Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

SUGARMAN: Snyder's brash attack hurts all students

Published: April 15, 2005
Section: Opinions

To Brian Snyder, the Brandeis senior now known campus-wide for his infamous exchange with President Reinharz (published in its entirety within these pages), I would like to say welcome. Welcome to the good fight.

This struggle, which Snyder recently launched himself into with his commencement address email, is as aged as higher education itself. Our generation knows it mostly in terms of the 1970s, where it took the form of sit-ins and public exhibitions of draft card and bra burning.

Today, however, things look much different. In this new century, the constant push for expanded student influence over university affairs takes place more quietly in the offices of administrators and student leaders, in meetings with the Board of Trustees and occasionally at the ballot box. These are the advantages the activists of old have won for todays student methods that deserve to be employed as long as progress is being made.

It is in those places and with those methods that Brians fight has been taking place for years. And while some reactionaries began celebrating his actions almost immediately after they were made public, in actuality his email has dealt a potentially crushing blow to efforts that have been slowly improving student life at Brandeis University.

For years, student leaders have worked hard to win substantial student involvement in what is now the mostly closed-door process of selecting our annual Commencement Speaker. Its a slow process and one that comes with great give and take between our representatives and primarily hesitant administrators. It is not a glorious fight. It is not the fight that will get you the girl. But it is an important one that deserves administrative attention and the involvement of serious students who are willing to put in the long hours it will take to win real changes.

Snyder missed the point, though. Instead of lobbying President Reinharz for increased student participation in the process, he selfishly pushed only for his personal selection. He did not ask, How could you have chosen a speaker without asking me and my classmates for our preference? Instead, he shouted, Why not my guy? And, in doing so, he foolhardily assumed that all students would naturally support his favorites a conclusion for which I would wager many take exception.

But alas, Snyder is certainly more likely to get the girl. For his method of throwing a rock at the teacher was always the one that got you slaps on the back and high fives on the playground. Its one, however, that never got any second grade class more time for recess. And I always wanted more time for recess. Today, I still do.

While some blindly hoist Snyder upon their shoulders, I refuse to do so. His presidential communication reinforced the worst fears of already fearful administrators (those who work to block student advancements) and pushed more student friendly educators (those who welcome some level of student involvement) into the waiting arms of the hardliners. For, on this issue, student activists will be defined in the coming years only by his brash sentiments. The perception being that students would rather have a comedian than a notable jurist, that we express our opinions abrasively, and that those who speak up do so primarily because of deep-rooted loathing for our university. This is not the way real changes are won.

Some will say that it has taken too long and that our student representatives have failed to win or even publicize this long running campaign for student rights. Others will say that Snyders method of spurring public outrage is more effective. And they may be right. But there is a correct way, an effective and lasting method, to encourage students to support and mobilize around an issue. In this case, however, the only lasting effect of Snyders email was demonstrating that our dear President is prone to email related errors. Long-term progress will have to come from those willing to duke it out within the confines of high level administrators offices. I only fear that now those interactions will be longer, more contentious, and less likely to yield substantial student victories.

Rising seniors do have a rare opportunity here and should fight to change the way their commencement speaker is chosen. It will take hard work and long hours of negotiation. And while some may think it easier, faster and more exciting to simply throw a rock at the teacher, remember that it never won anyone more time for kickball.

The winning methods will be less glorious and wont ever get you the girl but theres always dashing good looks for that.