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More on Brandeis and Carter:

I've just come upon a rather remarkable essay by Prof. Harry Mairson of Brandeis University. Mairson was the primary force in pushing for Jimmy Carter to visit Brandeis, an event covered previously on this blog. The Carter visit created great controversy at Brandeis, and, along with more general controversy over the relationship between the Jewish community and Brandeis, was the subject of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education story.

Back to the Mairson essay: in it, he decries attachment to Jewish tradition and defends assimilation in remarkably unapologetic, even offensive, terms. How unapologetic? Mairson writes, "It's a shame that they're not making Jews like Felix [Mendelsohn, who was baptized and lived as a Christian] any more." Bizarrely, honoring Brandeis's Jewish heritage, according to Mairson, means "being a good theoretical computer scientist, ... doing a good job teaching, ... interacting with students, and .. getting grant funding." Those are all fine things, but what does that have to do with "Jewish?" Even Judaic studies, a secular, what might even say assimilationist, academic approach to Jewish history, religion, and culture, is "too Jewish" for Mairson, who decries the fact that Brandeis has a well-funded, influential, Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department. Not to mention that he appears offended that an increasing number of Jewish Day School graduates are attending Brandeis (Orthodox Jews, according to Mairson, are not "diverse.")

All of this is a long way of saying that despite the pretense that the Carter visit was about "tolerance" and "academic freedom," it's more likely that it was an intentionally provocative act intended to harm, or even sever, the relationship between Brandeis and the Jewish community. That may or may not be a good thing (as I've noted previously, I think that there are much more worthy Jewish causes to donate to, if that's what you are after), but it conflicts with the self-righteousness displayed by Mairson and his allies on the faculty.

Moreover, as I've noted previously, the self-proclaimed defenders of academic freedom at Brandeis have still, to my knowledge, not said a word about Brandeis including the politicized concept of "social justice" in its mission statement. President Jehuda Reinharz has made Brandeis more of an officially "Jewish" institution (though the percentage of Jewish students has decreased), at least when soliciting donors, but even more so he has made it more an of an officially "liberal" institution. Funny how only one these maneuvers raises the hackles of Mairson and other faculty.

UPDATE: I'd be curious to know how many of the Brandeis professors who were intent on inviting Carter to campus were among those who protested the university's plan to award Jeane Kirkpatrick an honorary degree in 1994, on a purely ideological basis.

Alex R:
Without commenting on the controversy caused by the Carter visit, I would make the rather obvious point that there is a rather large difference between *inviting someone to campus* and *awarding someone an honorary degree*.

An invitation to campus does not constitute a direct endorsement, while an honorary degree certainly does.
3.22.2007 3:45pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Giving someone an honorary degree does NOT constitute endorsement of their specific political views, but can be awarded based on academic distinction and service to the community, both of which Kirkpatrick had. If giving someone an honorary degree does constitute such endorsement, than every major liberal arts university has violated its commitment to academic neutrality by giving honorary degrees primarily (sometimes almost exclusively) to folks on the left.
3.22.2007 3:53pm
MnZ (mail):
Kirkpatrick will never be forgiven for being this right:

At the moment there is a far greater likelihood of progressive liberalization and democratization in the governments of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile than in the government of Cuba; in Taiwan than in the People's Republic of China; in South Korea than in North Korea; in Zaire than in Angola; and so forth.


Words written in 1979...and only Zaire and Angola are even arguable.
3.22.2007 3:54pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Admittedly, Reinharz has expressed political motivations re at least one commencement speaker, http://volokh.com/posts/1146574087.shtml, but the Kirkpatrick invitation was pre-Reinharz.
3.22.2007 3:55pm
Anderson (mail):
Very mysterious, when inviting a FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

... who is also a NOBEL LAUREATE

... is *really* a dig at the "Jewish community."
3.22.2007 4:03pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Actually, except as a trade school, hasn't the Academy pretty much passed its 'sell-by' date? The intellectual life of the World now takes place on the web and the 'Jewishness' (or not) of Brandeis is just unimportant.
3.22.2007 4:05pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Anderson, have you heard of "context?"
3.22.2007 4:10pm
Steve:
Isn't it interesting how blacks who don't want to fully assimilate into society are scary and dangerous, and Mexicans who don't want to fully assimilate are reconquistas, yet "assimilationist" is an epithet as applied to American Jews?

