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Lawrence answers questions in web forum

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: News

University President Fred Lawrence answered questions from alumni, parents and students in an online broadcast through the Alumni Association’s Faculty Lecture Forum Thursday evening.

Financial aid and contact with students are two top priorities of his presidency, Lawrence said in a conversation moderated by David Nathan, Director of Communications for Alumni and Development. The forum covered topics of student life, alumni outreach, admissions and Israeli politics.

Lawrence, who will teach a seminar on criminal punishment theory in the fall, said that even as President, he cannot imagine coming to Brandeis and not teaching.

“If I can’t teach during my tenure at Brandeis, it’s like shutting off my oxygen,” he said. “The highest title that the academy has to award is professor.”

With a busy travel schedule and days filled with meetings, Lawrence said he enjoys spending time with students even in casual and informal settings.

When walking to the Faculty Club for lunch he talks to students in the Shapiro Campus Center, and enjoys the time it takes to meet new students. “I walk through the student center and I know full well it’s going to take time,” Lawrence said. “That’s the point.”

Lawrence also said that a major focus of the university will be to provide financial aid to as many students as possible.

He said there will likely be needblind admissions for all of the 9,000 applicants for 850 spots in the class of 2011. “I’m quite confident that we will be able to do that,” he said.

Lawrence, who already met with alumni in Los Angeles and San Francisco, has additional trips planned to New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami. Later in the year, he will also travel abroad to Canada, Israel, England, India, China and Brazil.

When he is traveling, Lawrence said he spends a few hours each day writing and responding to e-mails so that he can stay in touch with events on campus. He said he takes pride in the fact that as of now, although some are forwarded, he reads and responds to his own e-mails.

On campus, he has also spent time meeting with each individual academic departments, and has finished meeting with two-thirds of them.

He described the greatest selling point about Brandeis to be the fact that it combines the advantages of a small liberal arts college and a large research institution.

When recruiting prospective or accepted students, Lawrence said he hopes both parents and students realize the room for growth at Brandeis.

“They’re [prospective students] 17 years old and they’re trying to predict what they’ll be like at 21 or 22,” Lawrence said. “There’s a lot of growing that happens [in college].”

During his recent trip to California, Lawrence said he encountered people asking about the film program at Brandeis. In the coming years, he envisions both a larger film studies and film production program to facilitate increasing interest from perspective students.

When answering questions about Israel, Lawrence explained that Brandeis is recognized as a world leader in scholarship and research on the Middle East. Often Brandeis receives extra attention towards any activities or events related to Israel.

“If we debate issues regarding Israel on this campus, it will get outside attention,” Lawrence said.

For a university loyal to the value of “truth unto its innermost parts,” Lawrence said we should welcome open discussion about Israeli politics, but still recognize “that doesn’t mean anything goes. There are rules of engagement.”

The questions also asked about other aspects of the university, including student life and underage drinking.

Lawrence explained that although Brandeis does not have more problems of underage drinking than other colleges, he believes the best solution is to analyze alcohol use in the full context of student social life and social events on campus.

Last semester, former university president Jehuda Reinharz created an ad-hoc Alcohol Advisory Committee following drinking on campus Oct. 23, 2010 that resulted in nine kids needing to be hospitalized for alcohol intoxication.

“How do you deal with issues about drinking? Give healthier alternatives to students,” he said.

The first weekend of the semester, Lawrence participated as an MC in the “Battle of the Brandeis DJs,” a dance party in Levin Ballroom, which hundreds of students attended.

At one point in the evening, he joined in a freestyle rap battle with Student Union President Daniel Acheampong ’11.

Lawrence said he was glad to find no videos of the battle on YouTube the next morning.