EDITORIAL: Consider University politics during presidency
Following an eight-month search for the ninth University president, the Board of Trustees announced Ronald D. Liebowitz’s appointment in a Dec. 18 email to the University community from Chair of the Board of Trustees Perry Traquina ’78. Liebowitz served as the president of Middlebury College for 11 years, and he will begin his tenure on Jul. 1. Interim
President Lisa Lynch reserved several key campus issues for the next University president to address during her time as interim president. Specifically, Lynch declined to act on the University’s suspended partnership with Al-Quds University and community demands for fossil fuel divestment. This board urges Liebowitz to take immediate action on these issues integral to the University community that have been delayed during Lynch’s term.
The University suspended its partnership with Al-Quds, a Palestinian university in East Jerusalem, following campus protests featuring fascist imagery. In a Jul. 1 interview with the Justice, Lynch echoed the need to discuss these issues: “The next president gets to make that call. It’s a very important decision, and one that shouldn’t be made for nine months and then reversed. It’s too important.”
Similarly, at a town hall meeting on Nov. 4, Lynch said of fossil fuel divestment, “we want to be able to have that president, with the Board of Trustees, jointly make a decision about [divestment]. It is a great way, I think, for the incoming president to engage with the campus community on issues that are near and dear to our hearts.” In the meantime, student groups like Brandeis Climate Justice have campaigned for fossil fuel divestment, including organizing a two-day protest during the Board of Trustees visit on Nov. 2 to 3, according to a Nov. 3 Justice article.
While Liebowitz did not divest Middlebury’s endowment from fossil fuels after significant research and pressure, he was named number 6 on TIME’s “10 Best College Presidents” in 2009 for his admirable work with student activists to reduce Middlebury’s carbon footprint. The TIME article specifically states that when student activists confronted him “Liebowitz could have easily ignored them. … Instead Liebowitz took their proposal and shoved it forward, helping them convince a skeptical board of trustees that going green was the right decision for Middlebury.” This high praise stemmed from his direct involvement with student activists on issues dear to them, rather than distancing himself from politically charged topics for the sake of populism. This is the approach Liebowitz must pursue regarding Al-Quds and fossil fuel divestment. No matter where he falls, significant portions of the student population will be disappointed, yet refusing to take a stance at all would only serve to alienate everyone. Action has been delayed long enough on these topics, and now that we have a permanent president, this board recommends that he takes a stance, one way or the other, on these issues within his first year of office.
Finally, we’d be remiss not to mention the recent student movements that have challenged the status quo on diversity campuswide. Ford Hall 2015 saw a 12-day student sit-in of the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center, ending in an agreement with the University addressing all but one of the group’s demands. Similarly, the Brandeis Asian American Task Force’s letter to administrators caused the University to create a Faculty-Student Committee on Asian American Pacific Islander Studies. With this vital progress intitated between students and University administrators, this board urges Liebowitz to continue to build upon the progress that has already begun, maintaining close relationships with the students whose activism led to these administrative actions in the first place.
We applaud the University’s appointment of such an esteemed president. However, in addition to introducing his own agenda to the University, this board would like to remind the new president that vital campus issues that already wait for him. If Liebowitz fails to take a stance on these issues, he runs the risk of alienating a large portion of the campus community. At this University, student movements have laid the groundwork for progress and change on critical issues, and this board encourages Liebowitz to actively engage with them.