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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.

Recent Demonstrations at Al-Quds University

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

We have been asked to comment on the recent demonstrations that took place at Al-Quds University.

The Brandeis University community abhors the actions that took place on the Al-Quds University campus and condemns all acts that incite or encourage senseless violence.

We have been told that the events of November 5 at Al-Quds University were led from people outside the university and this was an unauthorized demonstration. The administration of Al-Quds University assures us that threat of violence implied by the demonstration are not acceptable on their campus and the University administration is conducting a full investigation.

I know that you share my outrage that demonstrations of this nature occur in any part of the world and particularly on a university campus, where they have no place whatsoever.

Confronting Higher Education’s Big Issues: Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

From time to time, I will be addressing some of higher education’s big issues on this blog. Today, my choice of issue is the result of significant events at Brandeis. Six weeks into our fall semester, Brandeis has marked two milestones in our efforts to recognize, discuss and address the issue of sexual and domestic violence in the higher education setting.

Sadly, no institution, no matter how much we love and trust our community, is immune from the stain of sexual violence. We are all challenged by a pervasive culture that often can embolden those who would do harm to others, and can undermine the right of our students to feel safe on our campus. Brandeis should, must, and will be a leader in changing this culture.

This is why I am so pleased with the hire of Sheila McMahon as sexual assault services and prevention specialist for our campus. In this role, she will coordinate advocacy services for survivors of sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking, conduct outreach and education to promote a healthy campus environment, and serve as a liaison to student organizations.

Ms. McMahon is not just a leader for our campus; she is positioned to be a leader at the national level on these issues. She brings a deep background in research, theory and practice in the arena of sexual assault prevention and education to Brandeis and this is where we want to be in this important area.

Second, thanks to the leadership of Professor Bernadette Brooten, our students and alumni, we hosted a statewide conference on sexual and domestic violence, called Massachusetts Steps Up. More than 300 educational leaders came to Brandeis to discuss the common challenges we face in higher education:

  • How to respond to the Department of Education’s “Dear Colleague” letter with a consistent process that protects the rights of survivors of assault and violence to receive an education.
  • How to create an open and honest environment for discussion of difficult issues in a way that is consistent with our values and educational goals.
  • How to be an ultimate catalyst for change in our society by raising awareness of issues of sexual and domestic violence.

For me, as a leader who has spent my career in the arena of civil rights, these issues are particularly pressing because I know firsthand the challenges posed by putting theory into practice. Sometimes we face situations where the letter and the spirit of the law or our guidelines may be in conflict and I know that there is complexity inherent in how we prevent and respond to sexual and domestic violence on our campuses.

I want our entire community to know that the health and safety of our community is paramount. We take great pride in the fact that at Brandeis, in ensuring that we have a healthy community, we are not afraid to discuss and confront difficult issues. I hope that you will all join me in welcoming Ms. McMahon to our campus and support her efforts to do just that.

Admissions and the Brandeis Classes of the Future

Thanks to the Brandeis Alumni Association for the opportunity to do a live webcast with Andrew Flagel, Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment.

We answered questions from the live viewers about what differentiates Brandeis, our score-optional admissions pilot, what we are looking for in the classes of the future, and how alumni can support our efforts.

Watch the archived video.

New Ethical Inquiry: ‘The Ethics of Hate Crimes Legislation’

Thanks to the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life for featuring my comments in its “Ethical Inquiry” series.

This Inquiry was researched and written by Hailey Magee ’15.

Waltham City Officials and Stroum Scholars Reception

President Fred Lawrence with Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy, Kathy Lawrence and Brandeis Stroum Scholars.

It was a pleasure to meet with Waltham Mayor Jeanette McCarthy (second from left) and other elected officials, along with our Stroum Family Waltham scholars, at a reception at our home. As our students and faculty return to Waltham, we are grateful to be at a great university in a great city.




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