Waltham and Brandeis — The Super Friends of Proper Parking

Today, Director of Public Safety Ed Callahan sent out an all-campus e-mail from the Waltham Police Department sharing the city’s parking regulations. The full text of the e-mail is below the fold.

I don’t have a car on campus, but many of my friends do, and I drive with them into Waltham fairly frequently. Clearly, it’s a driver’s responsibility to learn the local regulations, but if you’re only at Brandeis for parts of a few years and you rarely go into the city, it can be hard to keep track of the legal minutiae. So credit should go to Mr. Callahan and the Department of Public Safety for doing their best to help students. This e-mail is a small act, but it’s one less thing people will have to worry about, and it could save a Brandeis student a hefty fine.

Also, thanks to Captain Donald M. Feeney and the Waltham Police Department for reaching out to the Brandeis community. It would be only too easy for the city to leave students to their own devices and simply collect ticket money from Waltham’s most transient residents. Instead, they took the initiative to inform us, and the whole community will hopefully run that much more smoothly because of it.

Waltham drivers, do your part by taking a glance at the restrictions and keeping them in mind as you drive around the city. No one wants a ticket, but more generally, it’s a sign of good citizenship towards a city that always welcomes Brandeis students with open arms.

Continue reading “Waltham and Brandeis — The Super Friends of Proper Parking”

Turn the Campus Green — One Room at a Time

Have you gotten your room Green Certified yet? If not, do it now!

The Certified Green Room program is run by the Campus Sustainability Initiative as a way to get more students thinking — and living — in an environmentally conscious manner. To sign up, you simply need to choose 15 green pledges from a list of 25, and put them to action in your daily life at Brandeis. The pledges are simple, such as “I bike with my own bike or ‘DeisBikes” and “I use reusable shopping bags”; you probably follow many of them already.

Why is it important to sign up? For starters, getting your room certified automatically puts you in a weekly raffle to win one of several useful prizes — we’ve already given away smart power strips and solar-powered chargers. If you’re certifying your room for the second year in a row, you’ll also receive a free travel mug. More importantly, however, getting Green Certified is a reminder to stay eco-friendly and a declaration that you care about living sustainably.

So get yourself certified right now! It’s quick, painless, and open to all Brandeis students (even if you’re living off-campus). The College Sustainability Report Card gives us an A in Student Involvement — let’s keep leading the way to a greener future.

Bike-Sharing: Not Just for Brandeis

The ‘DeisBikes program, which started during the spring 2009 semester, provides free bicycle rentals to Brandeis students. If you’ve never used it before, it’s really easy to get started — just present your student ID to the Shapiro Campus Center Information Booth, and you’ve got yourself a bike for the rest of the day. The program was started through the hard work of the Union and the “Greening the Campus and Community” class, and it’s a great way to encourage green transportation on campus.

Brandeis is far from the only campus to feature bike-sharing — in fact, a recent USA Today article shows that we’re part of a growing movement across the country. Nearly 90 American universities have adopted similar programs, many that dwarf our small 12 bike fleet. My favorite:

In 2008, faced with a parking crisis, the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, raised parking permit fees and began to give away free bikes to freshman students who promised not to bring cars to campus, university spokeswoman Kathleen Taggersell says.

Since then, the university has given out 530 bikes and, as a direct result of the program, turned a 95-space parking lot into a basketball court with a river-view tent for university events, Taggersell says.

Maybe we don’t have the money to do that now, but coupling free bicycles with a increase in parking fees would be a simple and very effective carbon tax that I think the majority of the student body would support.

The Drury University program also jumped out at me, particularly because of how it’s funded. The Drury student body agreed to pay a sustainability fee of $20 per year, much like the Brandeis Sustainability Fund we voted for last year. We already have bike-sharing, but Drury shows that this relatively minor contribution can go towards green initiatives that benefit the entire community.

Speaking of the BSF, the deadline to apply for funding is October 12th, so if you’ve got that awesome idea you’d love to see become reality, check out the BSF website for application instructions. Environmentalism doesn’t have to be chore; it can be as easy as riding a bike.

Say No To Marty (And Yes To Brandeis)

In 2009, Brandeis University awarded Marty Peretz its Alumni Achievement Award. He’s featured in the Alumni Snapshots section of our website, under a heading praising him for “Leading the Intellectual Inquiry”. He’s the editor-in-chief of the New Republic, and we use his name repeatedly to promote the university. So what has he done recently to justify this recognition?

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Peretz published these vile words in a September 4th column about American attitudes towards Muslims. This is the most shocking passage, but the whole thing is worth reading, if you can stomach it. Basically, Peretz posits that, despite polling evidence to the contrary, there is a vast reservoir of anti-Muslim sentiment among Americans. Furthermore, this hatred is completely justifiable because Muslims apparently do not care about the terrorist actions carried out by the fanatical fringes of their faith community. The article is one of the most disgusting pieces of writing I’ve seen from a supposedly serious journalistic source.

Unfortunately, it’s also par for the course for Peretz, who has made bigotry a cornerstone of his career as a journalist. Earlier this year, he gave us this gem while writing about the War in Iraq:

Frankly, I couldn’t quite imagine any venture requiring trust with Arabs turning out especially well. This is, you will say, my prejudice. But some prejudices are built on real facts, and history generally proves me right. Go ahead, prove me wrong.

In another column, he informs us that:

…Palestine will be a wretched society, cruel, belligerent, intolerant, fearing, with no real justice (or justice system), and no internal peace.

To me, Peretz’s connection with Brandeis is an embarrassment, not a point of pride. Using his name to promote Brandeis is a betrayal of our values and can only serve to repel the type of student that we should be trying to attract. However, this bond also gives us the unique opportunity to call out Peretz from his home, to join together as a community and forcefully reject his brand of demagoguery. That’s why members of the Brandeis community are circulating a petition and calling for a public apology from Peretz. Visit www.fromBrandeistoMarty.com and add your voice; if we get 500 signatures, we’ll send it to the New Republic and demand that Peretz retract his call to hate.

Our university was founded to combat persecution against an underpowered religious minority. Marty Peretz may not appreciate what that responsibility means, but most of us do. Sign the petition; say no to Marty, and yes to Brandeis.

Introducing the Change Agency!

Welcome to the Change Agency, the new progressive activist group on campus! After a lot of hard work from a lot of talented people, the Change Agency is finally ready to go public and bring activism at Brandeis to new heights. And each and every one of us can bring our talents together and play a role in changing Brandeis for the better. Check out the Change Agency vision statement to get excited, then visit us at www.brandeisactivism.org to learn more and sign up to join our mission!

Imagine, if you will, Brandeis about a year from now.

The campus thrives with good-hearted students, all who are, in various ways, working hard to make the world a better place. A year ago, they barely knew each other, now they clasp hands as brothers and sisters when they pass each other on the roads and hallways of Brandeis.

Imagine Fred Lawrence, the new President, only a semester into his tenure, taking students seriously and treating them as equals ,making sure to consult students on every major decision. Under his tenure, social justice is not a buzzword used to generate fuzzy feelings, nor is it an adjective tacked on to every new faculty or administration initiative. Yes! Imagine a Brandeis where the term Social Justice is a clarion call to action!

Imagine a Brandeis that takes that core value seriously, a Brandeis that prepares its citizens to strive for a better future, a Brandeis that has given students the tools, skills, and connections they need to make our world a better place.

Imagine a Brandeis where changemakers of all stripes – social entrepreneurs, budding organizers, the left, the religious, the artists, and everyone else – all of them celebrating each other’s successes, attending each other’s parties, and learning trusting, growing, laughing with each other.

In this future, Brandeis alumni will visit, and pass on the torch to the next generation of changemakers. Social Justice Activists from across the land will flock to Brandeis to train, inspire, and hire these budding students.

Imagine this Brandeis. Seize this vision.

It can happen. With your help, it will happen.

We at the Change Agency believe in our hearts that this future is worth investing in. We are working night and day to make this vision happen because we want to be citizens of a Brandeis that inspires us, not just customers of a Brandeis that teaches us.

The Schuster Institute: Journalism Superheroes

In 1972, the young reporting team of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein almost single-handedly uncovered the evidence of the political scandal of the century and forced the resignation of a corrupt President.  Thirty years later, another corrupt administration lied the nation into an ongoing war with the complicity of a media that served as cheerleaders rather than fact-checkers.  What happened?  How did the grand tradition of investigative journalism  disappear in a single generation’s time?  Has the rise of the media conglomerate and the lowest-common-denominator “if it bleeds, it leads” coverage killed honest reporting for good?

The Elaine and George Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism is Brandeis’s vehicle for restoring the power of a truly free press.  The Institute will celebrate it’s birthday next month, marking six years as the nation’s first investigative reporting center housed at a university.  Its directors are well aware of the trials facing the news industry; the Institute’s website states that it was founded “to help fill the void in high-quality public interest and investigative journalism—and to counter the increasing corporate control of what Americans read, see, and hear.”  As technological advances change the way we access news, it’s important that the voids that traditional news outlets leave are filled with well-trained, ambitious muckrakers.  Rather than killing investigative journalism, the online revolution can be a restorative purge — and the Schuster Institute puts Brandeis at its forefront.

Just like the University, the Schuster Institute is built around the pillar of a commitment to social justice.  Its major projects involve exposing governmental and corporate abuses, freeing wrongly-incarcerated prisoners, and uncovering gender inequalities in society.  While it’s important that they avoid bias, journalists can maintain objectivity without losing their conscience, much like biologists who employ the scientific method while developing medications.  I’ve always considered the pursuit of truth to be a desirable end in it’s own right, but it can also be the means to building a better society — perhaps our most important goal as a species.

In short, I believe that journalism has the potential to do almost limitless good in the world, and I’m proud that Brandeis approaches it with such seriousness and humanity.  But the news is only useful if it reaches people and inspires them to action, and I’d like to help in whatever way I can.  So Innermost Parts is going to start an effort to publicize Schuster Institute reports on campus and explore ways that Brandeis’s awesome activist clubs can work to address the issues they raise.  You can check out the Institute’s archives here, and check here for opportunities to work directly with the Institute.

