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 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.

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.

More thoughts on Prez Fred

So – new president. Here’s what I think, from what I’ve read so far.

F-Lawrence knows what is truly important and interesting about Brandeis: Social Justice, Louis Brandeis being awesome, and us being a liberal arts school that happens to also be a research university.

He has the right resume and says the right things: He’s a civil rights lawyer, won a teaching award, is a blogger. He’s talking about outreach to students and good stuff like that.

It’s also interesting that he ties his story to Brandeis’ story

I’m most excited about an opportunity to sit down as a community and really discuss and decide what sort of place Brandeis should be in the future and what Social Justicde means to us as a school. We have a chance to really unite at Brandeis, and bring students, teachers, staff, and workers together for real.

Lawrence represents hope and change. So far, everything looks great. I hope that he takes this great opportunity to rally the Brandeis community together, not just the faculty and staff but the whole community. We have a stellar opportunity to visualize the Brandeis we want to be, and take the steps needed to get there, together.

I’ve downloaded all the papers of his I’ve seen on Jstor, and I haven’t read them yet. He’s still an unknown quantity. But he’s a civil rights lawyer and an admirer of Louis Brandeis! He talks about Brandeis’ commitment to Social Justice. That’s really cool; I just hope that he increases the trend of administration respecting students and their ideas, and that he fosters a new climate at Brandeis, a climate where both students and staff have the opportunity to learn about Social Justice and Social Action – not just what they mean but how to make it happen.

My main worry is the way he was chosen – in a secretive process where we had to fight hard just to have one non-voting student member on the search committee. Hopefully he can reverse this culture of Board of Trustees unapproachability and unaccountability to students.

Three  things Brandeis lacks. Hopefully Flawrence will bring them to Brandeis:
– Real community across students, staff, faculty, workers, grad students, etc.
– Administration respect for students
– Talking about how to *make* social justice happen not just what’s wrong with the world.


In an email sent 10  minutes ago, Board of Trustees chair Malcolm Sherman announced that Frederick M. Lawrence of the George Washington University School of Law will be the next President of Brandeis University effective Jan 1, 2011. Below is Lawrence’s bio from GW, as well as the text of the email:

Frederick Lawrence came to GW Law as dean in August 2005. One of the nation’s leading civil rights experts, he is the author of, Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law, which examines bias-motivated violence and how the United States deals with such crimes. He has written widely in the areas of civil rights crimes and free expression.

Dean Lawrence began his legal career in 1980 as clerk to Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Later, he was named an assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, where he became chief of the office’s civil rights unit. In 1988, he joined the faculty of Boston University School of Law where he taught courses on civil procedure, criminal law, civil rights enforcement, and civil rights crimes. He also served as the school’s associate dean for academic affairs from 1996 to 1999. In 1996 he received Boston University’s Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, the university’s highest teaching honor.

Dean Lawrence has been a senior visiting research fellow with the University College London Faculty of Law and has studied bias crimes law in the United Kingdom through a Ford Foundation grant. He has lectured nationally and internationally about bias crime law and testified before Congress in support of federal hate crimes legislation on several occasions – most recently in 2007 – and concerning Justice Department misconduct in Boston.

In 2004, he was a member of the American delegation to the meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Enactment and Enforcement of Legislation to Combat Hate-Motivated Crimes and in 2009 he delivered the keynote address to the OSCE meeting on hate crime law enforcement. From 2003 to 2006, he served as chair of the National Legal Affairs Committee of the Anti-Defamation League. Dean Lawrence also has performed in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with the New York Choral Society.

July 8, 2010

Members of the Brandeis Community,

It gives me great pleasure to announce that, at its meeting today, the board of trustees unanimously and enthusiastically elected Frederick M. Lawrence, dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School, to succeed Jehuda Reinharz as the eighth president of Brandeis University starting Jan. 1, 2011.

President-elect Lawrence is widely recognized as one of our nation’s top civil rights experts. He has written eloquently about a broad range of important legal and constitutional issues and is the author of “Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law.” Fred also has co-authored a number of Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs, including the brief on behalf of civil rights groups in Virginia v. Black (2003) concerning the constitutionality of Virginia’s cross-burning statutes. He has served as chair of the National Legal Affairs Committee of the Anti-Defamation League and is a trustee of Williams College, his alma mater. From 1988 to 2005, he was a member of the faculty and academic administration at Boston University School of Law, and in 1996 he received Boston University’s Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest of the university’s teaching awards.

Fred impressed the members of the board with his strong record of academic scholarship and administration, as well as personal ideals and professional accomplishments that reflect the values of Justice Louis Brandeis and the university’s commitment to social justice and social action. In his meetings with trustees, faculty, students and senior officers, Fred demonstrated a strong commitment to liberal arts education and a clear understanding of and appreciation for Brandeis’ unique character, its Jewish heritage and its mission, which he aptly characterized as a “research college and a teaching university.” The board also noted his record of effective fundraising, both in this country and abroad.

Fred has a warm and winning personal style and a long record of engaging effectively with faculty, students, alumni and members of the extended communities with which he has worked. He is an outstanding successor to President Jehuda Reinharz, and I know that all members of the Brandeis community join with me in welcoming Fred Lawrence to this very special university.


Malcolm L. Sherman
Chair, Board of Trustees

To read the full announcement and a profile of Fred, watch video interviews, leave a welcome message and more, please visit