Cut Athletics

By now, the administration has made it clear that it has to cut something. Several departments – classics and American studies, for example – have been warned that they are on a knife’s edge and may soon face termination. Barring budgetary “necessity” scare-tactics, i.e. under normal financial circumstances, I think most students can agree that it would be nothing short of tragic to lose any single one of these crucial academic programs. How can one convincingly claim to provide a thorough and well-rounded liberal arts education, yet lack a Classics program? How can Brandeis, which once stood at the head of the pack in the field of American studies (“Olin-Sang Center for American Civilization” is a vestige of this past), rid itself of that distinction? 

Yes, this is a time of financial hardship, in which difficult – even desperate – budget decisions are essentially inevitable. Yes, other belt-tightening strategies are being pursued in order to reduce the likelihood that these academic treasures be tossed into the garbage as if they were nothing.

But has everything really been considered?

Let me throw an idea out there that some might consider impractical, perhaps even batshit insane. GET RID OF ATHLETICS.

Although it would be nice to hold onto them, what do our sports teams really bring to the table that makes them absolutely essential even in times of dire finances – so much so that academic programs have to be cut in order to sustain them? When explaining the benefit of athletics, defenders often couch their arguments in terms of community-building and school spirit. This is an empty tautology that lacks a shred of evidence. I don’t think any serious person would argue that our sports teams inspire the kind of pride that a real community demands. How many people even follow Brandeis athletics? How well-attended are our basketball games? Far from building a common identity on campus, the athletics program creates its own sealed-off social group within the university, mostly cut off from the rest of the student body. (To be sure, athletes themselves cannot be blamed for this; rather, it’s in the very nature of the athletics program, in that a massive time commitment to their sports draws them away from the campus, thrusts an outside identity upon them, and in every sense puts them at a remove from their fellow students).

Whatever sense of identity and pride Brandeis has is irrelevant to how well the Judges perform. Instead, the bedrock on which any university of quality ought to rest is academic excellence, and I, for one, take immense pride in the knowledge that Brandeis succeeds in this regard. Surely some would argue that Brandeis will attract fewer applicants without an athletics program. I answer that when Brandeis trims its academics, it will necessarily become far  less attractive – in fact, quite repellent – to serious students who value inquiry, knowledge, and culture. These core elements constitute the critical purpose and raison d’etre of a liberal arts institution, especially in an economized, efficiency-obsessed society.

By all means, preserve a weight room, have exercise machines, keep the P.E. program. Fitness is not something that should be ignored! Furthermore, intramural sports are a good idea – in fact, I think they can often contribute to a sense of community on campus. But it’s the teams that we should be focusing on.

With academics on the chopping block, questioning our athletics budget should not be taboo. We should inquire: How much money goes into paying for transportation, hotel rooms, coaches, equipment, athletic scholarships? The answer is: a hell of a lot!

And that’s a hell of a lot of money that isn’t going to the features that make a liberal arts institution what it’s supposed to be. What sane administrator could honestly make the study of Plato an endeavor entirely contingent on financial necessity – in order to save the athletics program?

Hard times call for bold decisions. It seems that rather than accept this fact, Brandeis is resigning itself to a rapid and unmistakable decline into a bleak future in which its academic status will match a well-established reputation for athletic mediocrity.

Reflections on Danny the Red

Last Wednesday, Daniel Cohn-Bendit – a.k.a. Danny the Red – came and spoke in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall. The topic of his lecture was “Forget ’68,” in reference to his activities as a leader in the student uprisings in Paris during the spring of 1968. Ever since the turmoil of the Sixties, Cohn-Bendit has been an important figure on the Left in both France and Germany, and he has done everything from resisting arrest to serving as a member of the Green Party in the European Parliament. For more information, click here.

I came to this talk wanting to learn not just about Cohn-Bendit’s experiences, but what, given those experiences, the Left can learn about political and social change today. I wanted to know why we should “forget 1968.” But, even more so, a central question that always lingers in my mind: what is it that separates activism today from the 1960’s, and is there any way to bring back some of the spirit that led literally an entire generation to challenge and reject so much of the society that had been handed to them? Why is our generation so reluctant to do so? Are we better, or worse off, today? Continue reading “Reflections on Danny the Red”

Iraq Vigil: Keep The Flame Alive

Alright, so we had a successful peace rally and vigil last week, as noted on this blog and in various publications. But we need to keep that enthusiasm and unity alive. Within the last few days, the number of confirmed American deaths in Iraq has reached the 4,000 mark. Vigils have been held all over the country to mark this, and currently the Protestant chaplain here, Alex Kern, is organizing an event.

The time is on Thursday, from 12:10 to 12:30, and the location is at the Peace Circle by the Library.

Everyone should try to be there, or at the very least spread the word. We need to follow through on our conscious commitment to ending this war, and building a movement of people who will see to it that we do not senselessly enter similar conflicts in the future. (Also, bring signs if you’ve got ’em).

