A Center of Attention

Thanks to the generosity of the Mandel Foundation, Brandeis opens the doors on a $22.5 million facility that signals increased attention to the centrality of the humanities in higher education.

Mike Lovett

The much-anticipated Mandel Center for the Humanities, made possible by a $22.5 million gift from the Mandel Foundation — led by Mandel family members Jack, Joseph, trustee Barbara and Morton, P’73 — opened its doors to students and faculty this fall as the first classes were held in the gleaming four-story building.

The Mandel Center features a large multipurpose space; a 90-seat theater and lecture hall; a 48-seat, tiered classroom; two 24-seat seminar rooms; a reading room; and a roof garden. The building also includes offices and open-office workstations and connects to the Olin-Sang building to create a renovated Mandel Quad (formerly called the North Academic Quad).

A reflection of the Mandel family’s commitment to a liberal arts education grounded in literature, language and philosophy, the Mandel Center is designed to restore prestige to the humanities and serve as a model for other colleges and universities.

“Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Mandel Foundation, the Mandel Center for the Humanities gives us the opportunity to re-envision and re-energize this foundational component of Brandeis,” says director Ramie Targoff, professor of English. “The center provides our campus with a new, beautiful home for interdisciplinary events — classes, lectures, conferences and films, as well as ordinary conversations — that will be shared among faculty, graduate students and undergraduates.”

Already, Targoff says, humanities faculty members are taking advantage of the new facility to create innovative learning opportunities for Brandeis students and to enhance interactions among departments. This term, for example, Susan Lanser, professor of English, women’s and gender studies, is teaming up with history professor Jane Kamensky to teach a National Institute for the Humanities–funded course on London in the 18th century. In addition, a new luncheon symposium will allow one humanities teacher each month to present current research to colleagues. Also in the pipeline are a series of films on Shakespeare in the Globe, featuring Indian, Chinese, Russian and German adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, with faculty members leading discussions. A joint program with the Rose Art Museum will include a film by South African artist William Kentridge and a lecture by his colleague, Jane Taylor.

The Mandel Center will be dedicated on October 26 in a program featuring Princeton history professor Anthony Grafton.

“I care about people being familiar with the great ideas,” says Morton Mandel, a college English major and chair and CEO of the Mandel Foundation. “We felt that an investment in the humanities and liberal arts would enhance the likelihood that people going through Brandeis would understand what the word ‘humanity’ means.”

Over the years, the Mandel family has generously supported Brandeis through the establishment of the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, the Mandel Chair in Jewish Education, the Barbara and Morton Mandel Endowed Graduate Fellowship in the Humanities, and the Barbara and Morton Mandel Endowed Graduate Fellowship in English and American Literature.

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