A New Brandeis Study: Mental Health and Recession

Treatment of mental health conditions has long been the most underfunded aspect of the American health care system (the other contender is preventive care, but the Affordable Care Act has finally taken steps to address it).  People with mental health disorders are frequently denied not only the funding to seek appropriate treatment but also, all too often, recognition that they even suffer from a disorder to begin with.  Conditions that can be as debilitating as a physical disability are dismissed as existing ‘only in the sufferer’s head’, and schools are forced to deal with a myriad of separate conditions by cramming students into catch-all special needs classes that cannot provide the individual attention they require.

Therefore, it’s disheartening to hear of the double whammy that mental health patients have suffered as a result of the recession.  A new study from Brandeis’s Dominic Hodgkin reports that state and local mental health services have been substantially cut in the past few years; meanwhile, the difficulties of living in a recession economy have caused demand for mental health services to increase.  These effects have been seen on a global as well as national scale.

If all this seems self-evident (of course recessions lead to spending cuts!), then check out the press release for more details or read Hodgkin’s full study in the International Journal of Mental Health.  While the conclusions are grim, it’s always great to see Brandeis researchers contributing to understanding global issues, and I hope that Hodgkin can play a small role in finding a solution to the mental health crisis.

More Info on the Rose’s Future: Art for Auction, but Not for Sale (Yet)

Two days ago, I wrote about the exciting news that the Rose Art Museum was named one of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.  That, however, will be cold comfort if the Museum is later disbanded or if its collection is devalued by the sale of some of its major works.  Unfortunately, the latest updates in the Rose saga show that such an outcome is still very possible.

The Boston Herald reports that Brandeis has just signed a contract with Sotheby’s, a famous auction house, to explore options for raising funds by leasing artwork from the Rose.  Does that mean we’ve finally dodged the bullet of selling off the collection it took us decades to acquire?

The vote by Reinharz and Brandeis trustees Jan. 26, 2009, to sell the art remains in force. Asked whether selling the art remains a possibility for the Waltham-based university, [Brandeis spokesman Andrew] Gully said: “Yes, because the vote remains. But the intent is clearly at this point to explore nonsale options. Clearly you wouldn’t be selling anything while we were exploring those options.”

Why are we still considering selling artwork?  Didn’t we hear in March that the University had already developed a plan to balance its operating budget by 2014?  Board of Trustees Chair Malcolm Sherman certainly seems to think so.  In a letter to the Herald published on July 19th, Sherman reaffirms the 2014 plan and assigns a different purpose to the potential art transactions:

Now we are exploring options we hope will allow the university to retain ownership of the Rose collection while generating funds for: financial aid; state-of-the-art academic, research and residential facilities; faculty compensation that long ensure excellence in teaching.

Sherman’s letter is disingenuous from the beginning.  He claims that the original Herald story “presents an unfair picture of the university’s fiscal situation”, then goes on to recite the exact same facts that the article mentioned.  The question that Sherman needs to answer is: Has the value of artwork from the Rose been calculated as part of our plan to balance our operating budget or relieve our structural deficit?  If the answer is yes, than Brandeis’s financial solvency is based on leases or sales in an uncertain market that may be illegal anyway.  Our financial future is much more shaky than the administration or Board of Trustees would have us believe, and it is really Sherman and Jehuda Reinharz who are guilty of stretching the truth, not only to the Herald but to the entire Brandeis community.  If the answer is no, then our continued attempts to seek profit from art prove that we’re just as poor caretakers as we’ve been accused of, and no rational art aficionado should have any reason to give us so much as a preschool watercolor painting ever again.

Art expert Raymond Liddell sure isn’t buying what Sherman and Gully are selling.  In his letter to the Herald from July 21st, the former museum administrator and university professor raises some tough questions:

The Rose Art Museum story gets curiouser and curiouser (“Thorny situation for Rose Museum,” July 11). It’s clear that Brandeis has not disavowed its decision to sell the Rose collection which has made it a pariah. It’s clear that Brandeis is trying to buy time and hoping the story will go away. It won’t. It’s not clear why Sotheby’s, whose primary business is selling art, is involved. It’s not clear what sort of museum Brandeis envisions for the future without a director. If it walks and talks like a duck . . .

Liddell has the credentials to know what he’s talking about (and not only because he borrows the language I used to describe Brandeis last week).  He clearly believes that Brandeis is already planning on selling artwork or even completely getting rid of the Rose, and I have to admit he makes a persuasive case.  The worst part for Brandeis is that the people who are suing us think so too:

“Lending art is something museum directors do, and Brandeis fired theirs,” said Jonathan Lee, chairman of the Rose Board of Overseers, who filed suit July 27, 2009, to block the initial sell-off plan. “So it seems a little wacky to have a sales agent do this for you. The kind of revenue expected for lending art is quite small.”

Meryl Rose, representing the Rose family in the lawsuit, said: “Well, it’s ridiculous. It’s just obfuscation so people will think they’re not selling art. But they haven’t taken that off the table.”

Maybe if we sell enough art, we’ll eventually be able to recoup our legal fees!

Last year, a report from a university committee prompted me to write the following:

“BRANDEIS IS NOT CLOSING THE ROSE AND SELLING ALL THE ARTWORK.” Words and italics from them, bold and caps from yours truly.  If you’re going to take anything from the interim report of the Future of the Rose Committee, make it that.  We’ve sat and listened as the Rose first was closed, then open for the semester, then for part of the summer, then the whole summer, then open indefinitely.  Finally, we have an absolutely definitive statement from a body that’s spent lots of time researching this very issue that the Rose is not going anywhere, and, in fact, that we’re bound by donor agreements to keep the Rose Art Museum open by that very name.

After hearing so much spin and backtracking over the course of just that one semester, I now realize I was naive to take any statement on the future of the Rose at face value.  I’d say that it’s time for the University to be completely forthright with us, with the donors, and with the public on the future of the Museum, but even if they did tell the full truth, how could we believe them?  We’ve spent such a long time with last week’s innuendo becoming next week’s policy that I’m not even sure it’s worth trying to ask for answers anymore.  My only advice those concerned about the Rose’s future is to visit the Museum and to do it as soon as possible.  You don’t know when your last chance will come.

Massachusetts Releases List of Greatest Places, and Brandeis Is Included!

After a year of accepting submissions, the Massachusetts’ legislature’s 1,000 Great Places Commission has released its report of the best locations in the state.  That’s not exactly an exclusive list considering that Massachusetts has only 351 cities and towns, but it’s still nice to see that one of these Great Places is found on our very own campus.  Condolances to all those who hoped to see Reitman Hall honored, because our winner is none other than the Rose Art Museum.

That’s right.  Brandeis’s Great Place is the very spot the Board of Trustees wanted to get rid of.  And how many frickin’ buildings does Carl Shapiro have to buy before he gets his own Great Place?

Waltham is actually very well represented on the list; in addition to the Rose, four other Waltham sites earned recognition.  They are:

  • Gore Place — The “Monticello of the North”, once home to former Massachusetts Governor Christopher Gore and currently hosting an active farm.
  • Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation — Located in what were the engine and boiler rooms of Francis Cabot Lowell’s textile factory, which was named the fourth most important development to shape America by Life magazine in 1976.
  • The Robert Treat Paine Estate — Also known as Stonehurst, a house designed by famous architects Henry Hobson Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted that serves as one of the earliest examples of modern architecture.
  • The Lyman Estate — Built in 1793 by a Boston merchant, now includes a greenhouse complex that contains exotic plants from around the world.

I’ve often heard that the typical Brandeis student doesn’t have much connection to the Waltham community (the awesome work of the Waltham Group and Clubs in Service program notwithstanding).  I know I don’t; I’ve hardly seen any of Waltham besides the BranVan route.  So I’m going to take this as an opportunity to get acquainted with some of the local history and culture.  Over the next semester, I want to arrange trips to see each of our five honorees (including a walk-through of the Rose), and I hope anyone who’s interested will join me.  Each site is open to the public (a condition of being named on the list), and each is less than three-and-a-half miles from the Brandeis campus — we’ll make them bike trips.

If anyone has any other great ideas for exploring Waltham, share them in the comments.  If you want to help plan these trips, or just want to know when they’re scheduled, send me an e-mail at athughes@brandeis.edu.

Frederick Lawrence’s Political Contribution History

Last winter, when Brandeis Trustee Meyer Koplow was nominated to serve as our next President, one of the major objections I heard to his candidacy was his ties to the Republican Party.  As Nathan Robinson wrote in the Hoot, Koplow’s record of political contributions includes several darlings of the right-wing, including the ultraconservative  Jim DeMint and my noxious home-state Senator Joe Lieberman.  I don’t know if these connections on their own should have disqualified Koplow from the Presidency (although it would have made it difficult for him to lead a student body that, according to Wikipedia, was ranked ninth-most liberal in the country by U.S. News and World Report); however, recalling that minor controversy made me curious as to what Frederick Lawrence’s contribution record looked like.

Searches for “Lawrence, Frederick” and “Lawrence, Fred” on OpenSecrets.org revealed three contributions from an individual by that name employed at Boston University during the period in which President-designate Lawrence worked there (1988-2005).  I think it’s safe to say that they’re all from the guy we’re looking for, particularly since one of them specifies the donor as a “Professor of Law”.  They are:

  • $250 on 7/27/92 to Bill Clinton (D)
  • $2,000 on 9/20/00 to DNC Services Corp (D)
  • $500 on 10/27/04 to DNC Services Corp (D)

It looks like Lawrence isn’t a major political donor, but he’s batting 1.000 for Team Blue so far.  It’s hard to read anything into his current six year period of inactivity; not only has he done that before, but I can think of plenty of reasons why the head of a law school in Washington, D.C. might want to remain publicly neutral on questions of politics.

I have to admit that I find it comforting to know that Lawrence’s sympathies appear to lean Democratic.  It supports my hope that he’ll pursue strong progressive policies for the University, and it could signify that the run of Democratic luminaries that Brandeis has brought to speak while I’ve been here (Bill Clinton, Carl Levin, Howard Dean etc.) will continue with institutional support.

