In a perfect world, there wouldn’t have been a need for Brandeis.

Alas, the world was not perfect in 1948 when Brandeis was founded. During the first half of the twentieth century, hate was a harsh reality. During the two world wars, more than a million Black Americans fought for democracy overseas, yet they were denied its benefits at home. Then there was the matter of antisemitism.

Pencil sketch of Abram SacharPortrait sketch of Abram Sachar, founding president of Brandeis University.

At American universities, Jewish applicants were met with closed doors rather than open arms. According to then-Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, “Where Jews become numerous, they drive off other people.” And those universities that did allow Jews imposed strict quotas to limit their numbers.

There was a need for a university that would serve as a rebuke to the academic establishment. A university that would combat antisemitism, racism, as well as sexism. A university that would welcome students of all backgrounds and beliefs and wouldn’t impose quotas on any race or religion. And in 1948, the Jewish community fulfilled that need by founding Brandeis University. Infused with long-standing Jewish values rooted in the Jews’ turbulent history, Brandeis remains as much a movement as a university.

But the commitment to social justice is just one side of the coin. The other, in accord with the age-old Jewish reverence for learning, is academic excellence. Brandeis’ emphasis on intellectual integrity and critical thinking, a key to success in whichever arena graduates choose to enter, is unrivaled.

Brandeis’ scholarship has been recognized and rewarded. The university annually receives millions of dollars in external funding for research from the likes of NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation. It was invited into the leading association of research universities in the U.S. and Canada, the Association of American Universities, sooner than any other. Just thirteen years after its founding, Brandeis was granted a Phi Beta Kappa chapter – a distinction earned by fewer than ten percent of U.S. colleges and universities. Once again, it did so sooner than any other college or university.

It should be noted that Brandeis not only welcomed students of all backgrounds and beliefs, it also welcomed, and continues to welcome, faculty of all backgrounds and beliefs.

Statue of Louis BrandeisStatue of Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis.

In fact, at its founding, Brandeis became a kind of homeland for Jewish scholars fleeing Europe. Among the eminent teachers and scholars, past and present, are internationally acclaimed composer and conductor, Leonard Bernstein; Pulitzer Prize winners David Hackett Fischer, Eileen McNamara, Yehudi Wyner, and Thomas Friedman; Nobel Prize winners Michael Rosbash, Jeffrey Hall, and alumnus Roderick MacKinnon; philosopher and ABA Silver Gavel winner Anita Hill; historian and alumna Deborah Lipstadt; astrophysicist John Wardle; Kavli Prize winner and alumna Eve Marder; and activist and scholar Pauli Murray. Former First Lady and social reformer Eleanor Roosevelt was an early trustee who played an important role in the decisions that shaped the university (one could make the case that Brandeis put the liberal in liberal arts).

Anita Hill

Anita Hill, Brandeis University professor of social policy, law, and women's and gender studies.

With the dramatic rise in antisemitism, particularly on college campuses, Brandeis’ founding values are as relevant in 2023 as they were in 1948. Brandeis students can feel proud knowing they are at a university that has been dedicated to fighting antisemitism and all forms of hate for seventy-five years, and whose steadfast commitment has been energized by recent events. Of course, not even Brandeis can make the world perfect. But it can make a world of difference.

View Full Print Ad