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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Editorial: Reinharz e-mail too little, too late

Published: January 16, 2009
Section: Opinions

News of Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion ponzi scheme broke in the second week of December. A few days later, we learned that Yeshiva University lost $100 million in the scheme and Tufts University had lost $20 million. Anyone who had been reading the news knew that many of Madoff’s investors were prominent Jewish philanthropists who donated to Jewish charities and organizations. And Dec. 15, the New York Times confirmed many of our fears – Brandeis’ most prominent benefactors, Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro, for whom our campus center, new science center, and new admissions center are named, were victims of the scheme.

Over the course of December, more and more information began to surface about Shapiro and his losses in the Madoff scheme. Papers all across the country, local and prominent alike, reported on the ponzi scheme and Shapiro’s connection. It seemed Brandeis students were learning of the fate of their university from the press rather than the administration.

Indeed, it was not until Jan. 5, nearly a month after the Times and the Boston Globe reported that Shapiro had suffered losses, that university President Jehuda Reinharz sent a campus wide e-mail that mentioned Madoff. He referenced the “Madoff debacle” and the “Madoff aftershock.” He noted the losses of “some of Brandeis’[] most staunch and generous supporters.” He wrote that the financial effects on the university are as of yet unknown.

To his credit, Reinharz acknowledged the financial challenges facing the university and the need to find innovative and creative solutions to budget constraints in his e-mail. But to his detriment, his e-mail failed to fully address the fear surrounding Madoff’s scheme. No one expects him to know precisely how Brandeis’ finances will be affected at this point, but to acknowledge uncertainty in a way that also acknowledges real fear is the mark of a truly compassionate leader.

While, “in the face of adversity, we can also find opportunity,” Reinharz wrote, in the face of adversity, Reinharz’s e-mail did too little, too late.