Brandeis Scientists Fighting the War Against Cancer

A recent study by a Brandeis biologist and two of his students sheds some light on what causes healthy cells to become cancerous.  Professor James Haber, who was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences last spring, worked with grad student Wade Hicks and 2009 graduate Minlee Kim to research the process of repairing DNA damage, which they hold responsible for the rapid levels of mutation that characterize cancer cells.

[C]ells that are showing the very earliest signs of cancer start to have errors in the DNA replication process. To fix this, the cells use a number of methods to repair the damage, one of which is known as gene conversion.

Gene conversion repairs the break in the DNA strand by using an almost identical sequence from elsewhere in the cell’s DNA, providing a template from which the original strand can be reconstructed. Although this was once thought to be a mostly error-free process, the new study actually suggests it leads to a far greater number – about 1,400 times the usual amount – of DNA mutations than would otherwise be expected. Once these mutations affect the various genes that provide the cell’s ability to control its own growth, the cell quickly becomes cancerous.

Thus, tumors form where there was once healthy tissue.  Understanding this process is the first step in determining how to correct it and slow the rate at which healthy cells become cancerous.  Congratulations to Dr. Haber and to Wade and Minlee for publishing this important study and for working to ease the pain and suffering of so many people.  As an undergraduate, I find it easy to forget that Brandeis is a research institution as well as a school.  It’s gratifying to remember that so much positive work is being done at our university.

Brandeis — Pariah of the Art World

The American Association of Museums has just entirely revamped their standards for accreditation.  Why did this national organization decide that sweeping changes were needed?

The announcement last year that Brandeis University planned to sell its noted, 6,000-piece collection of modern art stunned and angered museum officials around the world. The university said it needed money for its other operations. But to the art world, the plan represented a rejection of the idea that nonprofit institutions do not sell art from their museums except as a means to expand their collections.

As if you really had to ask…

Now, museums will need evidence of greater levels of commitment from their parent organizations to gain accreditation, particularly when it comes to withholding artwork from their pool of disposable assets.  This really puts into perspective what the Board of Trustees did: not just a major faux pas, but something so uniquely terrible in the art community that the rules have to be changed to account for it.

The New Media Meme: “Brandeis Hates Israel!!!”

Last Wednesday, Jonathan Mark of The Jewish Week published an article striking back at the perception that Israel is, even among Jews, losing the respect of the American people that it has enjoyed for so long.  While I try to avoid injecting myself into Israeli political debates as much as possible, I do find it interesting who Mark chooses as one of his bad guys — Brandeis University itself:

[New York Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof also brings up Peter Beinart’s recent article in The New York Review of Books “exploring the way young Jews in America feel much less identification with Israel than their elders did. Mr. Beinart noted that even the student senate at Brandeis University, which has strong Jewish ties, rejected a resolution commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel.” Brandeis, of course, was also where a student group unsuccessfully tried to get the university to rescind a speaking invitation to Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren.

As Bogart said in “Casablanca,” “I wouldn’t bring up Paris, if I were you. It’s bad salesmanship.” But since Kristof brings up Brandeis, let it be said — as Kristof did not — that while many young Jews at Brandeis did want to distance themselves from Israel, at 51 other universities in 30 different states, reported JTA (May 21), one student president after another was inviting Israel’s ambassador to speak at their campus.

The letter to Oren, said JTA, was initiated by Brandon Carroll at Virginia Tech and Wyatt Smith at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, in response to disruptions Oren faced at the University of California-Irvine and the protests at Brandeis.

Such anti-Israel behavior “is absurd and offensive,” said the letter.  “Please be assured that these individuals do not remotely represent American college students or mainstream campus leaders.”

Basically, Mark says that although Jews at Brandeis might be moving away from support of Israel, pro-Israel sentiment is still prevalent elsewhere.

Last month, a friend of mine at Yale shocked me by saying out of the blue, “I hear your Student Union rejected a birthday resolution for Israel”.  Apparently, this relatively minor campus controversy somehow made a New York Times article three years later.  It’s very weird to hear something I was peripherally involved in used to prove a point on such a national scale, and it’s particularly disheartening to find it stripped of its context to say something that it shouldn’t.

Then again, I can’t blame Beinart, Kristof, or Mark for failing to grasp the nuances of Brandeis Union politics.  Their topics are far broader than our petty struggles; how can they be bothered to research the actual questions that were raised during the birthday resolution debate?  If I were in their place, I’d think that the resolution’s failure said much more about Brandeis’s waning support for Israel than it actually does.

It’s pretty obvious that anything related to Israel that happens at Brandeis will be viewed under a harsh microscope and analyzed as a metric of what young American Jews think about the Middle East conflict.  Therefore, should people on campus stop protesting events like the Oren speech for fear of sending the wrong message?

Of course not.  In both of the aforementioned cases, people weren’t actually protesting Israel or its policies.  They were protesting the intrusion of Israeli politics in inappropriate venues, namely the Union Senate and the commencement ceremony.  The real fault lies with those who injected Israel into these venues in the first place.  My friend Sahar is one of the most passionate Israeli citizens and supporters that I know, but he still drew the very real distinction between his patriotic sentiments and his opposition to Oren’s commencement appearance.  Unfortunately, his advocacy can now be misinterpreted as another blow against Israel from the very school that should be supporting it most fervently.  Shame on those who would force him into the false duality of choosing between his homeland and his principles.

The worst part is that those who try to make support for Israel a part of everyday campus are only hurting their own cause.  Jehuda Reinharz should be smart enough to know that appointing a divisive figure like Oren as a commencement speaker was bound to draw some level of controversy.  And he should be smart enough to know that Israel’s critics would wield that opposition as a cudgel to prove that Jews were abandoning Israel even at America’s foremost Jewish university.

There’s enough room at Brandeis for everyone to advocate and work for their own political causes, whatever they may be.  But when the line separating appropriate advocacy and invasion of campus life is crossed, everyone loses.  The media can’t be expected to get every detail of our campus life correct.  Let’s not make it easy for them to caricature us.

Professor Schwartz

I’m sure every student has faced the inevitable “Brandeis? Where is that?” after telling someone where you go to school.  For a college of our academic reputation, Brandeis doesn’t have a whole lot of name recognition, and I often find myself having to come up with a quick fact or two to introduce my school.  You all probably have your own ways of dealing with this (and they all involve the words “predominantly Jewish”), but one method I’ve found particularly effective is, “You know the book Tuesdays with Morrie?  Brandeis is where it happened.”

Though I never hear it mentioned on campus, our connection with the best-selling memoir in U.S. history might be our foremost claim to fame in the popular imagination.  I read the book in high school, but I didn’t make the Brandeis connection until after I had chosen to go there.  Now that I think about it, however, it’s pretty neat to have one of our former professors become the new model for the aging intellectual passing on his wisdom on his deathbed and reflecting on a life filled with simple pleasures.  Morrie Schwartz died in 1995; many of our current professors were probably his colleagues and friends.  It must have been surprising to see Professor Schwartz find such widespread fame posthumously, and it must be gratifying to them that his principles have touched millions of lives.

Admittedly, Tuesdays with Morrie is a little trite and cliched at times, and though it’s a pleasant read, it’s not exactly looked upon as a cornerstone of literature (like most mega-sellers aren’t).  It’s definitely not the kind of book that usually draws my attention.  I think I’m going to read it again though, and while I’m mainly interested in Mitch Albom’s Brandeis experience, I can’t help but think that we could all use a little wisdom from a fellow Brandeisian.

A Preview of the Lawrence Presidency

I’m really impressed with the all the buzz surrounding future Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence, both from his strong biography and academic record and from the glowing words of praise that everyone seems to have for him.  However, all the accolades in the world can’t predict what we’ll actually get once Lawrence takes office on January 1, 2011 (sidenote: I bet he’ll have an awesome New Year’s party.  Start angling for your invite now!).  While Lawrence seems to be as qualified as possible for the position, heading a top-tier university is a pretty singular job, and I don’t think we can be sure how he’ll fit in with the culture of the school until he actually gets here.

An article on Lawrence in the Jewish Week sheds light on what policies he’ll pursue when he finally takes the reigns before the spring semester starts.  Unfortunately, the story chooses to use the now-predictable “struggling Brandeis” framing (please, that’s SO 2009), but it gives us a chance to see how he’ll react to the most discussed (or at least most media-friendly) issues at the school.

Lawrence mentions that he’s planning a “listening tour” of the campus to introduce himself, a necessity to ensure a smooth transition.  He says that he’ll withhold announcing any cost-cutting or fund-raising measures until after the listening tour, which hopefully indicates a move away from the unilateral decision-making process that led to debacle after debacle after debacle in the past few years.  He adds that “one of his first priorities will be to increase the amount of financial aid available to undergraduates,” a great goal for offering a Brandeis education to as many as possible in tough financial times.

I also really like his commitment to the Four Pillars of Brandeis, of which he says “I look at the Four Pillars and I see my life”.  He indicates that he expects to be at Brandeis for a long time, and it’s cool that he intends to teach a class every semester.

His statements on the Oren controversy leave me a little disappointed.  Though he avoids tackling the question of how he would have handled the situation, he makes several comments framing it as a free speech issue, a position I think is disrespectful to those whose primary reason for protest was Oren’s presence at commencement rather than with Oren in general.  Has Lawrence actually looked into what students were saying?  Does he care?  Does this foreshadow more of the same administration-student disconnect that characterized the Reinharz years?

I definitely tend to give him the benefit of the doubt on these questions, and I realize that this is just one incident that, for better or worse, is now firmly behind us.  In fact, I’m excited at how strongly he comes out in favor of free speech in all instances, and I’m hopeful that he’ll pursue an open campus dialogue on all matters.  Realistically speaking, I can’t imagine anyone being selected by the Board of Trustees whom I’d rather see leading Brandeis, and I look forward to meeting Frederick Lawrence and welcoming him to our community.

Law Journal Update — Sold Out! But You Can Still Get One

It’s been out for less than two weeks, but the Brandeis Law Journal has already been cleaned off the shelves.  Fear not, though, because you can still get one by e-mailing subscriptions@brandeislawjournal.com.  All Brandeis students can get a copy for free, but non-students have to pay $4.95.  Get one!  Read your fellow students’ work!  I’ve read some of it, and it’s actually pretty interesting — more discussion to come over the summer.

