Faculty, alumni remember Prof. Lawrence Fuchs
An American Studies pioneer, a giving mentor, a champion of social justice
Former colleagues and students this week remembered longtime professor Lawrence Fuchs as an intellectual giant whose accomplishments in and out of the classroom were matched only by the outsized impact he had in shaping Brandeis’ core values.
Fuchs, the Meyer and Walter Jaffe Professor of American Civilization and Politics, died on March 17 at the age of 86 at his home in Canton. He was a longtime resident of Weston.
Fuchs began his Brandeis career in 1952, while still a doctoral student at Harvard. He retired 50 years later, having established himself as a renowned authority in the emerging field of American studies, a giving mentor to students and fellow faculty members and a champion of social justice and community service.
“I recall Larry Fuchs as a vital presence on this campus,” said Provost Steve A.N. Goldstein ’78, MA ’78. “He was the living embodiment of our commitment to combining theory with practice. He helped form the ethos of this young university during his 50 years on the faculty. We are all greatly in his debt.”
Fuchs, who earned his bachelor’s degree at New York University in 1950 and his PhD from Harvard in 1955, began his Brandeis career in the Department of Politics. He founded the American Studies Department in 1970 and served as its chair for more than 25 years. He also was dean of the faculty and faculty representative to the Board of Trustees. Fuchs received an honorary degree from Brandeis upon his retirement, joining a distinguished group of professors who have earned that recognition.
“Larry exemplified the rare capacity to balance and reconcile the values of friendship and family with the moral imperative to repair the larger world,” said longtime friend and colleague Steve Whitfield, PhD’72, the Max Richter Professor of American Civilization. “He was both admired and loved. He possessed an exceptional combination of emotional empathy and political effectiveness.”
Fuchs authored 10 books over a span of nearly 40 years, starting with “The Political Behavior of American Jews” in 1955. His seminal work, published in 1991, was “The American Kaleidoscope: Race, Ethnicity and the Civic Culture.” He was a popular teacher and his courses were often oversubscribed. He taught a seminar on American politics with Brandeis Trustee Eleanor Roosevelt in 1959 and 1960.
In 1961, he literally left behind his work to conduct research in the field, taking a two-year leave from Brandeis to lead the first Peace Corps unit in the Philippines under Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver. His experience later became a book, “Those Peculiar Americans: The Peace Corps and American National Character.”
“He not only exemplified the Brandeis spirit of connecting the highest degree of scholarship with making a direct difference in the world, he was one of the early faculty who helped establish the Brandeis values of academic excellence and social justice that have endured for decades,” said Daniel Terris, P ’08, P ’11, P ’12, P ’15, the director of the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life.
Fuchs left Brandeis again in 1979 for two years, accepting an offer to serve as executive director of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy under President Jimmy Carter. Working with Senators Ted Kennedy and Alan Simpson, he helped draft complex bipartisan legislation that led to the first major reform of U.S. immigration policy in 20 years.
Fuchs also founded the Commonwealth Service Corps in Massachusetts and served on the National Advisory Board of the Commission on Law and Social Action of the American Jewish Congress. He was active with the Massachusetts Congress on Racial Equality, the United World Federalists and the Mexican-American Legal and Education Defense Fund.
At Brandeis, Fuchs built close, enduring relationships with students and fellow professors alike. It was not unusual for him to stay in touch with students for years – even decades – after they had graduated. He mentored junior faculty and made them feel part of the Brandeis community.
“He was very sensitive to the human dynamic and the Brandeis family,” Terris said. “He was not only a teacher and a scholar, but someone who wanted to help the ‘family’ thrive by paying the closest attention he could to his students and his colleagues.”
Fuchs served as thesis adviser to Robin Sherman ’83, offering suggestions and guidance for her project on children’s educational television. Three decades earlier, Fuchs had led a discussion section for an American civilization course in which her mother, Fellow Barbara (Cantor) Sherman ’54, P’83, was enrolled.
“He was wonderful, and genuinely cared for his students,” Robin said. “He went above and beyond what you would expect from a professor.”
Fuchs arranged for Michael Bien ’77 and Jane Kahn ’77, who took several courses with him, to spend the spring semester of their junior year taking classes in the American Studies Department at the University of Hawaii. They were interested in the American immigrant experience, but their study had been limited to European immigration. In Hawaii, they immersed themselves in the Asian and Pacific Islander immigrant culture.
“It was less about going to the library and reading than experiencing and witnessing a culture,” Bien said. “It was a life-changing experience.”
Bien and Kahn, who later married, stayed in touch with Fuchs for many years after graduation, and exchanged letters in the last couple of months after a gap of about 10 years.
“I treasure it very much that we had a chance to communicate before he died,” said Bien, who works with his wife, a fellow attorney, at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld in San Francisco. “Jane and I had a nice exchange with him.”
Gifts in his honor may be made to the Larry Fuchs Fund to support the American Studies Program, at Brandeis University, 415 South St., Mailstop 122, Waltham, MA 02453 or online.
Larry’s wife of 42 years, Betty Corcoran Hooven Fuchs, died late last year. He leaves his brother, Victor; four daughters, Janet Fuchs, Frances Fuchs, Naomi Fuchs and Carol Hooven Byrne; three sons, Michael Hooven, Fred Hooven and John Hooven; and nine grandchildren.
A public memorial service is planned on campus at 10:30 a.m., April 21, in Sherman Function Hall in the Hassenfeld Conference Center.