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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

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Published: October 30, 2009
Section: Editorials

The November issue of Harper’s Magazine, which came out last week, features an article about Brandeis entitled “Voodoo Academics: Brandeis University’s hard lesson in the real economy,” which asserts that the university’s current financial problems are the result of overspending on capital projects rather than last September’s Wall Street meltdown.

The magazine claims that Brandeis has been “living beyond its means,” financing an “endless” array of construction projects on credit; all claims the university has decried as wholly false.

Aside from using completely erroneous statistics, the article fails to attribute any of its claims to a university administrator, communications representative, or even a campus publication. No doubt this article represents journalism at its lowest.

It goes without saying that the claims made in Harper’s Magazine are damaging to our reputation. Our good name allows us to attract students, professors, and donors, without which no university can function. And after a string of bad publicity about The Rose Art Museum, our name has been dragged through enough mud.

That said, President Jehuda Reinharz’s decision to look into legal action against the magazine is ill-advised. Libel suits are notoriously difficult to win because the burden of proof is so great. A simple conspiracy theory is not enough to prove actual malice.

Even if, by some miracle, the university were able to prove actual malice, it would only be a pyrrhic victory given all the time and money that such a case would require. Moreover, involving ourselves in yet another court case only proves us excessively litigious.

In this situation, to defend our good name, we must take to the pages of Harper’s Magazine with letters to the editor, not to the docket.