Suppressing Speech: An Appeal to Reason and Self-Interest

Yesterday, I had an encounter with a belligerent drunk person in my hall. He was pissed off by what he saw as the misleading and dishonest message of the flyers that several people – myself included – had put up in the area. His response was to tear down the flyers, and rip them to shreds.

This is not the first time that this has been an issue for me personally. Last semester, Rivka and I passed an anti-guns petition around in our history lecture. Some [insert word here] who obviously disagreed with the petition decided that he felt offended enough that he actually crumpled up the sheet of paper and tore it. I should mention that the petition had names on it – the names of people who I and several others worked hard to reach, and whose names were lost probably forever because of one person’s knee-jerk hostility.

I don’t pretend that I agree with the message of all flyers. I want to deface the Republicans’ posters as much as anyone else, but I don’t. What I fail to grasp is the concept that anyone who simply disagrees with a flyer, or a petition, or an event, would actually expend the effort and saboe it. What does this accomplish? The only utility it serves, as far as I can see, is a greater sense of control and empowerment, in the negative sense (over other people). I aim to demonstrate that such narrow-mindedness actually has the opposite effect.

A fundamental principle that allows freedom of expression to thrive is the exercise of self-restraint. This is basic reasoning: If I act on my urge to interfere with someone else’s message, then I give license to that person to silence me (unless, of course, I believe that I am somehow above that person and can do what I want while they cannot). By ripping up my flyers, this person opened the door to his own muzzling. The logical extension of this situation is that the mutual attacks on expression will metastasize into a broader trampling on open expression within the community at large. Thus, the community should take notice; what seems small truly has great consequences.

I fear where these small incidents can lead. I urge you all to be vigilant and to stand up to what is effectively barbarism, and defend everyone’s right to free speech.

Danny the Red at Brandeis

If Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter failed to sweep you off your feet, take notice: Noted European sixties radical and Green Party politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit will be speaking in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 18th. It promises to be a very exciting event, and you all should be there. 

For information on the event: 

Who is this guy? 

Click here:

Exporting Chaos

After we learned of the horrible killing of 14 civilians in Iraq by Blackwater personnel last November, almost anything seems possible. Indeed, we are still learning about these private contractors and all the harm they are causing. An article in today’s New York Times tells of women who have been sexually assaulted, and then fired by KBR for speaking up to their employers. Really nice stuff.    


But the problem is deeper than the fundamental injustice of the treatment of these women. The worst part is that, unlike members of the military, abusive KBR employees can get off scot-free for their crimes. To begin with, they are immune to prosecution (because they are not technically government workers). According to the Times, “In cases involving sexual assault, soldiers and other military personnel can be prosecuted under the military justice system, but that system does not apply to contractors.”  But even in civilian courts back in the States, justice still cannot be obtained by these women, as the extent of the law over private contractors in foreign war zones still has yet to be determined, this far into the war. (Incidentally,  all of the above is true of the Blackwater employees who indiscriminately killed innocent civilians last Fall).     


These contractors are Americans. Whether they commit crimes while being hired out by our government to do work overseas in Iraq, or whether they do the same horrible things to other Americans here on American soil, they should be prosecuted. There ought to be less obscurity, and fewer barriers, on the road to justice. Until that happens, Iraq is utterly lawless – not just in the usual sense (that is, the insurgencies and sectional conflicts that is going on) – but also in the sense that you can go there, as a civilian working for a private corporation, and kill or rape people, without being held accountable.     


It has been clear for some time that post-Saddam Iraq will be a turbulent place with little law or stability. Only now is it becoming clear that the place is also a sanctuary for criminals who happen to be working for private corporations with clout.

Come Rebuild In Mississippi

Hi, Sahar here.  Serby is a new contributor to IP. Please give him a warm welcome

Do you remember Hurricane Katrina? Remember the images on TV and in the newspapers, of people stranded on floating rooftops? Remember hearing reports about the awful things that were happening in the Superdome? Remember how the government, rather than supplying the basic necessities to these people – food and water – gave them Bibles? Remember how untold thousands of people could not return to their homes? Did you know that they still have not returned to their homes? Remember the criminal negligence of a government that would not invest in the infrastructure of a city, but would spill billions on a war no one wanted? Remember that this is still going on? Remember how Katrina exposed all the cracks in our society – the deepest being the hidden truth that if you are poor and black, you don’t matter to those who are in power? Remember the corruption and mismanagement of the housing and services for the hurricane refugees? Remember your feelings of powerlessness as you watched an entire city disappear before your eyes? Remember wishing that there was something you could do to help? America is waiting to be America again. Who is going to save it? Certainly not this government. It’s up to the citizens, the willing, the idealists, the young. Whether or not you decide to come with DFA to Mississippi this April (the 22nd to the 27th), I strongly encourage you to find some time to go down there and help rebuild soon. We all share the responsibility for the restoration of the well-being of our nation. Let’s make it happen.