I don't have much love for folks like Mairson who try to tell other Jews how much attachment they should feel towards Jewish tradition and community; nor am I enamored with the sort of people who spit when they say "assimilationist."
3.22.2007 4:20pm
velveltravis (mail):
Now that I have read "The Book" I feel pity for our aging former president. He followed the State Department's nativist game and seems angry that the "stiffnecked Jews" would not do what he wanted them to do. And now (with Arab money flowing into the Carter Center) he whores for his benefactors.
As to Brandeis...I don't give them money any more than I give money to the Ku Klux Klan.
And who was the nit who hired Mairston?
3.22.2007 4:23pm
Richard Nieporent (mail):
Anderson, we are not deaf, you do not have to shout.

Yes, Carter is a Nobel Laureate and so is Arafat. The Nobel Peace prize has little or nothing to do with peace and everything to do with politics.
3.22.2007 4:24pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Steve, my experience at Brandeis was that there is a certain group of Jews who think every minority group should not be assimilationist and proudly retain its own culture except Jews. If you read Mairson's essay, you will likely conclude that he is all for diversity and multiculturalism--for everyone else.
3.22.2007 4:28pm
Pantapon Rose (mail):
I think much of the liberal arts academia is strongly influenced by trends in Europe, which many in that area of the academy views as more cultured, etc. And many Europeans really do seem to believe that Israel is the source of all their Islamic problems. Zionism is now viewed as a relic of imperialism. And the PC narrative makes no moral distinction between democracies and other forms of government in other cultures. So Israel,the most liberal and egalitarian country in the Middle East,is an "apartheid state".
The campaign against Israel and the rising tide of antisemitism are two faces of the same coin, so it's not surprising that violent attacks on Jews just last year reached record highs in some European countries. The Jews are different, so they must assimilate for the greater good, just as Israel must make its sacrifice for the greater good. Anyone who's studied the rise of National Socialism can spot the symptoms, the dehumanization of the Jews, the big lies about Jewish control of this and that, from the banks to the media. Jews above all else are the other.

And perhaps our mistake is that we viewed Europe's antisemitism backwards. Europe indulged in their antisemitic fantasies until they were defeated in war. We assumed then that there could be some change in their attitudes toward the other. But, what if the post-war period was just a happy interlude, when antisemitism was so discredited by Hitler and rendered taboo as a result of defeat. That interlude is now over, and maybe the Europeans are reverting to form. Remember that in Hitler's Germany, the rise of antisemitism was accompanied by the surrender of citizens' freedoms to the state, as is happening with the EU, and which is, after all, the essence of totalitarianism.
3.22.2007 4:35pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Prof. Bernstein:

I am not saying Kirkpatrick should not have received an honorary degree, but I do see a difference between inviting someone to speak and giving someone an honorary degree. You don't have to agree with the speaker to think it might be a good idea to hear his views, but an award seems to connote approval, in some fashion.

I think inviting Carter was fine, so he could explain himself and hear criticisms of his views, both of which happened (from what I have read).

My own criticism of Kirkpatrick is not that her famous political science thesis was wrong (she wrote in the 1970s about how right-wing dictators were more likely to change than totalitarian regimes, so it was okay to support the former), it is that many of her foreign policy initiatives caused our country to side with very immoral people.
3.22.2007 4:55pm
Pantapon Rose (mail):
Canadian anti-Semitism at an all-time high:

having trouble posting the link, but the article is currently at jpost.com
3.22.2007 5:09pm
Michael B (mail):
Mairson might come to terms with Ottolenghi.

Too, the type of assimilationist interests being expressed today, by Mairson and others, has a proximate analog more in left of center anti-assimilationist themes during the 30's and previously than in the more status quo assimilationist themes of that era.
3.22.2007 5:26pm
Peter B:
Mendelssohn, not Mendelsohn.
3.22.2007 5:37pm
Andy Freeman (mail):
> it is that many of her foreign policy initiatives caused our country to side with very immoral people.

The actual alternatives were such saints....
3.22.2007 5:37pm
r78:
As always its sort of interesting to peek in on one of these posts to see what a teensy tiny world some people live in.

I bet there are probably about 6 billion people in the world who haven't even worried for one second about the propriety of inviting President Carter to some 2nd rate American University. Is it because they worry about more important things? Or because they don't realize the global importance of Carter's speaking schedule? I wonder
3.22.2007 5:46pm
yankev (mail):
For the viewpoint that assimilation does not staunch, and may encourage, antisemitisim, see
3.22.2007 5:57pm
yankev (mail):
I'm not sure what happened to the link I tried to post just now.
http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/121893
3.22.2007 5:58pm
Anderson (mail):
As always its sort of interesting to peek in on one of these posts to see what a teensy tiny world some people live in.

