President Fred Lawrence and O.P. Jindal University Vice Chancellor C. Raj Kumar

President Fred Lawrence and O.P. Jindal University Vice Chancellor C. Raj Kumar

Greetings to the Brandeis community from O.P. Jindal Global University in the national capital region of Delhi. It has been my pleasure to attend the Brandeis-Jindal Workshop on Israel Studies at the Jindal School of International Affairs.

Brandeis has developed contacts, collaborations and friendships all over the world.  This week we have heard a keynote lecture on Israel studies from Professor Ilan Troen with a commentary by Associate Professor Rohee Dasgupta on doing Israel studies in India — a fascinating discussion.

President Fred Lawrence and Vice Chancellor C. Raj Kumar shake hands as Professor Ilan Troen (Brandeis University Schusterman Center for Israel Studies) looks on.

President Fred Lawrence and Vice Chancellor C. Raj Kumar shake hands as Professor Ilan Troen (Brandeis’ Schusterman Center for Israel Studies) looks on.

Other Brandeis faculty speaking at this week’s conference include Professor Yehuda Mirsky, Rachel Fish from the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, and an additional keynote on Israeli Art and Politics from Professor Gannit Ankori (Fine Arts and Schusterman Center). Our faculty have been joined by colleagues from Tel-Aviv University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Jindal Global Law School, Jindal School of International Affairs, Gautam Buddha University, the National School of Drama Society and Rollins College.

The topics have covered comparative religion, drama, literature, the arts, law, international studies, geopolitics and state and society. At Brandeis we are used to wide-ranging cross-disciplinary discussion, but it is a real pleasure to see scholarship in action in an international venue.

Brandeis Professor Gannit Ankori (Fine Arts and Schusterman Center) and Lecturer Rachel Fish (Schusterman Center)

Brandeis Professor Gannit Ankori (Fine Arts and Schusterman Center) and Lecturer Rachel Fish (Schusterman Center)

Brandeis suspends partnership with Al-Quds University

Last night we announced that we have suspended Brandeis University’s partnership with Al-Quds University. You may read our statement and the statement from Al-Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh on BrandeisNow.

This was not a step that we took lightly.  In responding to reports of mock military demonstrations on the Al-Quds campus that included banners depicting images of “martyred” suicide bombers and Nazi-style salutes, we verified the facts of the events, opened a dialogue with President Nusseibeh, and asked that he issue an unequivocal condemnation of these demonstrations in both Arabic and English.

Unfortunately, the statement issued by Al-Quds University on Sunday, November 17 is unacceptable and inflammatory. While we have an unwavering commitment to open dialogue, we cannot turn a blind eye to intolerance.

As you are well aware, we are committed to accepting students of all faiths and nationalities into our community and we are proud of the deep roots we have in Middle Eastern Studies on campus and around the world. We continue to be committed to advancing the cause of peace and understanding. We regret that a partnership with Al-Quds cannot be part of this effort.

Confronting hate speech

This week has been a challenging one for the Brandeis community as we received reports of an abhorrent demonstration on the campus of Al-Quds University, one of Brandeis University’s many international partners.

Our community was shocked and dismayed to hear reports of demonstrators on the Al-Quds University campus, dressed in black military gear and armed with fake automatic weapons, who marched while waving flags and raising the traditional Nazi salute.

In many ways I feel our response was correct. We had an unsubstantiated report from a single blogger come in last Friday, just before Shabbat in Israel, and we waited over the weekend until we had a chance to get more information. On Monday we initiated a variety of actions, reviewing our partnership, issuing a statement condemning the march, and at the same time awaiting further updates from Al-Quds regarding how they would investigate this matter.

I reacted to these events both as Brandeis’s President and as a scholar and attorney – much of my professional and academic career has focused on bias-motivated violence and expressions of bigotry, popularly known as hate crimes and hate speech. Beyond the strict legal issues, there are the moral and social issues: what is the responsibility of an ethical community in the face of hate speech, that which in America is constitutionally protected but that is deeply offensive or that is conducive to violence? This question falls at the intersection of two of our most cherished values – values that appear to be in conflict: a robust respect for free expression and a culture that values civility, decency, and dignity. Here are some thoughts about this conflict of values in light of this week’s events.

First and foremost, universities should be safe spaces for a broad range of dialogue, discussion and debate. But there are limits, and hate speech has no place on our campus. As private university campus we are not, strictly speaking, bound by the First Amendment. We can, and indeed we must, develop our own rules of freedom of expression. If groups wish to advocate bigotry in public spaces adjacent to our campus, and are otherwise within the confines of local law, I believe strongly that the Constitution protects their right to do so – that their speech disgusts me is quite beside the point. That does not, however, obligate us to permit such heinous activities in our institutional spaces. A good example of this distinction occurred on our campus several years ago when the Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated outside our campus – and they were entitled to do so. But they were not permitted to demonstrate on campus.

I think it is critical to understand that we can both support protected free speech in public spaces, and still speak out against racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic activities. The art critic Robert Hughes made a similar point in a different context in his essay “Art, Morals, and Politics,” first published in the New York Review of Books. Hughes notes in broad strokes that – in America – there is a tendency to constitutionalize arguments about important issues. Hughes observes that focusing solely on the constitutional question of whether art is protected as free expression and thus should not be censored (Hughes thought it was in fact protected), prevents us from considering the more important aesthetic question of the merits of the art itself. Like Hughes, we may defend the right to free speech, and still be clear that some art is flawed, and that some words and actions, especially those espousing violence, are abhorrent. And we should be willing to say so.

I am convinced that as a community, we agree that certain kinds of demonstrations are unacceptable. The demonstration at Al-Quds University last week clearly expressed hatred, and was steeped in vitriolic anti-Semitism. Such a demonstration certainly has no place on the Brandeis campus, and its occurrence on the campus of one of our international partners disturbed me deeply; I was outraged.

While we cannot supervise the speech and activities on the campuses of all our many international partners, where such events fly in the face of our communal values we should, and will, step forward and speak out. I have spoken with the President of Al-Quds and expressed my concerns. I have also asked a delegation of faculty visiting Israel next week to undertake further discussion about specific issues that have been brought to our attention. All of this input will allow us to review our relationship, as we should with any partner when there are serious concerns about their alignment with our institutional values.

In this complex and significant issue of defining the boundaries of free expression, we have much to learn from our university’s namesake, Louis D Brandeis. He was one of the great architects of the jurisprudence that still underpins our great First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression. Yet he also knew that we were neither obliged nor permitted to remain silent in response to evil: “Neutrality is at times a greater sin than belligerence.” I hope that our further consideration of these issues can be guided by his wisdom.

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