Students occupy SCC for a day
Students, faculty and other members of the Brandeis community gathered in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium last Tuesday to attend a daylong teach-in on the Occupy movement. Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC), Collections Manager and Registrar of the Rose Art Museum Kristin Parker and a team of student volunteers organized the events, bringing in a variety of Brandeis professors, administrators and Occupy activists to speak.
The speakers, including University President Frederick Lawrence and Provost Steve Goldstein '78 as well as organizers from Occupy Boston and Occupy Harvard, covered various Occupy-related topics throughout the day. The events culminated in a general assembly, or a loosely moderated open forum in which members of the group participated directly with hand signals.
While Fellman said in an interview with the Justice that the teach-in had not been organized with the Board of Trustees' recent announcement of a tuition increase in mind, it nevertheless became a popular topic of discussion throughout the day.
The Board of Trustees voted last month to increase the cost of attending Brandeis for current students by 4.1 percent and 4.85 percent for incoming first-years. The issue was also prevalent in the recent campaign for Student Union president and was addressed before Passover recess in an open forum with Senior Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel.
Fellman said he began putting the events together with Parker and student organizers Shea Riester '12, Anna Bessendorf '15, Derek Komar '15, Naveh Halperin '12, Scott Oglesby '12 and Dorian Williams '13 about three months ago after the idea came out of a discussion he had with Goldstein.
Goldstein made an appearance at the opening of the day's events. "Brandeis seems like a good place, an optimal place to be having an Occupy teach-in," said Goldstein in his welcome.
Asked by the Justice whether Brandeis endorses the Occupy movement, Goldstein responded that, "The job of the University is to foster understanding and advancing society, not to support one or another political movement. So we're an open forum."
Later in the program, Lawrence spoke on "Occupy as National Teaching Moment." Lawrence said that the opportunity to learn from the Occupy movement requires different parties to engage each other in discussion and challenge each other's preconceived notions. He encouraged people to "challenge power and challenge authority" in a cooperative way.
Lawrence took several questions from students, focusing on the recent tuition increase and student involvement on the Board of Trustees.
Lawrence said that the Board's votes are generally unanimous and therefore it is most important to involve students, faculty and staff in the discussion prior to the actual vote. He asserted that student and faculty representatives elected by their respective constituents are a crucial element to the dialogue between the University community and the Board. Lawrence, noted, however, that this does not mean that the results always make everyone happy.
Lawrence also responded to a question about the increase in tuition by saying that he thinks about "affordability every single day." He noted that the main sources of income for the University-tuition, gifts (including the endowment) and research grants-are all "under stress," and that the University must still maintain essential functions such as research opportunities, small language classes and the pool.
Lawrence told students and faculty that he would help organize a lunch meeting between about 10 students and Board of Trustees Member Stephen B. Kay, a senior director at Goldman Sachs and former chair of the Brandeis board.
The tuition increases, especially the perceived lack of transparency on the Board and administration's part, dominated early discussion in the general assembly later in the evening.
Student Union President Herbie Rosen '12 stopped by the assembly briefly and encouraged students to respond with more involvement, both in terms of activism and student government. He said that "it was almost too late by the time we saw [the tuition hikes] coming," but added that he and President-elect Todd Kirkland '13 are working on contingency plans so that that would not be the case in the future.
Students also raised concerns that Brandeis' social justice philosophy does not manifest itself in practice as much as they would like. "In my time at Brandeis, I have learned a lot about what's wrong with the world, but I haven't learned how to change it," said Sahar Massachi '11 MA '12.
Fellman, who has participated in Occupy Boston, agreed. "Brandeis has this ... genuine but thin overlay of liberalism and social justice. I say thin because many people don't act on it, they just talk about it," he said. Fellman added that "the last three presidents [including Lawrence] have really pushed [social justice]."
When asked by the Justice to respond to students who were critical of Lawrence in the general assembly, Fellman said, "I'm guessing he went as far as he felt his position would let him go" with the Board and tuition issues.
-Andrew Wingens and Jonathan Epstein contributed reporting.