Judah Marans’s complete (but slightly dated) press release is below the fold.

Continue reading “Law Journal Update — Sold Out! But You Can Still Get One”

Activist Goals and the Student Union

Last month, I applied to be the Director of Community Advocacy on then-Union President-elect Daniel Acheampong’s Executive Board.  The spot ultimately went to someone else; namely, JV Souffrant, who was sworn in several weeks ago and who I’m sure will do a great job with the position.  I’m not too disappointed about losing the spot — it means more free time for me next year, and I have no problem with the idea that someone else might have simply been more qualified.  However, the interview process itself gave me reason for worry, not because of what it means for me, but because of what it means for the future of activist goals in next year’s Student Union.

In my interview, I found that most of the questions I was asked tended to be about the same issues: I had written for Innermost Parts, I had written for the Hoot, and I had a reputation for being outspoken when it comes to activist causes on campus.  The impression I got is that these were significant, and possibly even disqualifying, black marks against my application, not only for what I had actually said and done, but also for the associations I had.  And it wasn’t only me who felt that way.  A friend of mine also got telling questions on his connection with Innermost Parts, and another friend was grilled on her involvement with Brandeis DFA.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have a ton of respect for Daniel Acheampong, and I think he’ll make a great Union President.  However, I also want to warn him against the misconception that the Union cannot be both activist-friendly and effective at the same time.

During Jason Gray’s presidency, the Union was full of outspoken campus activists who made no secret of the fact that they intended to pursue an activist agenda as Union officers.  In addition, Jason Gray himself was very friendly to activist causes and made them some of the centerpieces of his tenure.  As a result of these factors, the laundry-list of successful projects is quite extensive and impressive.  The Committee for Endowment Ethics and Responsibility was formed to pursue greater endowment transparency.  The DeisBikes program was formed to encourage green forms of transportation.  The Senate Social Justice Committee held several excellent forums on educating students about their rights in search and seizure situations.  The advising process for students accused of Rights and Responsibilities violations was reorganized and strengthened.  The Clubs in Service program was started to connect Brandeis students with the Waltham community.  There are more examples; these just come off the top of my head.

There are three important points to keep in mind when considering these activist achievements:

  1. Even though these policies realized some goals of the activist community, they do not benefit only those from activist backgrounds, nor were they designed and implemented solely by self-identified activists.  Lots of people use and love Deis Bikes.  Lots of clubs have participated in Clubs in Service.  Anyone can be falsely accused of a violation and enjoy the protection of a strengthened review process.
  2. Pursuing these policies did not keep the Union from making tangible improvements on more day-to-day issues.  The daily newspaper program was started to give out free papers in the Campus Center.  Significant dining reforms were implemented.  The Health Center and the Career Center both received thorough evaluations and reforms.  The bread-and-butter Union events — the shuttle services and the Midnight Buffets — were executed as well as ever.  The Union has been very successful in this area in subsequent years, but Gray’s Union proved that working on activist issues did not distract student focus or administrator attention from them.
  3. The greatest coups for student authority — the open forums, student involvement in committees, and generally increased transparency from the administration in the wake of the budget crisis — succeeded in spite of, and even because of, the activist-friendly nature of the Union.  The large-scale student protests and demands for involvement gave Jason the leverage he needed to persuade the administrators to meet student concerns; we could not have gained so many concessions if it weren’t for the activist presence that was felt both outside and inside the Union.  Though I’ve heard people share concerns that an outspoken, activist agenda from the Student Union would only drive the administration away from working with the Union, I think we proved the opposite is true.  The administration knows it is part of their job to keep students satisfied, and it is beneficial on all levels to express our dissatisfaction clearly.  As long as we refrain from being disrespectful, there’s no reason to stifle our message in service to a counterproductive notion of propriety.

Unfortunately, the Union has backtracked from their aggressive and productive work on activist goals.  It’s very hard to point out any projects originating from the Union in the past year that match the scope of those I mentioned earlier, and I fear that our new Union could continue on the same path.  The stakes are high; like it or not, the structures of the Union still remain the easiest way to get the ear of the administration and create positive change on campus, and activist causes will be severely handicapped without at least some measure of institutionalized Union support.  I urge the Union to keep the example of Jason Gray in mind; part of the reason he was so highly regarded as Union President was his success in so many areas that both benefited the entire campus community and actualized our founding principles of commitment to social justice.

President Daniel Acheampong

Everyone I know who has met Daniel Acheampong shares the same opinion: Daniel is a really nice guy.  He always has a smile and a handshake whenever you run into him, and he’ll always stop to chat no matter how busy he is.  Basically, to know the guy is to love him, and that alone means that we can trust him to run an effective, conflict-free Student Union.

But I’d be doing Daniel (and the Brandeis student body) a disservice to attribute his victory simply to his personality.  I’d also be wrong, particularly in light of how commanding his vote total was.  I’ve never seen anything like the most recent Union election; getting over 50% turnout for the presidential race was far more than I ever thought would be possible, and it speaks to the strength of all four candidates that they were able to motivate so many students to support them.  Daniel’s total, however, was particularly impressive.  Jason Gray and Andy Hogan each won with around 600 votes, but Daniel was able to get over 900.  That has to be some kind of Union record, and you don’t get that kind of campus-wide respect simply because people think you’re nice.

You get it because you took on the most difficult and important job in the Union, the position of Treasurer, and you successfully managed the finances for the entire campus.  You get it because you helped to start Live Campus 2009, a nationwide series of concerts with the proceeds going to eliminating poverty.  You get it because you somehow managed to find the time to serve as a Roosevelt Fellow as well, going through a difficult application process to serve as a peer academic adviser.  Daniel has proven himself a leader in many different areas of the campus community, and his stunning electoral victory is a testament to his diverse, impressive resume.

While I voted and worked for Sahar Massachi in the election, I always had a strong respect for Daniel, and I look forward to working with him to accomplish our shared goals for the campus.  The student body provided him with a strong mandate to work for his agenda, and I’m sure he’s eager to jump into action.  Congratulations again to Daniel on his swearing in, and good luck on guiding the Union to a successful year.

A Tribute to President Andy Hogan

How many of you have eaten in Sherman since Passover break?  I am right now.  I’ve been eating at Sherman a lot more since the latest round of improvements, and it’s become more crowed than it used to be since word has spread about the changes.  There are more options, more food cooked to order, and everything seems fresher and more appetizing.  All of a sudden, Sherman seems like less of a joke and more of a decent place to enjoy a meal.  And while credit should go to the Brandeis administration and Dining Services for their responsiveness to the community’s complaints, we should also remember what helped get the ball rolling on the path to large-scale dining reform: the advocacy and hard work of former Union President Andy Hogan.

I’m living in the Charles River apartments next year, as I’m sure many of you are.  If someone had told me before this semester that I’d wind up in Grad, I’d have been sorely disappointed; visions of leaky buildings and broken appliances would have crossed my mind.  However, I’m now excited for next year.  Grad is receiving a thorough renovation, and I’ll be one of the first to inhabit the fresh new living space.  Once again, I, along with the rest of the student body, owe a thank you to Andy Hogan for making this happen.

I feel that Andy often received an undeserved bad rap during his time in office.  He was censured by the Union Senate over the insignificant midyear senator amendment, and though he avoided the impeachment that Diana Aronin suffered, she at least got a public validation through her decisive reelection.  Despite the fact that he did everything he could to minimize the issue and keep it from becoming a distraction, he bore the brunt of the bad press the Union received in the wake of the impeachment fiasco.  The nadir came in the February 5th Hoot, which featured an editorial cartoon cruelly depicting the Student Union as a beheaded chicken.  The symbolism was tacky and completely uncalled for, particularly as the “head” of the Union continued succeeding in his advocacy projects and improving campus life.

Adding additional BranVan service during high traffic times?  Thanks, Andy.  Working to eliminate wasted energy by shutting off after-hours lights?  Thanks, Andy.  Expanding the awesome Clubs in Service project?  Thanks, Andy.  Getting a student voice on the powerful Presidential Search Committee?  Thanks, Andy.  The Union’s focus on student surveys this year allowed it to keep a finger on the pulse of the Brandeis community, and it used that knowledge for tangible results in many small but tangible ways, improving everything from our dining to our bathrooms.

Jason Gray definitely left some massive shoes to fill as Union President, and I can’t pretend I agree with every decision Andy has made over the past year.  But his term in office was punctuated with success on a number of levels, and I hope that the student body recognizes that.  Despite the manufactured controversy, a lot of us were looking only for results, and I think that Andy Hogan delivered.  I hope Andy knows that his hard work didn’t occur in a vacuum; I, at least, was watching, and I appreciate what he was able to do.

Help Improve the Hoot

Do any of you read the Hoot (you all should)?  Does anyone have any problems with it?

Well, no more will you concerns go unheeded.  The Hoot is currently running a reader survey designed to help it be more responsive to the community.  This is really cool, and more clubs should do it.  They all receive community funding; the least they can do is try to meet the community’s needs.

Go ahead and take it.  It’s only eight questions and shouldn’t take longer than a few minutes.

Livebloggin’ the Social Panel for Autism Awareness

I’m in the Alumni Lounge, waiting for SPECTRUM’s Social Panel on Autism Awareness to begin, and if you’re reading right now, you should definitely try to show up — there are all of 11 people right now waiting to hear from the panelists, and the event ostensibly began five minutes ago.  However, if you can’t make it, I’ll be doing a liveblog to give you all the key points.

3:40 pm:  Still waiting on the start, but the panelists are ready to begin.  Our guests today are Jody Steinhilber, a special education teacher from the Wellesley Public School system and Joe Vedora, the vice president of BEACON Services, a Massachusetts organization of special education professionals.

3:47 pm:  We’re underway, about 15 minutes late.  Unfortunately, the hoped-for wave of stragglers never materialized, but it’s nice to have an intimate setting.

3:53 pm:  Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects every aspect of cognition — communication, learning, etc. — and its effects start showing up by the age of 2 or 3.  However, autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that diagnosing it is more complex than simply “You have it” or “You don’t”.

