For better or for worse, Jehuda Reinharz’s actions as University President have helped shape my experience at Brandeis. After hearing about his imminent resignation, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect upon some events of his term.
My oldest memory is of a controversy surrounding a display of Palestinian art on campus. It was before I arrived as a student on campus, but it was still fresh on the minds of many in the community when I arrived in the fall of 2006. The exhibit was called ‘Voices of Palestine’ and featured drawings and paintings by Palestinian teenagers living in a refugee camp near Bethlehem. After four days on display, his administration removed the pieces of artwork. Coming to Brandeis as a non-Jew, this was slightly worrying. I wanted to live and study in an environment where people could express their views, even if they were disliked by strong supporters of Israel.
In the fall of 2007, my second semester at Brandeis, Reinharz sought to prevent President Carter from visiting campus and giving a lecture to the community. The issue was over Carter’s book, entitled “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”. Reinharz was worried about the potential reactions of the wealthy Jewish donors that sponsor our university. It was the second big battle I witnessed concerning one Brandeis pillar versus the other, with Jewish sponsorship on one side and social justice on the other. Some motivated students pushed hard to get Carter to come, offering to put on the event themselves. Reinharz tried to force Carter to change the event from a lecture to a debate with lawyer Alan Dershowitz, a staunch defender of Israel’s political and military policy. The issue created some bad press for the university, mostly through the Boston Globe, who brought it to the nation’s attention. In the end Carter was allowed to come, with an optional Dershowitz event afterward. As I remember, Reinharz did not attend the former president’s lecture.
President Reinharz’s decision that impacted me most was to allow the campus police to carry guns. He composed a committee in the summer of 2007 to advise him on the issue following the Virginia Tech tragedy. The two students serving on the committee were hand picked by the administration with no input from the greater student body. I still stand by the opinion that our campus is better off without the deadly weapons that are firearms. Someday we’re going to have an issue with one of the guns wielded or fired improperly. I helped organize a group called SODA, Students Opposing the Decision to Arm, which collected over 800 student signatures for our cause. We delivered the signatures to President Reinharz and spoke with him for around 30 minutes with at least 20 students. He didn’t really care about student opinion, he was moving ahead with his decision regardless, and he wasn’t going to open up debate on the issue on campus.
Most recently, Reinharz has become mired in controversy over the closure of the Rose Art Museum and the sale of its works of art. I’ve only visited the museum a couple of times while at Brandeis, but I’ve always believed that it adds something special to our community. His decision was never clear. He equivocated over the closure and the sale under the pressure, only bringing the university more bad press. I praised my friends’ posting of a large sign on the front of the Rose reading “ATM”. While I was abroad, my peers went to work debating with the administration over budget cuts. The financial crisis hit our university hard. Reinharz should be praised for raising record amounts of money, but criticized for overspending. I love all of the new buildings, upgrades, and programs, but our expansion just wasn’t sustainable.
President Reinharz made me proud when he signed the University Presidents’ Climate Commitment to tackle global warming, and when he advocated for the elimination of water bottles from the dining halls. Reinharz is a business man. Late in his tenure he realized that Brandeis was going to have to “go green” in order to attract today’s students. For him, sustainability is part of the marketing strategy. That’s fine, I care less about the motivations than the actions. Next week’s big sustainability announcement may not come from him, but I can say with reasonable certainty that it will have to do with some of his behind-the-scenes efforts.
Earlier tonight I broke the news of Reinharz’s resignation to one of my friends. He replied jokingly, ” Do you think there will be looting?” I laughed, but his comment made recall the name of the building where President Reinharz’s office resides–The Irving Presidential Enclave. How indicative of the way he ran the university’s administration, so close to the hub of students’ activity, but so distant in its decision-making.