Why is this university different from all other universities? 

Bust of Louis Brandeis

On the first night of Passover, the youngest child at the table asks all those gathered for the seder, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And on this, the eve of the 75th anniversary of the founding of Brandeis University, prospective students and prospective donors might ask, “Why is this university different from all other universities?”

For an answer, one must go back to 1948. A layer of ashes had settled over the breadth of Europe. The second world war was over, but people were still trying to come to grips with the horrors of the Holocaust.

Nor did the end of war bring an end to antisemitism. Not only in Europe, but in the United States. Higher education was especially notorious for its antisemitism. The doors of many colleges and universities were closed to Jews, racial minorities, and women. Those that did accept Jews imposed quotas to limit their numbers.

But the dark cloud over higher education had a silver lining. For it inspired the founding of Brandeis University, named for Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice on the Supreme Court.

Infused with values rooted in the Jews' turbulent history, Brandeis is as much a movement as it is a university. It was the first non-sectarian university founded by the American Jewish community, established to counter antisemitism, racism, and sexism. From its beginning, Brandeis welcomed students of all backgrounds and beliefs.

Black and white photo of Leonard Bernstein conducting at Brandeis. He holds a pencil in his mouth.

In 1952, world-renowned composer Leonard Bernstein founded the University's Festival of the Creative Arts.

As a reflection of the age-old Jewish reverence for learning, Brandeis is also acclaimed for its academic excellence, for its emphasis on intellectual integrity and critical thinking, a key to success in whichever arena graduates choose to enter.

The successful combination of activism and scholar­ship explains how Brandeis became an internationally recognized research university. It explain why Brandeis was invited into the leading association of research universities in the U.S. and Canada, the Association of American Universities, sooner than any other. It explains why just 13 years after its founding, Brandeis was awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter accreditation (a distinction earned by fewer than 10 percent of U.S. colleges and universities). Once again, it did so sooner than any other college or university.

It’s important to note that Brandeis not only welcomed students of all backgrounds and beliefs, but it also welcomed, and continues to welcome, faculty of all backgrounds and beliefs.

In fact, soon after 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 alumnus Thomas Friedman; Nobel Prize winners Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall; historian and alumna Deborah Lipstadt; physicist Stanley Deser; Kavli Prize winner and alumna Eve Marder; father and son Judaic Studies pioneers Nahum and Jonathan Sarna; and academic and activist Pauli Murray. Former First Lady and social reformer Eleanor Roosevelt was an early trustee who played an important role in decisions that shaped the university.

Michael Rosbash in a lab

Michael Rosbash, Brandeis professor and researcher, American geneticist and 2017 Nobel Prize Winner

With the dramatic rise in antisemitism, including on college campuses, Brandeis' founding values are as relevant in 2023 as they were in 1948. Jewish students can feel comfortable knowing they're at a university that has been dedicated to countering antisemitism for seventy-five years, and whose steadfast commitment has been energized by recent events.

Brandeis will continue to be guided by its founding values because we believe they're the bedrock of a just society. How appropriate that the university that's different from all other universities is the university of choice for all those who want to make a difference.

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