3:57 pm:  Autism is NOT a form of mental retardation; however, having autism dramatically increases an individual’s chance of being diagnosed with mental retardation as well.

4:02 pm:  In 1994, autism only occurred in about 2 to 5 out of every 10,000 births.  However, by 2006, that number had increased to 1 in 150.  The reason for the increase are improvement of diagnostic criteria and an increased acceptance of individuals with Asperger’s syndrome as being on the autistic spectrum.  Environmental variables could have an impact as well.

4:10 pm:  Teaching students with autism is difficult, because it is much more difficult for them to pick up on social or environmental cues.  While most people can pick up new information by observing other people, children with autism have to be told or shown explicitly how to follow instructions as simple as “come here” or “touch your nose”.  This is why early diagnosis is so important; if a child with autism doesn’t begin receiving special education as quickly as possible, they could fall into a developmental hole that they may never be able to climb out of.

4:24 pm:  To teach kids with autism, it’s important to break down every concept to its smallest parts, because links that seem obvious to most people aren’t necessarily apparent to them.  As an example, to teach kids to wash their hands, it is first necessary to teach them how to simply turn on the faucet.  Repetition is very important, and providing immediate positive reinforcement for simple acts helps immensely.

4:31 pm:  Observation: Joe Vedora’s presentation style is very similar in form to the teaching methods he promotes for autism education.  He uses a lot of illustrative examples and builds concepts up from a very simple basis.  He’s a very good presenter.

4:32 pm:  However, he’s also a Yankees fan.  BOOO!!!

4:42 pm:  One of the biggest problems with modern day care for adults with autism is that care is focused too much on management and not enough on education.  For funding reasons, most people are cut off from education when they turn 22, and their care turns into a kind of “adult day care”.  Not only are autistic individuals still able to learn at that age, but it may be even more important to continue their education because they tend to learn on a delayed timeline because teaching simple concepts takes so much longer.

4:49 pm:  There’s a lot of conversation in psychological circles about officially removing Asperger’s syndrome from the autism spectrum.  Asperger’s support groups are pushing back strongly against it, because they fear that it would limit the amount of services available to students.  Asperger’s syndrome is now considered a high-functioning form of autism.  People who suffer from it can function for themselves, but they still have particular difficultly recognizing social cues.

4:59 pm:  They’re showing a video of an special education instructor working with a toddler with autism to show the teaching methods that SPECTRUM uses.  Lots of repetition, lots of active stimuli for the kid, and lots of physical direction and interaction.  The kid’s having a ball, and, as the presenters and audience members have noted, he’s very cute.

5:05 pm:  An audience member asked if SPECTRUM offers internships for people who are interested in the field, and Joe Vedora affirmed that they do.  If you’re interested, e-mail him at jvedora@beaconservices.org for more information.

5:08 pm:  All done.  Thank you, Joe and Jody, for an interesting and informative presentation.

Bernstein Festival, Day Two (And Some Bonus Events!)

So the Brandeis Early Music Ensemble concert was pretty awesome; watch for my review of it coming out in tomorrow’s Hoot.  But that’s only day one of the Bernstein Festival, and we’ve got plenty more artsy goodness coming our way today.  I’m a sucker for music, so I’ll be at the Brandeis-Wellesley Orchestra’s Theme and Variations concert, featuring Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s wonderful “Scheherazade” suite, selections from Aaron Copland’s score for Our Town and Alan Menken’s score for Aladdin (yep, the Disney movie), and selections from our own Leonard Bernstein’s operetta Candide.  Join me at 8pm in the Slosberg Music Center (it’s free!).  Check below the fold for the complete schedule of the day’s events.

But wait, there’s more!  Three more worthwhile things are happening today that you should try to check out.  First, our own Abbie K promises great fun outside the library at 12 noon; look here for more information.  Next, SPECTRUM is hosting a Social Panel for Autism Awareness at 3:30 pm in the alumni lounge in Usdan.  There are a couple of interesting panelists, and if you’re at all interested in psychology, it should be worth attending; I’ll try to do a liveblog for those who can’t make it.  Finally, the Innermost Parts community got a personal invitation in the comments to attend the Student Events open forum at 6:00 pm in the Art Gallery in the Shapiro Campus Center.  If you’ve got questions or comments on this year’s Spring Fest or on anything else relating to how Student Events spends their $135,000 budget (that’s YOUR money), come on down and ask away.

Continue reading “Bernstein Festival, Day Two (And Some Bonus Events!)”

SPRINGFEST — You Heard It Here First!

Back in January 2009, Innermost Parts was the first news outlet to report that the Board of Trustees had decided to close the Rose Art Museum.  Last September, we were the first to announce that President Reinharz was going to resign.  Both times, we were accused of irresponsibly publishing false rumors, but both times, we ended up being correct.

So when Emily posted on March 13th that the Spring Fest music committee had booked Passion Pit to headline Spring Fest 2010, I feel that our track record should have been good enough that we should have at least gotten the benefit of the doubt.  However, we were again attacked in the comments, being called a “trash rumour site” and told we should “recheck our sources”.  And when the Spring Fest line-up was revealed on April 19th, the headline act was — surprise! — Passion Pit.  Imagine that.

I don’t know why our commentators thought it was appropriate to accuse us of rumor-mongering while they were doing that very thing, trying to spread confusion by claiming that it was actually Owl City who was coming.  And I don’t know why they thought it was appropriate to lie in a public forum about how Student Events’ money — money that comes from all of us — was going to be spent.  While I definitely appreciate the hard work that goes into planning events like Spring Fest, that doesn’t give anyone the right to be dishonest to students about student money.

My policy for handling confidential information is simple.  If someone tells me something with the understanding that it remains confidential, I won’t say or publish a word about it.  However, if someone with inside information shares important news with me because they want it to be publicized, I’ll write about it as long as 1) I’m confident that the source is trustworthy on the issue and 2) I think the information is interesting to the Innermost Parts community.  I may have further reservations on a case-by-case basis, but for the most part, I think my responsibility as an activist blogger demands that I’m transparent as possible with what I know about campus events.  I can only speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure that most Innermost Parts authors would agree with me.

By the way, Passion Pit alone cost us $40,000 dollars, and the newly-created Brandeis Sustainability Fund costs around $50,000 dollars.  Why hasn’t there been a push against holding Spring Fest from the people who are complaining about spending so much money?

Livebloggin’ the Right-Wing Radicalism Conference

I’m in the International Lounge right now, waiting for Right-Wing Radicalism: A Transatlantic Perspective to begin.  The national attention on the conference has caused campus interest to skyrocket, and I know that many people who want to be here can’t, whether because of class or a general lack of space.  So I’ll be liveblogging the entire thing, sharing any particularly interesting or provocative points and adding my own commentary where it exists.  Enjoy!

2:23 pm:  The conference is scheduled to begin at 2:30, so just a few more minutes now.  Here is the complete agenda for the conference, along with some brief background info and a statement from the university about the controversy their logo caused.

2:35 pm:  Nothing’s started yet, but we’ve hit the big time.  Look here to hear Glenn Beck’s perspective on the conference!

2:43 pm:  And away we go!

2:46 pm:  The woman doing the introduction (UPDATE: she’s Professor Sabine von Mering) is addressing the swastika controversy.  She says that the decision to include it was inappropriate and wrong and that none of the moderators or panelists had any knowledge of the posters.  I’ve heard rumors that participants in the conference have received death threats over this issue, so hopefully that’s enough to satisfy everyone here.

2:52 pm:  Professor Mingus Mapps is introducing the first panel, which focuses on the European perspective of right-wing radicalism.  There will be time for questions at the end, so if you leave a good one in the comments, I’ll try to ask it and report back on the answer.

2:58 pm:  Dr. Othmar Ploeckinger is talking about Mein Kampf, which he describes as a very famous book that is very seldom read.  However, it was very popular during Hitler’s reign in Germany, and even before Hitler took power, it was widely read among a broad range of politicians and intellectuals.

3:04 pm:  In the modern right-wing movement, Mein Kampf has  remained popular among German radical groups.  The book is now illegal to publish in Germany, but 74 of the 80 copies owned by the Munich library have been stolen in recent years (probably the easiest way to acquire it in the country).

3:12 pm:  Professor Hans-Gerd Jaschke is discussing the history of right-wing extremism in post-Nazi Germany.  The National Democratic Party, which was founded in 1964, is the most prominent extremist group in the country.  It was forced to distance itself from the Nazi Party, which had been banned, but it retained many of the citizens that supported the Nazis.  Now, it opens itself to neo-Nazis while employing a lot of the populist rhetoric that characterizes the far right in the United States.  It currently holds seats in two German state parliaments.

3:16 pm:  There’s also a separate, explicitly neo-Nazi counterculture movement that has been gaining traction among German youth.  It’s characterized by a tendency towards violence and criminal activity.  Over 19,000 criminal offenses from right-wing extremist sources were reported in 2008 alone, including 2 homicides and 4 attempted homicides (most are comparatively minor crimes such as inciting hatred, which can mean as little as publicly displaying the swastika).

3:23 pm:  Professor Joachim Kersten is discussing right-wing extremism in Eastern Europe and Russia.  Russia has seen 71 people killed in hate crimes in 2009 alone according to estimates by NGOs.  Non-Slavic individuals are the the main targets.  Poland has seen a rise in anti-Semitic sentiment, both traditional (“Jews killed Jesus!”) and modern (“Jews have too much power!”).

3:29 pm:  Apparently, the decline of the Soviet empire has inspired a backlash of national chauvinism that has led to a lot of the hate.  In Poland, the blame falls mostly on a particularly fundamentalist form of Roman Catholicism that has grown in popularity.

3:31 pm:  Professor Peter Niesen is discussing legal restrictions on right-wing extremism.  European nations are far more willing to ban extremist political parties or hateful speech, symbols, or assembly than the United States is.  That pesky First Amendment!

3:38 pm:  The German National Democratic Party (see above) faced ban attempts in the early 2000s, which were unsuccessful in large part because no one actually considered them a serious threat.  In contrast, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Portugal have all banned former ruling parties who installed fascist regimes.  In recent years, Rwanda and Iraq (Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party) have taken similar steps.  The civil rights consequences of banning political parties are obvious, but it does help to protect young democracies from immediate subversion.

