Pearlman Hall

On April 29, 1975, a group of 75 students marched around the Usdan Student Center to Pearlman Hall in protest of University policies regarding equality on campus. The group of students identified themselves as the Student Action Group (SAG), an outgrowth of a previously existing campus group known as the Campus Student Coalition (CSC). In response to limited scholarship funding as well as an increase in student costs, the CSC created a list of demands to be fulfilled by the University. Over a month passed after the release of these demands, and the administration had yet to respond. The SAG refined these demands to a list of seven and promised to occupy Pearlman Hall until the administration properly dealt with student concerns. 

On the first day of occupation, Brandeis president Marver H. Bernstein met with several student representatives from SAG. He discussed plans to institute an admissions proposal where Asian American students would be considered minorities for the purpose of allocating financial aid. Previously only African American and Hispanic students were considered for financial aid. He also promised to increase the budget for the Transitional Year Program. The TYP, since renamed the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program, offers specialized small classes for a group of socially disadvantaged students, meant to ease their transition to college. The budget for this program was originally set at $35,000, but Bernstein promised to increase it to $52,500. Despite these changes, SAG decided to continue with the protest, even after Bernstein warned students that a court order for their removal had been requested.

In 1975, Brandeis was struggling to create a balanced budget, which perhaps made administration more hesitant to agree to student demands. The University planned to raise student costs without increasing available financial aid and also wasn’t planning on expanding diversity programs, something SAG members felt could be a result of the Ford Hall occupation that occurred only six years prior. 

In a public statement SAG stated, “After the Ford Hall takeover in 1969, the university’s wealthy backers reacted, and admissions policies since have worked to steadily reduce the number of potentially ‘disruptive’ students.” They criticized the lack of diversity on campus, describing the Brandeis population as sheltered and the overall campus environment as profoundly unrealistic. At the end of their document, the students wrote, “COME TO PEARLMAN HALL --- GET INVOLVED IN REALITY!”

Reactions to the protest were mixed. Though many students supported the movement and over 175 protestors marched outside the building in support of the demands, an article written for the Justice on April 30, 1975 estimated that only about 20 students actually occupied the building. 

On April 30, the temporary restraining order requested by Bernstein was issued from the Middlesex Superior Court, calling for all protestors to evacuate Pearlman Hall. 

The next morning, SAG released a statement calling for a campus-wide strike until all demands were met. They highlighted the need for more scholarship money to make sure students weren’t adversely affected by a rise in University costs. The same day, both the Student and Faculty Senates released statements urging SAG to leave Pearlman Hall and end their occupation. 

According to these statements, which can be found in the Brandeis archives and special collections, the Student and Faculty Senates felt the “illegal occupation of campus buildings is detrimental to the welfare of the Brandeis community.” 

The University never took legal action against the protestors but instead offered amnesty in an attempt to expedite an agreement between SAG and administration. 

Bernstein sent a memorandum to SAG on May 4, presenting a compromise. As well as ensuring increased funding for the TYP and promising to investigate the minority status of Asian American students, Bernstein also promised to employ student ambassadors in admissions (meant to recruit minority students) to solicit student opinions about faculty promotion and to implement a grant “floor” where the proportion of student costs to grand aid wouldn’t drop below the 1975 level. 

The next day, May 5, 1975, the protest officially ended, and the students evacuated Pearlman Hall after six days of occupation. They were greeted by the applause of over 200 community members gathered outside the building.