Mandels, Reinharz make eloquent case for humanities at center opening

The Mandel Center for the Humanities rises: A story in pictures by university photographer Mike Lovett

Morton Mandel, whose family foundation's gift of $22.5 million made possible construction of the new Mandel Center for the Humanities, told a packed auditorium of faculty, students, trustees and staff at the elegant new building's dedication October 26, that he was "blown away twice" on the day before the opening ceremonies.

"It is a thing of beauty beyond being a facility, a tool that will improve education on this campus," he said. "I am inhaling the refined excitement, the quiet elegance, all the fine detail.... The building itself is awesome to me beyond what I expected -- and I expected a lot."

But, Mandel said, a bigger surprise came at lunch that day with a "dozen or so of the humanities faculty, who said that they were different because of this building -- not because of the offices, not because of the beauty."

Addressing Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe, he said: "Some of the members of your faculty who had been here for years hadn't met other members" of the faculty."

That drew a generous round of laughter from the audience, even as Mandel added that he was joking.  In fact, many of the faculty who have moved into the new building say it greatly enhances their work because it engenders contact and conversation of a sort many found difficult to achieve previously in scattered locations around the campus.

"The building is only full when these wonderful faculty people are in it practicing their craft," Mandel said, "and the idea that they would practice it better because of the building was a wonderful surprise."

Morton Mandel, his wife Barbara, and his brothers Jack and Joseph are the founders of the Mandel Foundation, which has been a generous supporter of Brandeis. Before the decision to create the new humanities center, they established the Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education, the Mandel Chair in Jewish Education and the Barbara and Morton Mandel Endowed Graduate Fellowship in English and American Literature.

The $22.5 million grant is the largest ever made by the foundation, and one of the largest ever made to the humanities.

Barbara Mandel, a member of the Brandeis Board of Trustees, thanked members of the university community, the architectural firm and staff of the foundation for their efforts, saying "you not only did it, you did it with a style and a grace....The people who are working here and who are learning here have a wonderful new way to work and learn."

In a flash of Mandel humor similar to that her husband showed in banter with President Jehuda Reinharz, she told the crowd she was thanking: "I will remember everyone who was here today -- and I also will remember those who didn't come. I will let them know tomorrow." After the laughter subsided, she added that she does not bear grudges long.

Reinharz, who will become president of the Mandel Foundation when he steps down as president of Brandeis at the beginning of 2011, said that the Mandel gift was critically important because of social, demographic and economic trends that are attracting students to fields other than the humanities, because cutbacks are limiting opportunities in the humanities and because many private funders have cut support for education and "the humanities are suffering disproportionately."

"Without the study of the humanities, our own humanity is diminished," Reinharz said, adding that the new building sends a clear messages that "the humanities are important at Brandeis, architecture is important at Brandeis, beauty is important at Brandeis."

None of the Mandels "are people who just write big checks -- but thank God they do,"  he said. "They are people who have the values, ability and passion to change the world."

Morton Mandel added, to sustained applause from faculty and students, "This building... and all of you will change the world."

The Mandel Center for the Humanities will stress the cultural and intellectual importance of studying fields such as literature, language and philosophy. Among other initiatives, the new center will create new interdisciplinary undergraduate courses, offering opportunities for undergraduates to participate in research on interdisciplinary topics through research internships, and organizing special local, national and international conferences and events.

The new building includes a 90-seat theater and lecture hall; a 48-seat, tiered classroom; two 24-seat seminar rooms, a reading room; a large, multi-purpose space and a roof garden. It also includes faculty offices and open-space workstations.

Categories: General, Humanities and Social Sciences

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