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Reader Commentary

President Handler’s legacy is skewed

Published: Monday, January 16, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 16, 2012 19:01

To the Editor:

As I wrote in my condolence letter to Gene Handler, Evelyn was "my president," my own terms as Alumni Association president-elect and president having fallen fully within her tenure at Brandeis. As alumni president I was a voting member of the Board of Trustees. In these usually complementary and occasionally conflicting roles, I worked closely with Evelyn and we became friendly.

Evelyn was the first woman to lead a major coeducational university and the first Brandeis president to be of an age with alumni. She immediately upgraded the Office of Alumni Relations and was eager to treat us as adults, and as an important constituency. She consulted with me regularly on matters affecting alumni. When we disagreed, she was respectful.

Evelyn did not come to the presidency with unanimous board support; some trustees gave her a hard time early on. From my observations, they were problem people, not she. It is most unfair that "pork and shellfish" is considered the hallmark of her presidency by the New York Times, The Justice and other obituaries. The "pork and shellfish" affair came about when a trustee committee proposed a new strategic plan, one small portion of which was entitled, "International Dining." I was not on this committee and do not know if Evelyn promoted this. The report was passed by a unanimous board; it created one dining hall that would serve pork and shellfish while simultaneously also upgrading the kosher dining facility.

Students who would skip breakfast came for bacon and eggs, and clam chowder became a favorite lunch dish. A group of students accused Evelyn of trying to undermine the Jewish identity of the university. The issue of removing Emet from the seal was a distortion. Trustees who did not support her jumped on this development. The alumni board voted unanimously to support Evelyn in the face of these charges. One of my fellow trustees at the time now believes Evelyn was not sensitive enough to Brandeis's Jewish supporters—and hypersensitive to criticism. Another feels she was a poor administrator. Both question her management of the University's finances. But each of them agrees with me about the unfairness of "pork and shellfish" as a centerpiece of her legacy. Evelyn worked tirelessly on behalf of Brandeis and her ouster was followed by slander. It proved difficult to attract a successor. My time as alumni president remains a highlight of my life. My relationship with Evelyn Handler helped to make it so.

—Jeff H. Golland '61

Editor's note: Jeff Golland was the president of the Alumni Association during President Handler's term and writes from Bronx, N.Y.

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