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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Lawrence installed as 8th pres: Lawrence advocates liberal arts curriculum

Published: April 1, 2011
Section: Front Page

Photo by Nafiz “Fizz” Ahmed/The Hoot

University President Fred Lawrence promoted the practicality and purpose of a liberal arts education in his inaugural address on Thursday afternoon inside the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.

“Let us commit at every opportunity to reject the false dichotomy between so-called practical or trade-directed education on the one hand and liberal arts on the other,” Lawrence said to an audience of more than 1,500 students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and friends. “Because I believe with all my heart that a true liberal arts education is the most practical education there is.”

In a society where more people question whether a liberal arts education is useful in finding post-graduation employment, Lawrence said that the universal skills students learn at Brandeis will help them succeed not just in their 20s, but for their entire careers.

He admitted that although the future of the workforce is uncertain, jobs will always require the skills to use knowledge, analyze, solve problems and communicate with others.

“The acquisition of these skills is precisely what a liberal arts education is about,” Lawrence said. “To learn only the skills of immediate relevance is to fill one’s hands with moonlight—and the morning will come.”

Lawrence, who officially took office as the eighth president of Brandeis on Jan. 1, described about Brandeis as unique because it is “the only non-sectarian, non-religious university of higher learning that is deeply rooted in the Jewish community.” He reminded the audience about the three “rocks” of Brandeis: non-discrimination, liberal arts and sciences and social justice.

Brandeis today has students from 116 different countries as well as students that represent 17 different religions, but Lawrence also said that economic diversity of the student body is a crucial value from the university’s founding to uphold.

“To maintain and enhance the diversity of our community, we must strengthen the resources necessary to allow us to honor the commitment that we have made to need-blind admissions,” Lawrence said. “And I tell you today that I am deeply committed to that effort.”

Citing the opening of a Phi Betta Kappa chapter in 13 years and admittance into the American Association of Universities less than 40 years after its founding, Lawrence credited the university’s success to its merging of a research university with a small liberal arts college.

Lawrence referenced the 24 hour musical, the university’s response to the Westboro Baptist Church visit and a typical Friday evening on campus as examples of what community values mean to the Brandeis family.

In addition to challenging alums and trustees to serve as role models, Lawrence told students to “find a mentor who inspires you” and “be a mentor for others.”

He asked that faculty go beyond the specific facts or techniques of any academic subject.

“At the end of each term, ask yourself: is there a student who some day will say that I changed his life?” Lawrence said.

As part of his vision for the university, Lawrence said he plans to broaden Brandeis’ influence and connections throughout the globe, specifically in countries like India, Israel and China.

Lawrence said that his life and career have been inspired from the lessons of his family, including from his mother, who was the first in her family to attend a full time college.

“She gave me the best words of advice I ever received as a teacher, dean and now as a president,” he said. “’Remember’ she said, ‘each one of them is somebody’s kid.’”

“I dedicate myself, with every fiber of my being, to guide, support and nurture this great university,” Lawrence said. “Brandeis has always been about community—the Brandeis family—and now more than ever we draw together as a family to chart our course in the years ahead.”

Lawrence, who thanked his predecessor Jehuda Reinharz for his leadership as president from 1994-2010, received praise from students, alumni, trustees and friends before delivering the inaugural address.

“United with President Lawrence, there’s nothing out of reach for the Brandeis of tomorrow,” said Allen Alter ’71, President of the Alumni Association.

Ralph D. Gants, Associated Justice on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts spoke about the history of Brandeis and the Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis, for whom the university is named after.

“Louis Brandeis was Boston’s Benjamin Franklin in the breadth and enduring nature of his accomplishments,“ Gants said. “He gave birth to the notion that our Constitution includes a right of privacy, which became the legal foundation for the right of a woman to control her own body and the rights of each of us to love whom we choose.”

After reflecting on the history, of Brandeis, Lawrence offered a vision for the future.

“Let us right now pledge to each other to keep our aim high indeed,” Lawrence said. “Together, there is literally no limit to what we can achieve—we are limited only by our imagination—at this wonderful city on this wonderful hill.”