Actually, "Have you heard of 'context'?" sounds like the punchline to a moderately good Jewish self-deprecation joke.
3.22.2007 6:02pm
magoo (mail):
R78 -- Amen. As Dr. K once observed, academia is so vicious because the stakes are so low.
3.22.2007 6:28pm
anon252 (mail):
What's really weird is people who spend the time and energy to post a comment about a post they don't think was of any interest to begin with.
3.22.2007 6:52pm
Jacobus:
To r78: Second rate? Unnecessary.
3.22.2007 6:53pm
Steve:
Steve, my experience at Brandeis was that there is a certain group of Jews who think every minority group should not be assimilationist and proudly retain its own culture except Jews.

Well, and there's a certain group of Jews out there who believe the exact opposite. I tend to bump into more of those than the ones you describe, but I find both sets of views equally absurd.
3.22.2007 6:54pm
PaulB (mail):
What does it mean to be a "Jewish" university? Brandeis was never a religious university in the sense that Notre Dame, Brigham Young or Yeshiva were and are. Its creation in the early 1940s was in response to Jewish quotas at elite colleges for students and the almost complete inability of Jews to receive academic appointments at said colleges. Its original objective to be a "Jewish Harvard" has since become as irrelevant as Harvard's initial purpose "to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when the present ministers shall lie in the dust" as the plaque in Harvard Yard states.

The argument being made here by some (including it seems Professor Bernstein)that Brandeis is forsaking its heritage by not having an institutional commitment to Judiasm and to Israel distorts the history of the institution. On the other hand the pablum of the "social justice" mission statement types is an equal embarrassment to a university created to provide an opportunity for first rate minds among students and faculty to present their views in class and in their writings when the larger society would not give them their due.

I believe that Brandeis could best live up to its heritage if it had a unversity president and trustees who told off donors and faculty alike that a) the school existed for people of differing views to express them, and b)if you strongly disagreed with those ideas, you do what Jews have done for the last millenium-argue right back. Stop whining, donors, and end your efforts to blacklist, faculty and students.
3.22.2007 8:00pm
neurodoc:
Mairson: "Diversification isn't an imperative: it's a choice."

If "diversification" (presumably that which brings about "diversity," whatever "diversity" is), is a choice, not an imperative, then why shouldn't Brandeis reject that choice? Because it needs to embrace "diversity" as an antidote to or prophylactic measure against possible "racism"?

Alluding to some isolated "racial incidents," Mairson begins by wondering if those were just the "actions of thoughtless individuals" or reflective of "deep-seated racism and intolerance in the Brandeis community." Is the school now or has it ever been afflicted with "deep-seated racism and intolerance"? Mairson adduces no evidence of "deep-seated racism and intolerance" beyond the unelaborated upon "incidents," but how trustworthy as a reporter of such is someone who allows "maybe I'm racist, but I don't know it"?

Is "diversity" always the answer, never the problem? Is "diversity" more of an imperative at Brandeis than at Catholic universities like Notre Dame and Georgetown, which are accommodative of non-Catholics but insistent about their Catholic character?

Too many Orthodox Jews at Brandeis now? If so, why not waft the smell of bacon frying through the place, not just the cafeteria, but into classrooms? Wouldn't do because that might drive away Muslims as well as Orthodox Jews, even were the school to build that mosque?

Funny that Handler felt the need to remove the Hebrew from Brandeis's seal, while Yale's great reformer Kingman Brewster saw no need to remove the Hebrew from that school's seal. (If Brewster had arrived at Yale a few years earlier and changed the admissions policy to favor merit, John Kerry might not have been admitted with his less than awesome academic credentials. Bush too wasn't much of a "merit" admission, but he was a "legacy" who would have been hard to keep out despite his no more awesome academic credentials.)
3.22.2007 8:17pm
neurodoc:
PaulB, please tells us the specifics of those "efforts to blacklist, faculty and students," if indeed there have been any.

Mairson makes clear his contempt for Brandeis's donors, and he bristles that the school's president might wear a kippah. (Was it just show for the occasion, not genuine religious observance?) I wonder if Mairson is equally uneasy with male Sikhs and their head coverings or Muslim men and women with theirs. (Is that a kippah that Catholic cardinals wear?)
3.22.2007 8:33pm
PaulB (mail):
Neurodoc,

Sorry for my poor grammar. I meant to say that it was the left wing faculty and students who were trying to squelch politically incorrect speakers, which I find at least as offensive as college donors who believe their contributions entitle them to set policy.
3.22.2007 9:08pm
PaulB (mail):
Neurodoc,

Sorry for my poor grammar. I meant to say that it was the left wing faculty and students who were trying to squelch politically incorrect speakers, which I find at least as offensive as college donors who believe their contributions entitle them to set policy.
3.22.2007 9:08pm
MnZ (mail):

My own criticism of Kirkpatrick is not that her famous political science thesis was wrong (she wrote in the 1970s about how right-wing dictators were more likely to change than totalitarian regimes, so it was okay to support the former), it is that many of her foreign policy initiatives caused our country to side with very immoral people.


