Brandeis University’s Ongoing Crises of Communications

Brandeis' motto: Truth Even Unto Its Innermost Parts

Brandeis’ motto: Truth Even Unto Its Innermost Parts

By Robert Israel

When I was recruited to join the Brandeis University public affairs staff in the 1990s, I left the editorship of a Jewish weekly newspaper in Rhode Island to fill a particular gap: to address editors and reporters, in the secular and religious press, who had become outraged over the decision by then-president Dr. Evelyn Handler to provide pork and shellfish on the menu at the main dining hall.

Although Brandeis has a longstanding kosher kitchen that had not been shuttered, the outcry to the pork/shellfish decision, voiced by many Jewish editors, proved to be devastating to a university that boasts historic Jewish sponsorship. My job was to address this issue and to encourage these reporters and editors to see the story from all perspectives, as well as to focus on other more positive stories emerging from the Waltham campus.

It was not too unlike the crisis of communications that is raging at the Brandeis campus today best summed up by a comment that appeared in the Boston Globe on December 30, 2013, attributed to Professor Sarah Mead. “We weren’t being given the full picture,” Prof. Mead said, regarding the exorbitant salaries paid out to former president Jehuda Reinharz. “That’s one of the reasons we feel so betrayed.”

Creating robust and vital empowered lines of communications through all campus factions is not an easy undertaking because Brandeis is composed of numerous city-states. Yet without it, feelings of “betrayal” will continue to fester, as it evidently has on the Waltham campus today.

Dr. Reinharz was brought in to mend many of the fences broken during the Handler era and the ensuing short-term presidential appointments that followed her forced removal from office. He restored the school’s reputation among donors, students and scholars. Yes, he made controversial decisions; unfortunately, many of his good deeds have become overshadowed by his shortcomings. Controversies like selling art works from the Rose Art Museum and the bloated remunerations he has received have become the fodder for attacks and have created blemishes on his record that, out of fairness, should be reexamined.

Yet the late Dr. Handler faced the same tsunami of negative public opinion when her actions were found suspect. Unlike Dr. Reinharz, Dr. Handler left the Boston area for employment elsewhere. Unless Dr. Reinharz quietly returns to academic life rather than continuing to weigh in on administrative affairs, healing will be difficult. Brandeis, despite the passage of over two decades, has not yet repaired its fault lines.

Brandeis would do well to empower its factions to spend time for historical assessment, particularly as it relates to its handling of past crises. This thoughtful exercise — to heed the lessons of the past, so as not to perpetuate them — will enable the campus community to scrape the tarnish off its bruised reputation. The perceived sense of exclusivity, mismanagement, and turmoil will only give way to greater transparency when safeguards and lines of communications are strengthened. Only then will Brandeis emerge to fulfill its credo: Truth even onto its innermost parts.

**
Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer and editor. He can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com. A version of this piece was published on the editorial page in The Jewish Advocate (Boston), on January 14, 2014.

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One Response to “Brandeis University’s Ongoing Crises of Communications”

  1. John Rosario-Perez Says:

    Great job!

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