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Frederick Lawrence next president

Published: August 27, 2010
Section: Front Page


PRESIDENTIAL PICK: Lawrence will serve as the next president.
PHOTO by Max Shay/The Hoot

Frederick Lawrence, dean of George Washington University’s Law School, will replace Jehuda Reinharz as president of Brandeis starting in January, the Brandeis Board of Trustees voted July 8.

The pick of Lawrence as president is the culmination of the seven-month long process which followed Reinharz’s resignation from the post last October. Lawrence will start as President Jan. 1, but will frequent the campus during the fall semester in order to become acquainted with the university and learn from Reinharz before his departure.

Lawrence, who has been dean of GW’s Law School since 2005, said in an interview with The Hoot that he did not apply for the position but was actually approached by the search committee just a few months ago.

Though this is not the first time Lawrence has been contacted by an undergraduate presidential search committee, Lawrence said he was attracted to Brandeis because it is a “research college” and “of course the social justice mission speaks to me personally and to my professional career.”

Indeed, Lawrence’s resume seems well-suited for a school that prides itself on a commitment to social justice.

Lawrence currently serves on the board of the Anti-Defamation League, and is the author of “Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law.” Additionally, earlier in his career Lawrence was named an assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York where he became chief of the Civil Rights Unit. Lawrence also taught civil rights law at Boston University School of Law from 1988 through 1996 when he became the school’s associate dean for academic affairs.

Brandeis Chairman of the board of trustees Malcolm Sherman told The Hoot that Lawrence was recommended to the committee, which was impressed with Lawrence’s resume. Sherman did not remember who recommended Lawrence to the committee, saying that most people the committee considered were recommended and did not apply, but the search firm Storbeck/Pimentel did assist in the search process.

Former President of the Student Union Andy Hogan ’11, who was a non-voting member on the search committee, said Lawrence was “impressive first on paper and then in person.

“We were impressed with his work in relation to Brandeis’ social justice mission and then, when you meet him, he’s also an extremely nice guy in general,” Hogan said.

Hogan served as the student voice on the committee and attended meetings via conference call after school was out for the summer. Hogan also said he was flown into Brandeis from his home in San Diego, California when necessary in order to assure a student voice in the process.

Though Lawrence’s administrative experience lies solely in graduate school, he is confident he will be able to adapt to the undergraduate structure.

“The specifics are different. For example, at GW Law we didn’t have a large residence life program,” he said. “But the bigger picture of being a leader and what your leading style is doesn’t change.”

Lawrence said he would apply this leadership style to any conflict he encounters at Brandeis, including academic and budget cuts, the likes of which the university experienced just this spring.

“In any situation you have to understand all the sides of an issue and communicate. You can’t solve all problems with communication, but you can solve a lot of problems,” he said. “You won’t get everyone to agree with you, but they need to understand where you are coming from.”

One such conflict Lawrence may encounter while at Brandeis is that of The Rose Art Museum. Though the university announced in late May that it had tabled discussions of art sale and will instead concentrate on “non-sale options,” the lawsuit filed against the university is set to be tried this December.

When asked how he valued arts in education, Lawrence replied, “I am an amateur singer, the arts is part of my life and has been part of my education,” adding that his daughter has a Master’s of Fine Arts from University of Michigan.

Lawrence has no connection to the university and told The Hoot that he has not visited the university at all during the selection process. He did say, however, that he has long been a friend of the outgoing Reinharz and that while he was a professor at Boston University School of Law, he participated in a mock trial with Reinharz. At the trial, which took place around the Jewish holiday of Purim, Lawrence prosecuted Haman–who, according to Jewish teachings attempted to kill the Jews of Persia in 423 B.C.E.–while Reinharz played the role of Mordechai.

Malcolm Sherman, Chairman of the Brandeis Board of Trustees said Lawrence’s Judaism was “a consideration” at a school that self-identifies as a sectarian university with Jewish roots but “it was not an absolute necessity.

“Certainly [Lawrence’s religion] made him attractive to the Committee and we are happy that he is Jewish, but that was not the only factor,” Sherman said.

More important to the committee was Lawrence’s resume of social justice which, Sherman said, “at Brandeis is not just a cliche but something the university deeply believes in as a core value.”

As a lawyer, Lawrence said he has always admired Justice Louis D. Brandeis, the university’s namesake, even before he was considered for the position.

Indeed, in a more than nine-minute long interview on a YouTube talk show from last year, Lawrence quotes Justice Brandeis within the first two minutes.

“Not only did [Brandeis] have a commitment to social change, but he also had a wonderful career on the Supreme Court,” he said. “His rulings are still fresh. His thoughts on free speech, big business, all of that still speaks to us today.”

Referring to July’s confirmation hearings of Solicitor General Elena Kagan, who would fill Justice Brandeis’ seat on the supreme court if confirmed, Lawrence said, “I guess there’s just a lot of Brandeis in the air right now.”