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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Religion not required

Published: August 27, 2010
Section: Editorials

Upon appointing Frederick Lawrence the next Brandeis president, Malcom Sherman, chairman of the board of trustees, told The Hoot that Lawrence’s Judaism was “a consideration.”

“Certainly [Lawrence’s religion] made him attractive to the committee and we are happy that he is Jewish,” Sherman said.

It is no surprise to any member of the Brandeis community that religion played a part in the board’s choice of a new president. Since it’s inception in 1948, Brandeis has been in an identity crisis, struggling to realize itself as a secular university with Jewish roots.

While this editorial board recognizes that religion was not the only factor in choosing Lawrence, we have to question whether religion should be a factor at all.

The most prolific and reasonable argument for having a Jewish president is to aid in fundraising for the university. We are in tough economic times and, we have been told on countless occasions, that many donors donate to Brandeis precisely because of the university’s Jewish roots, and that a Jewish president can more aptly connect with donors and solicit gifts.

But a presidential pick should be chosen for his or her resume, personality, ability to connect with students and commitment to social justice. We are confident that any candidate who lives up to Brandeis’ standards in these areas would be a good fit, regardless of religion.

Brandeis’ Jewish roots are not something we would change. We embrace our history. But Brandeis was also founded on pluralism. Requiring the Brandeis President to be Jewish because our university was founded on Jewish values would be akin to requiring the American president to be Protestant because our nation was founded in the Protestant work-ethic.

Just as John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, was able to lead the nation, we are confident that any non-Jewish president could lead the university and connect with donors, even if they happen to be Jewish.

We have nothing against the choice of Lawrence as president, and we look forward to seeing what he can bring to campus. We do, however, object to having a candidate’s faith be subject to scrutiny.

When it comes to picking a president, celebrating Rosh Hashannah shouldn’t be required on the resume.