Ronald D. Liebowitz inaugurated as Brandeis University’s ninth president

“It is our charge, our opportunity now, to reignite the flame of our mission”

Photo/Mike Lovett

Ronald D. Liebowitz, former president of Middlebury College, was inaugurated the ninth president of Brandeis University on Thursday November 3, 2016. His inaugural address emphasized Brandeis’ Jewish roots and openness to all, as well as its commitment to academic excellence in the liberal arts and world class knowledge-creation from its outstanding faculty. And Liebowitz called for a new era of transparency, decisiveness, and accountability in governance and administration.

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Read Ron Liebowitz's inaugural address 

Photos: Scenes from Brandeis University's 9th Presidential Inauguration

Watch and read Ron Liebowitz's inauguration speech

Christine Ortiz speaks at Brandeis University's 9th Presidential Inauguration

Stephen Donadio '63 speaks at Brandeis University's 9th Presidential Inauguration

Larry Kanarek '76, chair the Board of Trustees, speaks at 9th Brandeis Presidential Inauguration

Provost Lisa Lynch's speech at Brandeis University's 9th Presidential Inauguration

Biography of Ron Liebowitz

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"Brandeis is a young institution, boldly conceived, intent on carrying on the great traditions of learning at the highest levels of rigor and meaning, with a moral conviction for inclusion and justice," Liebowitz said. "In a world challenged by intolerance and ignorance, and burdened by disregard and disdain for learnedness, reason, and inquiry, this university has a special role to play, just as it did when it was founded 68 years ago."
“As it did for Jewish students in 1948,” Liebowitz asserted, “Brandeis should expand educational opportunities to gifted students from groups that have long faced prejudice in American society and ensure an environment in which all students feel respected and supported in their educational pursuits.” Likewise, he emphasized that “students from around the world who identify as Jewish in myriad ways should be able, indeed encouraged, to study, socialize, and thrive at Brandeis no matter their particular ties to Judaism.”
While lauding Brandeis for its exceptional strengths, Liebowitz noted its past administrative and governance challenges. “It is time to declare the university’s 'start-up phase' over and done," he announced, and called for instituting “sustainable operating principles to what is now a complex enterprise."
Calling upon all its constituencies to rally together, Liebowitz spoke of the need to “reevaluate ourselves with a fresh set of eyes and the confidence to be self-critical.” The protests on campus last year, Liebowitz observed, “revealed a deep sense of exclusion and alienation among some students,” and “we must take that sense of disconnectedness seriously. The protest signaled, implicitly, if not explicitly, the need for a review of how we teach, mentor, and advise our students.” While acknowledging that the challenge applies to all of American higher education, Liebowitz summoned the professoriate to “rethink how it does its job” if Brandeis “is to remain committed to creating an inclusive learning environment where students from different backgrounds thrive.”
Liebowitz concluded: “We have a great opportunity before us – an enormous opportunity – to get out in front of some of the big challenges facing higher education and lead, as we did in fighting anti-Semitism in 1948. It is our charge, our opportunity now, to reignite the flame of our mission for a new generation. I ask each of you today to join me in the big task ahead of us and our university.”

In describing the attributes that led the Board of Trustees to recruit and persuade Liebowitz to become Brandeis’ ninth president, board Chair Larry Kanarek ‘76 emphasized that Liebowitz is a “good talker but an even better listener, a strategic thinker, insightful but humble, energetic and warm.”

Brandeis alumnus Stephen Donadio ‘63, the John Hamilton Fulton Professor of the Humanities at Middlebury College, chronicled his own path to Brandeis as a poor Italian kid from Brooklyn who was offered a full scholarship to Brandeis when other elite institutions discouraged him from even applying. Reflecting on the lessons from his transformational journey, Donadio spoke of the extraordinary intellectual energy he discovered at Brandeis when he arrived on campus in 1959, observing that Brandeis’ “meteoric rise to academic excellence is unparalleled” and noted, too, that “the 1960s were invented here.” Donadio asserted that Brandeis possesses an “ethical imperative” that is as relevant today as it was in the generation of its founding.

Provost and former Interim President Lisa M. Lynch, Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy, brought a warm welcome to the new president from all university constituents. Christine Ortiz, the Morris Cohen Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT, challenged Brandeis to set a strong example for all of higher education in tackling challenges ranging from transdisciplinary intellectual collaboration to educational technology, personalized learning, and financial sustainability. She complimented Liebowitz for his optimism and openness to innovation.

The invocation was delivered by Rabbi William G. Hamilton of Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, Mass. The ceremony was enriched by a performance of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms by the Brandeis Chamber Singers and University Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Robert Duff, choral conductor and associate professor of the practice in the department of music. Bernstein was a member of Brandeis’ music department faculty from 1951 to 1956 and received an honorary degree from the University in 1959. The event concluded with benedictions from eight different faith traditions offered by Brandeis students, faculty and staff.

During the luncheon prior to the Inauguration, members of the Brandeis Asian American Task Force presented President Liebowitz with letters requesting that more discussions take place regarding Brandeis offering additional courses in Asian American and Pacific Islander studies. President Liebowitz told the Task Force that their request was important to him and would receive his consideration, and that further conversations would take place soon.

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