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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Attention over Rose may help Brandeis

Published: February 27, 2009
Section: Opinions

The Rose Art Museum controversy may actually be a blessing for Brandeis. Before you get the wrong idea, let me explain.

No one, the Brandeis administration included, wants to see to the museum closed and the art sold off. No one wants to see Brandeis portrayed negatively in major news publications such as the Boston Globe and the New York Times. Despite the dire situation on campus and the negative nature of the news coverage, there may be some cause for celebration: Brandeis is receiving national attention. A lot of it.

“Big deal,” you may say. “Negative attention is worse than no attention at all.” I beg to differ. While Brandeis is generally recognized and respected in academic circles, many high school students still have no idea that it exists. Many of those who do know of Brandeis know of it as “that Jewish school.” Ivy League institutions have instant name recognition. For one of the top 50 universities in the country, Brandeis is not well known at all.

My friend Jordan Rothman ’09 (also of The Hoot) informed me that he has been receiving a swarm of questions about the Rose when he gives campus tours. Clearly the news is not only important to members of the Brandeis community and those involved in the art world, it is also reaching prospective students. With the eyes of the media so intensely focused on Brandeis a month ago, the attention is still lingering. For instance, on Feb. 20 The New York Times published a piece titled “Why University Museums Matter,” complete with the all too familiar case against Brandeis’ recent decisions. Hopefully Rasky Baerlein, the PR firm hired by Brandeis, will be able to channel all the attention in a manner that ultimately benefits the institution.

Before winter break the Justice criticized the decision to hire a PR firm under the assumption that the Rose Art damage cannot be repaired. That’s a relatively fair assumption, but that doesn’t mean Brandeis was wrong to hire the firm. If the firm can help Brandeis use the recent media coverage to highlight its strengths, then the decision to enlist its services won’t seem so foolish. I was initially irked by the decision to hire the firm, but after considering the matter more carefully, I think it is sensible. The PR firm won’t magically solve Brandeis’ problems with the media, but it can help.

Anyone who has been to campus recently knows that Brandeis is planning for the future. You need look no further than the multiple construction projects that are underway. The science center is nearly complete, the new admissions center is steadily being built, and the Mandel Humanities Center is expected to be completed by fall 2010. Although the construction projects are a source of immediate disruption, they are transforming Brandeis into a more desirable place to live and study. When prospective students visit a college or university, they try and envision themselves living there. The new buildings on campus should help make that easier. New buildings aren’t the only positive change at Brandeis, but they embody the university’s investment in its future.

Of course, improvements to Brandeis cost money. A search of Brandeis’s web pages reveals the large sums of money that have been spent on capital projects. “From 1999 to the present, over $170M in major new construction and renovation projects were completed at Brandeis,” a page updated on Jan. 30 states. Many of these projects have been made possible by generous donations. With the economy ailing, Brandeis can’t expect too many large donations in the near future. Still, there is a bright side. Many investments have already been made.

In addition to investing in infrastructure, the university is also looking to the future by trying to update academic requirements. If Brandeis wants to attract more students, it should be careful not to implement restructuring proposals that radically change the current system. Some of the ideas being considered could potentially scare off students rather than drawn them in. Proposals to add a Business major and a major in Communications, Media, and Society seem very beneficial and feasible. The idea of requiring a “Brandeis Semester” dedicated to service is arguably less so. On one hand, the idea of spending time off campus is appealing. On the other hand, students may not be so keen on being forced off campus for an entire semester (or spending one of their summers fulfilling the requirement). The logistics of the proposal could also be complicated.

Obviously Brandeis isn’t perfect. We all have something we wish to change about it. Some wish to change the social life. Some may be dismayed by housing arrangements. For others, campus dining is the problem. I will be the first one to acknowledge that these are legitimate gripes, but we shouldn’t overlook Brandeis’ potential when we are identifying its flaws.

I am as uncomfortable with the actions of the Brandeis administration as the next student, but I am hopeful that some good will come of the situation. The Rose controversy has already initiated discussions about the core values and mission of Brandeis. Students are actively involving themselves in discussions about the future of the university. These are positive consequences to a bad situation. With any luck the media coverage of the Rose will help peak the interests of more high school students, even if it is for the wrong reasons.