Yes, it is unfortunate that sometimes we have to live in the world in which we find ourselves.
3.22.2007 10:08pm
Curious:
What's wrong with social justice?
3.22.2007 10:10pm
neurodoc:
PaulB,"as offensive as college donors who believe their contributions entitle them to set policy."

The role of donors is donate, which they should go on doing whether they like the direction the school is taking or not? Or if they don't like the direction the school is taking, then they should withhold future donations, but they ought not try to influence the school because to do so (blank)?

I have donated to the American Council of Trustees and Alumnis (ACTA), an organization which stands for the proposition that trustees and alumni should involve themselves in a school's affairs, not just give money and be stroked by the current administration. Of course that administration may not welcome their involvement, as Todd Zywicki can tell you, but are not trustees and alumni among a school's shareholders?
3.22.2007 10:27pm
neurodoc:
"What's wrong with social justice?"

Right, who can object to "social justice" as a concept? What's wrong with "social justice" depends on who is defining it.
3.22.2007 10:30pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
I think the comment about Brandeis being "second rate" is unfair to the school.

It probably is true many liberal arts professors at the US universities are influenced by European counterparts, who are more hostile to, or at least less friendly to, Israel than the average US citizen. Of course, Israel is no longer the underdog in the Middle East and is instead perceived by leftists to be a bully, while the Palestinians are perceived as the underdogs. That is also a reason. I know many Israeli supports feel that Israelis are still the underdogs, after what they went through to found their country in the face of hostility from the Arab world, and in the wake of the Holocaust, but the truth is that Israel now has one of the most powerful military forces in the world.

As for Kirkpatrick and the "grow up" responses--e.g. "Yes, it is unfortunate that sometimes we have to live in the world in which we find ourselves"--you falsely assume we have an "either-or" choice. We can shun people we don't like, and don't actively support them. Kirkpatrick, at least, came to her views during the Cold War, when the tendency to take sides with total dirt-ball dictators was more understandable. But this tendency led us to embrace Saddam Hussein, Pinochet, Galtieri, Efrain Rios Mont in Guatemala, and host of other thugs. It also led Kirkpatrick to be highly suspicious of Gorbachev, who turned out to be a very humane leader.
3.23.2007 12:06am
davidbernstein (mail):
The "social" preceding "justice" is telling.
3.23.2007 12:56am
A. Zarkov (mail):
"The campaign against Israel and the rising tide of antisemitism are two faces of the same coin …"

Look for this phenomenon to hit the US. The Democrats are courting the Islamic vote, which in the past has generally gone to the Republicans because they tend to give more support to traditional values. As Arab oil further permeates and corrupts the American political system, look for more and more criticism of Israel from American politicians, especially Democrats.

Another reason we need a viable third party.
3.23.2007 5:34am
steve (mail):

...has made Brandeis more of an officially "Jewish" institution..., at least when soliciting donors...


This was pretty much the rap against the school went I went there 40 years ago.
3.23.2007 8:51am
Curious:
Reading the previous threads about the social justice issue, I see that it's been beaten to death and not really worth rehashing.

However, I will say this: I think it's funny how we're so quick to condemn others for being ideological using our own ideological arguments.
3.23.2007 9:34am
Just Dropping By (mail):
"Giving someone an honorary degree does NOT constitute endorsement of their specific political views . . . . If giving someone an honorary degree does constitute such endorsement, than every major liberal arts university has violated its commitment to academic neutrality by giving honorary degrees primarily (sometimes almost exclusively) to folks on the left."


The needle on my post hoc rationalization meter just pegged.
3.23.2007 11:29am
Christopher Cooke (mail):
On whether awarding an honorary degree connotes approval of the speaker's work and views (from the University of Kentucky website):

Honorary Degree Criteria

Principles


In awarding Honorary Degrees, the University accomplishes several purposes: It pays
tribute to those whose life and work exemplify professional, intellectual, or artistic
achievement. It recognizes and appreciates those who have made significant
contributions to society, the state, and the University. It highlights the diverse ways in
which such contributions can be made. And it sends a message that principles, values,
and contributions are important. Well-chosen honorees affirm and dignify the
University's own achievements and priorities.

Honorary degrees may be conferred upon those who have achieved distinction through
outstanding intellectual or creative achievements, or through outstanding leadership in
education, business, public service or other appropriate sectors of society.
3.24.2007 1:54pm