3:44 pm:  Professor David Art is discussing anti-immigrant political parties in Europe.  These parties are democratic and non-violent, and they’ve grown pervasive throughout Europe.  Their economic policies tend to be leftist, and their rhetoric is populist.  Some of them are very minor, but some have gained parliament seats (receiving up to 27% of the vote) and even become part of coalition governments.

3:46 pm:  Why do some nativist parties succeed while others fail?  It boils down to organization rather than cultural or electoral differences among nations.  The voter demand exists throughout Europe, but most of the parties become “one-hit wonders” that implode due to leadership failures or fractions.

3:50 pm:  The demographic profile of these parties is sometimes from blue-collar, under-educated voters (sound familiar?), but some parties draw heavily from university graduates as well (think Ron Paul voters).  Professor Art emphasizes the fact that this movement isn’t a single group of the same people that cuts across national boundaries.

3:54 pm:  Full panel discussion now.  One panelist (I’m not sure who) challenges David Art’s point that it’s all about organization, saying he believes there needs to be a “populist moment” that serves as a spark.  Unfortunately, Art didn’t get an immediate chance to respond.

4:01 pm:  And he responds now!  Apparently, broad social attitudes toward immigration are not actually a good predictor about the success of nativist parties.  There’s a base, whether it’s large or small, in every European nation, and the real key is whether a well-organized party can form to exploit it.  As for the “populist moment”, Art believes that any number of moments over the course of several decades can be interpreted as a populist moment, and it’s mostly in hindsight that a particular moment can be seen as the spark that lights the gunpowder.

4:04 pm:  The panel is open to questions.  One audience member asks how anti-Israel sentiment contributes to the rise of the right-wing in Europe.  Apparently, some far-right parties have been surprisingly friendly towards Israel, possibly only to inoculate themselves against allegations of neo-Nazism.

4:18 pm:  Break time!  I’m getting some coffee.

4:33 pm:  The second panel is about to get underway, and we have a special guest joining us!  Right-wing radio personality and Boston Globe Boston Herald columnist Michael Graham is here, and though he sat out the first half of the talk, I’m excited to see what trouble he’s bound to make to defend the honor of the almighty Tea Party!!!!

4:39 pm:  Professor Kathleen Blee is discussing racism among the far right-wing in the United States.  Most people in racist movements are developed, not born; there are very few inter-generational racists, even among groups like the Ku Klux Klan that pride themselves on their long heritage.

4:44 pm:  Usually, racist ideas are learned after joining racist groups.  People are attracted by musical or cultural elements of a group and only then come to accept the racist ideology.  This is particularly prevalent among anti-Semitic groups.

4:54 pm:  Professor Pete Simi is talking about cycles of right-wing terror.  In the 1980s, the death of right-wing extremist Gordon Kahl at the hands of law enforcement officers spawned the idea that the government was at war with the right wing, and several groups formed in order to fight back.  This contrasts to the current rise of right-wing terrorism, which is viewed as more influences by larger national events, like the depressed economy and the election of Barack Obama.

4:57 pm:  The most prominent events of the 1990s were the Ruby Ridge and Waco stand-offs, which both ended in the deaths of the targeted extremists.  Again, the perception that “the government is against us” gave birth to a cycle of terrorism, which culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.  The 1990s had much more leaderless, unfocused resistance than the 80s.

5:00 pm:  Modern right-wing terrorism is even more unfocused for a variety of reasons, most prominently the lack of a single galvanizing incident and the rise of the internet as a grassroots organizing tool.

5:03 pm:  Chip Berlet, described on the website as a Senior Analyst for Political Research Associates in Boston, is talking about the Tea Party movement and the continuum to armed militias.  He sees the Tea Party as being very demographically similar to the communities its members come from, except for their overwhelming conservatism.

5:12 pm:  Though the Tea Party movement is often described as being libertarian in nature, a huge percentage of its members are anti-abortion and very religious.  Berlet believes that the “movement” is actually a coalition of many smaller causes that haven’t yet gelled into a single coherent message.  Consequently, it is impossible to predict the future of the Tea Party, because it’s a chimera that has never existed before.

5:15 pm:  Notably, he says that “there is not a single shred of sociological evidence” that members of right-wing extremist groups are any less intelligent or “crazier” than the general population.  He’s very explicit that he never conflated the Tea Party movement with Nazism, and that it is deeply offensive that members of the media have forsworn research in order to exploit that idea for political gain.

5:19 pm:  Question time.  Mr. Berlet mentions that most hate crimes don’t come from actual organized groups but instead from lone actors who could be neighbors or co-workers.

5:27 pm:  A member of the Tea Party asks Chip Berlet about one of his articles, taking objection to his use of the term “teabag”.  He says that the term comes from the movement himself and that he apologizes if she took any offense at his words.  However, he also tells her that a simple Google search would have revealed that he is far more fair to the Tea Party movement than she is giving him credit for.  Another Tea Partier is attacking him, trying to play “gotcha” with a quote from 1995.  Berlet’s getting mad, with very good reason.

5:32 pm:  The Tea Party parade continues.  Some random woman is insisting that the guy behind Ruby Ridge wasn’t actually from the right wing.  She’s talking about the “Waco bombing”, and the panelists are quick to point out that there was no actual bombing at Waco.  It’s a shame how this has descended from a very fair, intellectual conference into a political attack from non-Brandeis audience members.

5:39 pm:  Finally, a question from an “avowed socialist and leftist”.  She teaches at UMass-Boston, and she’s decrying the turn that the conference has taken.  She thinks that Berlet is being too forgiving to the Tea Party movement, pointing out the more unsavory elements of the Tea Party “doctrine”.  Berlet says that in his experience, even the most extreme members of the right-wing movement are very respectful if they are approached respectfully.

5:40 pm:  And we’re done.  Poor Michael Graham never got the chance to ask his question.  Boo-hoo.

Bernstein Festival, Day One

Today is the first day of the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts, Brandeis’ premier celebration of all that is creative and artistic.  We have access to a incredibly wide range of talent over the next five days, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it by looking over the festival schedule and checking out anything that seems interesting.  I myself will be attending Mixed Blessings: Beatitudes and Benedictions from Another Age, put on by the Brandeis Early Music Ensemble, and it’d be awesome to see some of you there.  Today’s full Bernstein Festival schedule, including event times, locations, and descriptions, is below the fold.

Also, let me quickly mention two unrelated events occurring today as well.  The now-infamous Right-Wing Radicalism: A Transatlantic Perspective conference is from 2:30 to 5:30 in the International Lounge in Usdan.  If you plan to attend, e-mail cges@brandeis.edu to reserve a seat.  If you can’t make it, I’ll try to do a liveblog here on Innermost Parts.  Also, for those opposed to Michael Oren’s selection as commencement speaker, there will be a demonstration at 4:45 in the space between Spingold and the Rose; Phil has more info about it here.

Continue reading “Bernstein Festival, Day One”

A Compromise

I’ve heard from a lot of people offering to compromise on the Brandeis Sustainability Fund by saying that they’d support it as long as they could opt out of paying.  That still seems a little unfair to me, so let me offer a compromise of my own:

Anyone can opt out of paying the BSF.  However, anyone who opts out is no longer allowed to use campus resources that produce carbon emissions.  That’s fair, right?


Then join me in voting YES on the Brandeis Sustainability Fund: https://sys.brandeis.edu/voting/menu/9655.

Elections Results Are Here!!!

Unfortunately Sahar didn’t win, but this election featured incredible turnout, including over 50% of the campus population in the presidential race.  Congratulations to all the winners!  Numbers will be posted as soon as I can figure out how to attach them.

Dear candidates,
The full results are attached to this e-mail.
The winners are:

President: Daniel Acheampong
Vice President: Shirel Guez
Treasurer: Akash Vadalia
Secretary: Herbie Rosen
UCC: unfilled
Board of Trustees: Supreetha Gubbala
Alumni Association: Savannah Pearlman
F-Board: Sidak Pannu, Jessica Preis, Makensley Lordeus, and ONE EMPTY
Racial Minority F-Board Member: Empty


The constitution specifies that if abstain wins an election, the spot remains vacant until the next election. The empty spots will be filled at the next election (round 2) next Thursday. If anyone is interested in these positions, sign up outside of the union office, starting tomorrow, and make sure to attend the mandatory meeting Sunday, at nine pm.

Thank You,
Diana Aronin
Not the secretary, anymore. Who else is excited about this?

Update: Just to clarify, the interjection at the end is Diana’s own words, not mine. I think she’s a perfectly fine Union secretary.

A Closing Case for Sahar Massachi

We as a student body this year are lucky to have four strong and competent candidates running to fill the Student Union Presidency, probably the most important student position in terms of ability to create change on campus by working with the administration.  JV Souffrant has done great work in raising huge amounts of money to help devastated families in Haiti.  Matt Kriegsman has proven himself as the leader of Chabad at Brandeis.  Daniel Acheampong has taken on probably the most thankless task in the student government, serving as Union Treasurer.  Any of them could do a good job as Union President.

However, I’ve known that I’m supporting Sahar Massachi for the position since the very beginning of the election.  The reason why is simple: Sahar is one of the most transformative people I’ve ever had the privilege to know.  It’s the same reason why I’ve written for him for three years on Innermost Parts, the same reason why I’ve worked with him on a number of successful campus projects, and the same reason why he’s been one of my best friends since I entered Brandeis University.  Time and time again, I’ve seen how Sahar can create positive change for the good of the campus community through his tireless work ethic and strong leadership.  He’s thoroughly changed the way I think about college activism, and I know he can change the way we think of the Student Union.

Sahar’s extensive resume tells a story of a student active in all walks of campus life, and his accomplishments are very impressive.  However, what’s even more impressive to me is that without him, no project he’s ever worked on could have even gotten off the ground.  He doesn’t just fill established roles effectively, he fights with everything he’s got to create new roles for improving student life.  When nobody was talking about the MSA lounge vandalization, Sahar did something about it.  When students felt powerless in the face of massive budget cuts, Sahar organized a unified and effective student response.  Without Sahar, Brandeis as a whole would be a little different and a little worse off, and I’d be hard pressed to name anyone else I could honestly say that about.

