Jehuda Reinharz: A Retrospective

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.


  • I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

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Author: Phil LaCombe

I am a sophomore at Brandeis University, originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts. At Brandeis I have contributed to the activist community by serving as Campus Coordinator for Democracy for America, a student group that supports fiscally responsible, socially progressive candidates. I was also co-director for Brandeis Students for Barack Obama. After Brandeis, I will pursue a master's degree in urban planning.

6 thoughts on “Jehuda Reinharz: A Retrospective”

  1. Hey Phil, great post!

    One correction though: you haven’t got the Carter thing right.

    Jehuda did NOT try and prevent Carter from coming. He INVITED Carter to have a debate and/or discussion panel with a person or people representing a different perspective. When Carter refused to do this, Jehuda said “okay, fine, but the UNIVERSITY is only going to offer to bring you under that condition– the STUDENTS can bring you themselves if they want and can get support, but *I* am inviting you to a debate/discussion only.” Then some students did get together as you said, and Jimmy came. Unfortunately,they felt that they needed to accuse the administration of somehow blocking Carter from coming so they could get more attention/support. I have heard from one of the main people involved in organizing it that he just “made shit up” about Jehuda and the administration to get attention for the event. So just for the sake of an accurate history, Jehuda INVITED Carter under certain terms (which I dont think were unreasonable but thats for anyone to judge). Carter rejected the terms, so the “students” had to bring him and not officially the “university.”



    Yet even alienating the donors is preferable to betraying our University’s most fundamental principle – you know, truth even unto the whats-this-blog-called-again?!

    Jehuda’s just doing it for politics. He represents a business, not himself; thus one cannot blame him on a personal level for his decisions. And we do need money.

    But he’s irrelevant now. Old people are irrelevant. The strange and beautiful part is that our student body is both more progressive than these decisions, and in line with them. Are we talking BZA (Brandeis Zionist Association) or SCB (Students Crossing Boundaries)? Kefiyah Brandeis or Kippah Brandeis? AIPAC or Slivka? They both exist here… probably in closer numbers than anyone realizes.

    (Excluding the apathetic middle.)

    Uniquely, I am both, but its for discussion at another time.

    It’s so very late now.

    Keep bringin’ the passion, y’all.

  3. I apologize if you got the impression that I believe these pillars are always at odds. The pillars of social justice and Jewish sponsorship are well intertwined, with many philanthropic Jews supporting causes of social justice. However when it comes to Israel and the Occupied Territories, Jewish sponsorship that leans more toward AIPAC than J Street gets put at odds with social justice for Palestinians. In all cases other than Israel and Palestine, Jewish sponsorship and social justice are a great match.

  4. It makes me angry when you oppose Jewish sponsorship of the university and social justice as opposite pillars in the Brandeis community. You make it seem as though Jewish sponsors are themselves opposed to activism and social justice on campus. This is categorically untrue. Yes, in the past there has been some controversy over specific Israel issues that has caused some donors to stop giving to the school. However, many Jewish donors donate to social justice scholarships and grants that promote activism over the summer and at Brandeis. Social justice is an essential part to the school and essential to Jewish religion, culture, and philanthropy. It would be a mistake to paint Jewish donations to the school as anti-activist when most of the evidence points in a different direction.

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