5.20.2006

Brandeis and its Jewish identity

Following a brouhaha over a Palestinian art exhibit, there's been a bit of a debate taking place over at Brandeis, as described in the Boston Globe:
The clashes highlight the tricky dual role the university plays, as both a majority Jewish school, drawing the bulk of its support from Jews, but one not formally associated with or governed by tenets of the Jewish religion.

Jehuda Reinharz, president of Brandeis, insists that the school is better for the duality. In an interview, Reinharz described Brandeis as having a ''discrete obligation to the Jewish community," which he said means research and scholarship in areas of Jewish interest. Yet he said it also is committed to maintaining a diverse student body, which is, among other groups, roughly 20 percent Catholic and 10 percent Muslim.

''Brandeis is not a Jewish university; it is a great American university," he said. ''But it is an American university with a particular flavor."

That ''creates a tension on campus," he said. ''. . . I think it is a healthy debate."
I would agree with this statement. Brandeis may not have a charter that requires a heavy Jewish enrollment, but the fact of the matter is that there is a very strong Jewish-American community which is continously refreshed by the attendance of new Jewish students from elsewhere. It's no secret that many of these students are attending because of this community -- as well as Brandeis' strong academic profile and its location. I was associated with the Brandeis radio station, WBRS, in the 1980s (they allowed non-student members of the community to have programs at that time) and got to know a fair number of students and get a feel for the campus.

Anyway, back to the current situation. Matt Brown, a student at Brandeis, questions the university's Jewish character in a recent opinion piece in the Justice. At one time, he says, it was necessary to have a safe haven for Jewish students (at many other universities, there used to be quota systems limiting Jews, or outright discrimination) but that's not needed anymore, and Brown feels that the University's Jewish character is too strong. He asks: Is a quota system limiting the number of Jewish students a solution?

2 Comments:

Anonymous Adam Gaffin said...

As another Brandeis alum, I'd suggest that if Matt Brown thinks Brandeis is too Jewish, he should transfer to a school more to his liking.

Quotas? A Jewish student is suggesting quotas for Jews? Kid, learn some history about Jews and quotas.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Chuck Tanowitz said...

As yet another Brandeis alum, and one also involved in WBRS in the late 80s and early 90s....

I don't understand all the yelling about tension. I have friends up in arms about the Kuschner degree as well as talk of a Mosque on campus. Frankly, I think all these things are great.

When I first landed on campus I remember the uproar over pork and shellfish. The outside world thought that Brandeis was eliminating the Kosher kitchen, when in fact it was only offering non-kosher food in an already non-kosher dining hall (that already had cheeseburgers). That PR mess promopted many alumni to swear off donating money unless then-President Evelyn Handler was thrown out.

So this debate isn't new and frankly, I still don't get it. Let the school evolve, so long as it doesn't sacrifice academics.

9:31 PM  

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