Regardless of who wins today’s election, two things are certain.  First, the Student Union will have a qualified leader set to take the reigns.  Second, Sahar will be working to improve student life and the activist cause at Brandeis.  It’s part of who he is, and win or lose, he’ll still be doing what he thinks is right.  But we have a chance to put our most powerful position in the hands of a transformative leader, and I firmly believe that we should take this rare opportunity.  That is why I’m asking you to join me in voting for Sahar Massachi for President of the Student Union.

Union Elections Running on an Awfully Cramped Timeline

Sign-ups for the first round of spring Student Union elections were just announced about an hour ago, and I can’t help but think that the time-line they chose doesn’t give students much time to think about running.  The mandatory candidates meeting will be held on April 8th, on the second day back from break.  If you’re leaving Brandeis tomorrow, that means you get less than one day before break to decide if you want to run, and less than two days after you return.  Sure, you have a week-and-a-half vacation to mull it over, but I can’t help but think it’s far more likely for people to put stuff like the Union completely out of their mind.

Getting enough candidates for Union offices has been a major problem in recent election cycles, and by having such a short sign-up period at students’ most distracted times, chances are that a lot of potential candidates might not even realize they’re losing their chance to run.  The time-line should be pushed back a few days to allow people to spread the word and discuss running while the campus is full.

The complete e-mail from Union Secretary Diana Aronin is below the fold, including a list of positions up for election.

Continue reading “Union Elections Running on an Awfully Cramped Timeline”

Getting Rid of Robert’s Rules

One of the biggest arguments in favor of the Union government restructuring proposal was that it would remove the difficult parliamentary procedure of the Senate.  The new Union Assembly would have been a smaller body, free from the obscure minutiae of Robert’s Rules of Order and easier for students to approach and work with.

Even if the amendment had passed, it’s uncertain that this would actually have happened.  The operating procedures for the Union governing bodies are found in the Bylaws, not the Constitution, and it would have been up to the Assembly members to decide to make the change. The five member Union Judiciary constantly chose to employ the most formal procedures possible; it’s entirely likely that the larger Assembly would have retained Robert’s Rules.

Still, the proposal had the support of at least 10 Senators, and I think that very few people would disagree that the devotion to Robert’s Rules is probably the biggest detriment to the Senate, both in student opinion and in quick and easy decision-making.  So how can the Union get rid of Robert’s Rules for good and replace it with a less formal, more appropriate debate format?

Actually, it would be very easy.  In fact, the Union Senate could do it at their next meeting, and we’d never have to worry about “points of order” or “motions to the previous question” again.  All it would take is a Bylaw amendment, which would need to be approved by a 2/3 vote of the Senate, and any Senator could submit the legislation.  I don’t know what procedure would replace it, but I’m sure it wouldn’t take much research to find a procedure more suited for smaller assemblies.  Alternatively, the Senate could just go without a formal procedure (as it does when it enters committee of the whole), which works surprisingly well as long as the chair is active in keeping the group focused.  Anything that allows the focus of the debate to be on the merits of the proposal rather than on the debate process itself would be an improvement.

There’s definitely a proper time and place for parliamentary procedure, but it’s not in a 20 person student assembly that focuses mainly on chartering clubs.  There’s nothing keeping the Senate from changing the way it operates, and no one likes the way it works now.  Why don’t they do something about it?

Lies, Damn Lies, and Cultural Productions

At today’s meeting, the Board of Trustees will make the final vote on the Brandeis 2020 Committee proposals that Provost Marty Krauss approved earlier this month.  So far, I think the process has gone as well as we could hope for, and I generally approve of the decisions that the Committee made.  However, one program in particular has suffered from particularly unfair treatment at the hands of the administration, and regardless of what happens at today’s meeting, I think its participants deserves a better explanation and an apology.

If you haven’t read Ariel Wittenberg’s piece on the Cultural Productions Masters’ program from the March 5th Hoot, check it out right now.  It’s a great piece of campus journalism, thoroughly researched and well-constructed, and the narrative is very important in understanding the administration’s relationship with the rest of the university.  Basically, Adam Jaffe, the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the chair of the Brandeis 2020 Committee, justified the decision to cut the program by saying “the overall costs of the program exceed the revenues” despite the fact that “the program generates revenue that exceeds its direct costs”.

The problem is that someone forgot to tell the program’s head, Professor Mark Auslander:

When asked what the overall costs were, Jaffe wrote, “I prefer not to share those numbers.”

This secrecy is “dumbfounding” to Auslander, who said, “I’m baffled at what these ‘hidden costs’ could be.” Auslander also said that his knowledge of the program’s revenue comes from conversations with Jaffe himself.

“Up until they wanted to cut our program, the Dean has said we are revenue positive,” Auslander said. “To cut us would be foolhardy.”

While Jaffe wrote in his e-mail that “the ‘direct costs’ do not include the time of any faculty other than the director,” Auslander said the Cultural Productions Program does not employ any faculty other than him.

So Jaffe misled Auslander about his program’s cost, basically lied to the Hoot about the program’s faculty, and made absolutely no effort to justify cutting the whole program to its director, let alone to the Brandeis community.  Three days later, Marty Krauss released her report, and Jaffe was contradicted again:

I have heard the argument that this program produces net revenue for GSAS, and while that is true, I am convinced that the University would have to make additional fiscal commitments in the long run to ensure that this program  achieves and maintains a level of excellence that we would expect for any master’s program.

Is the program currently revenue-positive?  Everyone seems to think so but Adam Jaffe, and he doesn’t seem willing to share whatever facts he has.

Making these academic cuts is a very difficult process, and I appreciate the fact that the motivations for cutting the Cultural Productions Program might be more complex than a straightforward cost-benefit analysis.  However, any cuts that are made will be painful to a portion of the Brandeis community, and the faculty and students within the programs deserve an explanation.  Withholding information and offering lies and half-truths only increases their pain.  We need complete faith in our administration as Brandeis makes these tough decisions, and Dean Jaffe has harmed that trust.

Union Restructuring: Why Did It Fail?

Of the changes proposed by the Constitutional Review Committee, none received more discussion than the Union government restructuring — the elimination of the Senate and the creation of a smaller Assembly and a Club Support Board.  It was endorsed as a great way to improve Union government efficiency by a wide range of campus sources, from the Justice editorial board to President Andy Hogan to our own writers.  Despite this, it was one of only three (out of 13) proposals that didn’t get the 2/3 majority of the student vote needed to be added to the Constitution.  So why did it fail, and what can we learn from it to fix the problems in the Union government?

I’ll start by saying that I really didn’t like the restructuring proposal.  I’m not sure that it would have actually solved the problems it tried to address, and there were several consequences of its changes that made me pretty uncomfortable.  It would have taken fewer students to make consequential decisions like de-chartering clubs, it would have raised the electoral barriers of participation higher, and it would have set up some explicit conflicts of interest for Club Support members.

But I doubt that even the small percentage of students who took the time to vote actually looked into the amendment very deeply.  Many of them probably saw the amendment for the first time when they voted, and their priorities were probably on amendments they saw as more directly impacting their lives on campus (SSIS, SEA, etc.).  Still, they chose to support most of the other proposals, even one which only changed a single word.

I think the problem with the restructuring proposal was much more simple: there was no immediately obvious benefit to the changes it offered.  So they wanted to make the Senate smaller and move the club chartering process to another body — why?  There’s a perception that students hate the Union because of its overly formal procedures, but I don’t think that’s true.  After all, how many students have to deal with the Senate on a regular, extended basis?  I think the real concern is what the Union actually does and the apparent disconnect between the Union government and the students, and there’s no reason to think that shrinking or dividing the governing bodies would have made a concrete change.

Thus, to most people, the government restructuring came down to a simple rearrangement of the deck chairs.  When you take out the votes of the CRC, the E-Board, and the Senate (who all actively worked to put the amendment on the ballot), you’re basically left with a coin flip from the voters.  There are definite problems with the way the Union works, but solving them requires a more direct approach than the CRC took toward the review process.

Peace Vigil Covered in the Daily News Tribune

In light of all the negative coverage of Brandeis that filled the local media last week, it feels particularly good to see something like this in the newspaper:

Standing on the edge of Brandeis University’s Peace Circle, senior Beth Bowman urged the 100-plus students and faculty gathered in support of the campus’ Muslim community to look around and take in the feeling of unity.

In the wake of vandalism and the theft of Imam Talal Eid’s Quran at the Muslim Student Association’s newly renovated suite and prayer space on March 5, students held a peaceful vigil outside of the Usdan Student Center Friday afternoon, some even ditching class to attend.

Some wore white headscarves, some white yarmulkes, and many threw white T-shirts over sweaters, symbolizing peace, in a show of solidarity.

Student Sahar Massachi, the founder and editor of InnermostParts.org, the unofficial school blog, presented Eid with a petition he called “a love letter,” signed by more than 400 Brandeis students and professors.

Eid smiled as student after student handed him a page of the petition, each full of signatures.

Students of different faiths condemned the vandalism, and expressed support for their Muslim peers.

“Look around. This is so moving to me,” said Bowman, who is also on the Muslim Student Association’s executive board.

“The events that happened on March 5 are not the spirit of Brandeis – it’s the spirit right here,” she said, the group clapping.

I’m sitting in the library right now, reading the article over and over and smiling like a fool.  We couldn’t have asked for a nicer, more positive story on the vigil; we really put Brandeis’s best foot forward on Friday.  More importantly, we showed ourselves, hopefully our Muslim brothers and sisters especially, that this entire community felt the pain and fear of the MSA vandalism and that an attack on any of us is an attack on all of us.  We stood together in a way that people recognized.

The vandals must be absolutely furious right now.  They tried to attack a very specific group on campus, but instead they allowed us to prove publicly that we are united on a fundamental level, regardless of religious differences.  However, this can be their gain as well, because in the wise words of Imam Talal Eid, “This person was probably a member of the Brandeis family, and we will not give up a member of the Brandeis family.”  It’s a great feeling to know that you have an entire community willing to stand behind you when you need it the most, and provided you choose to act in accord with this community’s values, you (or anyone) can take comfort in that knowledge as well.

