April 12, 2018
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
I want to convey some personal thoughts beyond an administrative update or general announcement following Monday’s open town hall meeting.
I have been thinking of little else Brandeis-related since Monday’s meeting. As dismayed and disturbed as I was when I sent out the two announcements last week about the situation with our former men’s basketball coach, I was notably more troubled after listening to members of the community share their views, their great frustrations, and their hurt.
I had stated in my email messages last week that we had let our students down and failed to live up to our university’s claimed values. I identified our opaque procedures to report grievances, and pledged to review them and to find out where we failed with the aid of independent, experienced lawyers who had no ties to the university and would therefore be able to offer a dispassionate assessment of our policies, procedures, and where things went wrong.
Yet the town hall revealed much more than “process issues.” The town hall revealed the depth of the human fractures in our community, largely due to the inability or unwillingness of individuals to recognize and understand personal biases and attitudes, and how they affect our students, faculty, and staff of color disproportionately. This has been an issue, as noted many times by town hall speakers, for decades, and yet here we are.
This must change, and pursuing that change must be one of my administration’s top priorities — to make Brandeis a truly inclusive, welcoming place for all its members. This will start with me, personally, and my senior administrative colleagues; we will undertake training on issues related to racism, sexism, inclusion, and inequality. Nothing short of respect for and openness to all in our community should be acceptable.
Like many of the students with whom I have spoken since I arrived at Brandeis in July 2016, I came here because I was inspired by the values upon which the university was created just 69 years ago. Those values — rooted in the rejection of anti-Semitism and bigotry — are as relevant today as they were in 1948. And they are arguably more important now given the intensely polarized state of American society.
The independent investigation now underway will provide useful information on the shortcomings of our procedures related to filing grievances and of institutional culture. But we need, also, to learn how best to elevate a community’s collective consciousness related to racism and prejudice, including offensive behavior born out of ignorance and an unwillingness to understand or see another’s being.
In the coming weeks and months, with the assistance of both on-campus and external advice, I will announce a series of initiatives aimed at making Brandeis more inclusive and welcoming to all the members of our community. Some of these measures will be small, others larger, but taken together, they will give us a greater chance to bring about the changes our community needs and deserves.
In the meantime, please know this: my door is open. You have my email address. I want to hear from you.