What does it mean to be Brandeis University

This will be my last semester as an undergrad at Brandeis University.

This semester, I’m taking a course on Louis Brandeis with Professor Gaskins. (10-11am, MWTh. It’s not too late to sign up!). What a fitting way to go out with a bang.

We’re named after this amazing guy, Louis Dembitz Brandeis. We really don’t even know much about him.

Who was this man, Louis Brandeis? What did he stand for? How did he operate? What should a University named after this man look like?

As I take this course, I’ll try to write about things I learn that might serve as the beginnings of answers to these questions.

Here goes:

So Louis Brandeis was really fucking cool. He joined Harvard Law School at age 18, totally skipping an undergraduate education. He graduated a year early, such that the Harvard Board of Trustees had to vote to waive their law that you had to be at least 21 years old to graduate. He has the highest grades at the Harvard Law Review, ever.

Brandeis was no campus activist. He spent his time in school pursuing academic excellence, and his free time on tutoring others to pay his way through. If you want to model your time in school after Brandeis you’d have to skip college, but also you’d focus on grades on not pursue campus activism.

In a sense, Harvard is Brandeis University. He loved that place. He helped create the Law Review, the alumni association, and spent a ton of time and money building up the Law School. We have to grapple with that.

School in Brandeis’ experience also meant salons with professors, formal intellectual debates, and intense networking.

In a sense, Brandeis University reflects his ideals pretty well: we can agree that our greatest asset is our top-notch academics. The professors here are impressive, friendly, and helpful. At University, like we said, Brandeis focused and excelled at academics above all else.

One more thing: Brandeis “considered it immoral for lawyers to function as guys for hire, particularly, when their employers were corporations attempting to affect the political process.” That’s something for all of us, from students to Trustees, to remember.

Elena Kagan and Louis Brandeis

Read all about it: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/27/AR2010062703527.html

Democratic senators are planning to put the right of citizens to challenge corporate power at the center of their critique of activist conservative judging, offering a case that has not been fully aired since the days of the great Progressive Era Justice Louis Brandeis.

It was Brandeis who warned against the “concentration of economic power” and observed that “so-called private corporations are sometimes able to dominate the state.”

Brandeis Has an Amazing History

Did you know that Albert Einstein corresponded with Louis Brandeis about the idea that eventually became Brandeis University? Did you know that Einstein was the one who insisted it be named after Brandeis?

I am reading a report in the Hoot about a lecture given by Professor Stephen Whitfield about the early days of the University and I find it just fascinating:

[Einstein] began corresponding with Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis about creating a Jewish-sponsored institution of higher learning. Einstein’s dream to create a secular university founded on Jewish values led to a 1946 gathering of prominent Jewish businessmen and attorneys to form it. They faced opposition from many who feared assimilation, including Chaim Weizmann.

Despite the misgivings of Weizmann and others, Einstein went through with his plan. However, when founders offered to name the university after him, he declined. At that point, he had been in the United States for barely more than a dozen years, had been a citizen for only six years, and still spoke broken English. He wanted the school to be named after “a great Jew who was also a great American.” The obvious choice was to name the school after Justice Brandeis, who had died a few years earlier.

Also, did you know that Brandeis was explicitly founded as a liberal school?

“The name Brandeis,” founding president Abram L. Sachar said, “will combine most felicitously the prophetic ideal of moral principle and the American tradition of political and economic liberalism.”

Also, it seems like Brandeis classes in the early days kicked ass.

The three professors contributed to an active intellectual social life, with professors and their spouses crossing departmental lines to socialize and discuss topics of the day. At the time, lines separating disciplines were blurred both physically, with music practice rooms and labs in the same building, and professionally, with many professors having several specialties.

Whitfield praised Brandeis’ ability to cultivate innovative and esteemed professors and lecturers, including people like Abraham Maslow, author of a book about values and the higher life, Herbert Marcuse, a leftist politics and philosophy professor often named in conjunction to Karl Marx and Mao Zedong, and Eleanor Roosevelt, former first lady of the United States.

Brandeis kicks ass! This sort of stuff is part of why I love this place so much. That idea – departments not really mattering, a life of the mind, being taught by people like Herbert Marcuse (the FBI soon forced Brandeis to kick him out) – is so cool! A Brandeis alum recently told me that “Brandeis in the fifties was a different place. You had all these amazing professors, but eventually they retired. They signed up for something revolutionary, but Brandeis stopped trying to Brandeis and started trying to be Harvard”

I can’t wait to read more of Professor Whitfield’s research into this topic. I can’t wait until we* start trying to be Brandeis again.

Continue reading “Brandeis Has an Amazing History”

New Yorker article reveals the history of Louis Brandeis and consulting

Harvard historian Jill Lepore (whose most recent book was co-authored with Brandeis history chair Jane Kamensky) has a great piece in this week’s New Yorker about Louis Brandeis and “scientific management.” As Lepore tells it, scientific management was a peculiar brand of charlatanism peddled by the first generation of business consultants. Supposedly a new way of increasing efficiency, and thereby profit, scientific management placed unreasonable demands on workers and disregarded their humanity and autonomy. Louis Brandeis became a strong supporter of the practice, because he naively felt that increased efficiency would leave workers more time for political activity. The unions, however, felt differently, and Brandeis briefly found himself at odds with workers, for perhaps the only time during his time as The People’s Attorney. From the article:

Modern-day management consulting may be precisely nine-tenths shtick and one-tenth Excel, but that doesn’t explain the appeal of scientific management for Louis Brandeis, who wasn’t easily duped…The man who wrote “The Curse of Bigness” earnestly believed—and plainly, to some degree, he was right—that scientific management would improve the lot of the little guy by raising wages, reducing the cost of goods, and elevating the standard of living. “Of all the social and economic movements with which I have been connected,” Brandeis wrote, “none seems to me to be equal to this in its importance and hopefulness.” Scientific management would bring justice to an unjust world. “Efficiency is the hope of democracy,” he avowed.

It’s rare around here to read a mildly less-than-glowing account of Brandeis’s worker advocacy, so Lepore’s article is worth a read not just because it’s funny and fascinating, but also because it slightly counters the spotless hagiography we tend to receive. Of course, Brandeis’s embrace of this particular questionable scheme hardly diminishes his vast body of accomplishment, but it’s nice to see his human side, and to know that the man with the highest GPA in the history of Harvard Law School was capable of errors in judgment.

Not So Fast: Scientific Management started as a way to work. How did it become a way of life?

Scientific management started as a way to work. How did it become a way of life?