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Lawrence installed as 8th pres: News Analysis: A personal tone

Published: April 1, 2011
Section: Front Page, Top Stories


The tone of President Fred Lawrence’s inaugural address on Thursday symbolized the personality that his earned him the approval of the Brandeis community during the last nine months.

Inauguration is a formal occasion, and Lawrence’s address was full of historical references as well as a general vision for how Brandeis will confront the challenges of a small liberal arts university trying to navigate the waters of a globalized world in the 21st century.

Yet Lawrence’s speech was also full of more informal mentions of not only his presidency but also his personality and the values and family who shaped his career, and his life.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees Malcolm Sherman explained the decision to choose Lawrence from other candidates.

“… A candidate emerged who best embodied the personal, professional and leadership qualities this community sought,” Sherman said at the inauguration on Thursday. “That candidate was Frederick Martin Lawrence.”

While many of his seven predecessors talked at length about the role of a university in society, and compared it to local systems of government in their inaugural addresses, Lawrence stressed the themes of family and the values of mentoring others.

“My parents raised my brothers Phillip and Ted and me to believe that integrity and honesty are the highest values, but, as Albert Einstein said, ‘We are on this earth for the benefit of each other’ and that the hardest problems must be faced with courage, determination, optimism, and of course, a sense of humor,” Lawrence said.

“These are the values that I have striven to live by—as a student, as a lawyer, as a prosecutor, as a professor, and as a dean—and as a son, as a father, as a husband and as a colleague,” he said.

From the video message sent at midnight on New Year Eve’s featuring his wife Kathy and his two children, Miriam and Noah, to his deviation from a prepared speech to thank his family during his inaugural address on Thursday, Lawrence has portrayed the values of family and community as ones that have and will always guide him.

“We draw together the threads of each others’ lives, which is what makes the fabric of the Brandeis community so rich and so extraordinary,” Lawrence said.

Student Union President Daniel Acheampong ’11, to whom Lawrence referred to as “D-Pong” in his speech and joked about his win over Acheampong in a rap battle during the Brandeis Battle of the DJs in January, emphasized not only the professional, but also the friendship he has developed with Lawrence over the past several months.

“As President of the Brandeis undergraduate student body, I bring you welcome and we open our hands and say welcome home.”

While other university presidents gave speeches only a few years after the end of the Holocaust or during the national uproar and student protests against the Vietnam War, Lawrence assumed the presidency during the recovery from a global economic recession in 2008.

He spoke in an optimistic tone and did not address financial challenges facing the university. What he conveyed to the audience of 1,500 Brandeis supporters and community members was both his knowledge of the university’s founding purpose and his willingness to accept the necessary challenges to continue extending its original ideals.

Speaking about the founders of Brandeis, Lawrence said, “and they along with the visionary first President, Abram Sachar, knew that dreams are not the stuff of fairy tales. Dreams are about hard work. And the continuation of that work now falls to us, to build upon their mid 20th century dream – and to dream some dreams of our own.”

To Lawrence, an upholding of the founders’ vision requires a commitment to need-blind admissions, a case he made clear on Thursday, as he had on several other occasions since taking presidency.

As Brandeis enters a new era, Lawrence, and his senior development and administrative team say they will make student financial aid a top priority, and that in the near future, the university is mostly done constructing new buildings.

But what Lawrence’s speech and his first three months as president also reveal are the multiple and endless roles of a university president.

Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro explained the challenges any university president faces.

Schapiro cited the words of the first president of the University of California Berkeley, Clark Kerr: “You are expected my friend, among other things, to be, of course, a friend of the students, a colleague of the faculty, a good fellow with the alumni, a sound administrator of course with the trustees, a good speaker with the public, a spokesman to the press, a scholar in your own right, a [man] of opera and football … a decent human being, a good parent and spouse, an active member of a church or synagogue … and above all you must enjoy traveling in airplanes, eating meals in public and attending ceremonies.”

It was apparent at the ceremonies yesterday that Lawrence was chosen for this position because of his ability to balance these roles all the while remaining approachable.