Livebloggin’ the State of the Union

Assuming anyone cares, we’ll being running a live-blog of President Andy Hogan’s State of the Union address, starting 12 minutes ago.  There’s really impressive turnout, not so much among the students (maybe 30-40, depending on how many members of the a cappella group stay), but among the administrators/Trustees/assorted University higher-ups (probably 6-7, at least).  President Reinharz himself is here as well.

5:12 PM (Adam) — Right now Starving Artists is still performing –sounding great, as always.  I like the tradition of a little pre-speech entertainment.

5:17 PM (Adam) — Down to business.  Andy’s being introduced.

5:19 PM (Adam) — He’s opening with Constitutional Review issues, discussing how he thinks the new changes will help.  I think it’s a little too internal and government-y to lead off the speech.

5:21 PM (Adam) — Discussing the new Student Judiciary: We’ll “move away from the show trials we have now” to a more mediation-based approach.  It’s a very thinly veiled shot at the mockery that was the Aronin trial.  I’m glad he said it.

5:24 PM (Adam) — The new Union website sounds great, with a blog and a lot more instant feedback options.  Andy gives a shout out to the “incredibly talented Yale Spector” who designed it.  Good show, Yale.

5:28 PM (Adam) — The Clubs in Service program is still going strong.  Over 30 different clubs have brought their unique talents to service projects in the Waltham community.  If your club hasn’t participated yet, please strongly consider getting involved.

5:30 PM (Adam) — Andy just announced a new Monday and Thursday Waltham BranVan service from 5:45 to 9:45 PM.  The times were chosen based on a survey sent out to the entire community.  This is a really nice piece of small advocacy that will nevertheless be a convenience to the whole campus.  Good work, Andy.

5:33 PM (Adam) — The Union will be working with the administration to cut down on lights left on in buildings after hours, particularly the library.  This will be good for the environment and save Brandeis money, and it is a long overdue effort.

5:36 PM (Adam) — Andy: “There needs to be large scale changes to the dining program.”  He explicitly calls out Aramark on a wide range of dining-related issues and promises a thorough review of dining that is going on even as we speak, through a comprehensive Market Match program.

5:42 PM (Adam) — And that’s a wrap.  Less than a half hour long, which I appreciate.  It was a hard-hitting speech, Andy raised many good points, and he delivered it really well.  The only issue I’d raise is with the construction, but overall, it’s a very strong State of the Union.

The Provost’s Report: Do Student Voices Matter?

Bump! — sahar

In her response to the the Brandeis 2020 Committee proposals, Provost Marty Krauss lists the five groups tasked to work towards healing Brandeis’s long-term financial deficit.  They are:

  • The 23 member Brandeis 2020 Committee, which identified reductions in Arts and Sciences.
  • The professional school revenue committee, composed of 4 administrators and the Office of Budget and Planning.
  • The 18 member Bold Ideas Group, which identifies new revenue streams.
  • The 9 member Administrative Resource Review Committee, which identifies administrative efficiencies.
  • The 7 member ad hoc committee on increasing revenue from the Centers and Institutes.

The most striking thing to me is that of these 61 committee members, exactly one is an undergraduate student (Jason Gray of the Brandeis 2020 Committee).  That means undergraduate students, the university’s primary reason for existing, make up 1.64% of the voices currently working to solve our biggest problems.  We are just as invested in the future of our university as anyone else, and we have unique perspectives that will otherwise go completely unheeded.  Why are we being so thoroughly excluded from these processes?

Marty Krauss has two important questions to answer.  First, do the students deserve a substantial voice in the university’s future?, and second, how will our voices be incorporated as the committees move forward?  However, I’m not confident that she will actually address these questions, and I’m even less confident that her answers will be satisfactory in establishing the student voice as a vital part of the process.  Therefore, the student body is left with a significant question of its own: How do we overcome our lack of direct involvement to make sure we too can help Brandeis succeed?

It’s a tough question, and we should start considering answers now.

MSA Vandalism Hitting Area News

For a university reeling for a series of PR disasters on a national scale, this can’t be how Brandeis hoped to return to the news.  The vandalism at the Muslim Student Association lounge has been picked up by the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, WCVB-TV Channel 5 Boston, the Huffington Post, and, for some reason, an obscure newspaper in Louisiana.

I hate seeing Brandeis attracting this kind of attention.  Many of the stories seem to blow a “Muslims vs. Jews” dog-whistle that gives a completely false picture of how things really are at the university.  If I were a Muslim student, I’d definitely reconsider attending Brandeis after hearing this story.

To whomever did this, if you somehow happen to read this, know that I cannot imagine that I’m sharing this campus with as low a form of scum as you.  You’ve stolen and destroyed private property, attacked a minority group, and tarnished Brandeis’s reputation.  I don’t know if you’re actually a student, but I know for sure that you are not a Brandeisian.

I’ll update this post periodically throughout the night with new links if more news stories come to my attention.


The front page of this week’s Justice has, as its lead article, a story about the Constitutional Review Committee’s final report.  The article is well-written, comprehensive, and informative, and it’s accompanied by a nice, eye-catching picture.  The problem is that I don’t think anyone cares.

The CRC is one of those topics that’s only interesting to the very small minority of students who follow the Union closely.  Its meetings were held behind closed doors, its mission is basically just a reshuffling of the Union government, and even the best changes it proposes will measurably affect only a small percentage of the campus community.  You don’t have to take my word for it; in same issue’s ‘Brandeis Talks Back’ section, all four of the students they interview express complete apathy to the process.  Yes, the report is significant enough to merit coverage, but does it really deserve its front page status?

Meanwhile, you’d have to turn to page 5 of the paper to learn that a potential hate crime occurred on the Brandeis campus this weekend.  The newly-refurbished Muslim Student Association suite was viciously vandalized on Friday.  The wall in Imam Talal Eid’s office was permanently damaged, and his personal copy of the Quran was stolen.  The nature of the theft makes it hard to view this as anything but an attack against campus Muslims, and it absolutely sickens me to think that such a vile invasion could happen at the school I call home.  But apparently, it’s worth only one-sixth of a page buried in the News section, next to a full page of advertisements.

During Diana Aronin’s impeachment and trial, many people complained about the petty disagreements that the Union officers turned into a public spectacle.  I agree with them, but the campus media need to be held culpable as well for turning what should have been an internal Union affair into a weekly front-page spectacle.  If our Union government suffers from self-importance, it is only because they’re used to getting undue attention for every minor issue.  Meanwhile, the papers will continue to alienate their readers if they glorify topics that are ultimately irrelevant for most students.  I suspect that students are far more interested in uncovering hate on our campus than on how big the Union Senate will be next year, and I think the every campus media outlet needs to reassess what its reporting priorities should be.

Thoughts on the Provost’s Decisions

Earlier today, Provost Marty Krauss released her decisions regarding the 18 proposals that the Brandeis 2020 Committe submitted to narrow Brandeis’s projected operating deficit.  With one minor alteration, she chose to accept them all, meaning that they all will go to the Board of Trustees for approval later this month.

I imagine that there are a lot of disappointed students and faculty members at Brandeis today, and I can completely understand why.  If you’ve devoted your life to a specific program, or if your job security is incumbent on a program’s existence, the last thing you want to hear is that the program has been deemed unworthy of the money that Brandeis has put into it.  Each of these 18 cuts will affect some future students or current faculty members in serious ways, and the ramifications could be felt sooner than we might expect.  Can we really trust the administration to properly prioritize departments they’ve already singled out for termination?

Still, I have to say that I support the decision that Provost Krauss released today.  The Committee recommendations are the result of a exhaustively researched and debated process that incorporated a wide range of Brandeis community members.  The Committee took every effort to understand completely the ramifications of each of its proposals.  Yes, all of these cuts hurt, but Brandeis has already cut all of the easy stuff, and we’re truly out of options.  I find it stunning that Brandeis 2020 was able to reach its financial goals while leaving almost the entire undergraduate experience intact and preserving so much that is central to the Brandeis mission.  Faced with a bunch of bad options, I feel that the Committee members did the best job they could possibly do.

The strongest reaction against the Brandeis 2020 recommendations came from the Theater community in protest against the proposed phasing out of the Graduate School Theater Design program.  Their organization was quick and effective, and their Facebook group currently has over 2,000 members.  This decision was much closer to me than most others; I’ve worked on a Department show before, and I had an opportunity to interview two students from the Design program for a Brandeis Hoot podcast.  I think they have some very strong arguments for preserving their program, and it’s sad to think that the resources that led to the amazing design of the recent Funnyhouse of a Negro production will no longer be available.  But I also think that the Committee knew what it was doing when it recommended scaling back on this very expensive program.  One of the signatories of the Brandeis 2020 report is Theater Arts Department Chair Susan Dibble; do you really think she would have put her name on a report that unfairly and irreparably weakened her department?

The members of the Brandeis 2020 Committee should be recognized for work they put in over the past two months.  Every one of them had to bite the bullet on a very personal sacrifice, and they know they face condemnation for the cuts they made but no commendation for the programs they saved.  In the upcoming years, Brandeis will have to tighten its belt to the point of discomfort, but we will be left with a university finally able to see beyond its darkest hour to a future with its core principles firmly intact.

Secretary Election Results

Here are the results from yesterday’s secretary election:


Below are the election results for the primary round in the Secretary election:

As at Poll close: Wednesday 10 February 2010 00:44 EST
Number of voters: 499 · Group size: 3390 · Percentage voted: 14.72
Ranked by votes

Rank    Candidate              Votes      %
1       Diana Aronin            220     44.08
2       Abraham J. Wachter      117     23.45
3       Jourdan I. Cohen        82      16.43
4       Michael Margolis        37      7.41
5       Abstain                 28      5.61
6       Andrea Fineman          10      2.00
9       Jason Gray              1       0.20
9       Catherine McConnell     1       0.20
9       Patrick Bateman         1       0.20
9       Lara Hirschler          1       0.20
9       Edward L. Langer        1       0.20

There will be a final round this Thursday starting at 12:01 AM between Diana Aronin and Abraham Wachter.


Elections Commission

As a member of the elections commission, I will refrain from any commentary, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.