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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Intro to Law(rence)

Published: August 27, 2010
Section: Opinions

New Prez: Brandeis President Appointee Frederick Lawrence greets first years as they move into Deroy Residence Hall in Massel Quad. Like his ‘fresh’ counterparts, this will also be Lawrence’s first year on campus.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

Brandeis Presidential-appointee Frederick Lawrence smiled at the nervous and excited first-years as he moved from room to room in Deroy Residence Hall while first- years crammed personal belongings into their new homes. This was, after all, the start of the same long and life-changing journey for him too.

As music blasted from one end of the hallway, his wife, Kathy, and son, Noah, also greeted students and their parents. Lawrence looked like he belonged.

In between all of the handshakes and conversations with first-years, he remarked on his family’s background in teaching. His mother, two of his grandparents, his wife and his brother have all been teachers, just like him.

“There’s a lot of teachers in my blood … it’s a family profession in a way, “ Lawrence said.

After serving as a professor and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at The Boston University School of Law in the 1990s, Lawrence became Dean of The George Washington University School of Law.

But to understand Lawrence is to know him as more than just a teacher or a dean or an administrator. Prior to his time at GW, Lawrence practiced law in a private firm, Dwyer & Collora, LLP. In the 1980s, he also served as a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and he currently sits on the board of the Anti-Defamation League.

His interest in law stemmed from a desire to succeed, but also to improve society and the world.

“Lawyers were involved in changing a lot of the laws of how we constitute ourselves in society, and so I was drawn to the exciting opportunities to be able to do well [and] to do good,” he said.

“The transition from assistant U.S. attorney to academia is not as much as you’d think, because a government lawyer doesn’t take a side,” Lawrence said. “A government lawyer is trying to get the right result, the result that makes the most sense.”

As a practicing Jew, Lawrence said he believes that his role at the university is identical to his personal experience with religion.

“I’ve been an observant, practicing Jew my whole adult life, but at the same time that’s not my profession,” he said.

At Brandeis, he plans to draw from his Jewish faith just as he has in his previous careers. While he believes Judaism, along with other religions, has a role to play in people’s lives, he says it should only be to include people.

“It’s an enormous plus for the community because it gives us a great basis and it is something that can be used to broaden out into the community. So it’s not a way to exclude anybody. It’s a way to include all people, that’s the first thing.”

With an entourage, including Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer and Senior Vice President of Communications Andrew Gully, escorting him around the dorms at his new home, Lawrence recognized that much of his time during the next few months will be just as busy as his past Sunday morning. While preparing for his start as president on Jan. 1, he will also be busy traveling down to D.C. to wrap up his career at GW Law.

Beyond law and teaching, Lawrence said he likes to spend time hikin, and will enjoy climbing the New England mountains, with Kathy. If he’s not on the mountains he can be found reading, but his most exciting hobby is singing.

Although he is rather unknown on campus, that will surely change once the school year begins. Lawrence is no stranger to students and their mission at Brandeis.

According to Lawrence, “Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall said that a lawyer is either something of a social engineer or something of a social parasite.”

At Brandeis, Lawrence hopes to be the former.