EDITORIAL: Communicate stances on key issues
The fall 2016 semester has finally begun, and one person on campus is dreading a very specific kind of pop quiz: University President Ronald Liebowitz.
Thus far in his two months-long tenure as the head of the school, Liebowitz has been able to avoid direct comment on the major issues galvanizing the student body. Through minimal public appearances, Liebowitz has entered his presidency without most students really forming a clear picture of his views. None of this is unexpected, but with the full student body officially back on a Liebowitz-run campus, this board urges the new president to get ahead of the inevitable wave of student activism headed his way by proactively voicing clear stances on activist movements.
Liebowitz’s primary responsibility, and seemingly the main reason he was picked for the job, is, of course, to fundraise on the University’s behalf. His highly successful tenure at the head of Middlebury College speaks for itself. Yet past students, and this board, have harshly criticized presidents for their seeming indifference to the actual affairs of the people for whose ostensive benefit this fundraising is conducted.
Moreover, there are serious issues that demand the president’s attention right now in determining the future shape of Brandeis University. Last year, as interim president, now-Provost Lisa Lynch repeatedly asserted that the question of fossil fuel divestment would be left to her replacement, leaving the most consistently active student activist movement on campus essentially in limbo.
It’s hard to see a bright future for Brandeis Climate Justice — Liebowitz voted no on divestment at Middlebury — but Liebowitz will need to take some position soon or have students line up outside his office to hear an answer. The stronger act of leadership would be to face the issue head-on, bringing a dignified response to this growing activist cause.
Additionally, Liebowitz must answer a question punted to him by his predecessor, who discontinued the University’s partnership with Al-Quds University four years ago after fascist imagery emerged from marches on campus. Al-Quds’ president at the time refused to fully condemn the march, but now both presidents are in new jobs. Vocal contingents at Brandeis strive for a reopened partnership, going so far as to develop their own project that essentially conducted the program outside the University’s official channels. Meanwhile, other Brandeisians continue to oppose reopened relations. Lynch essentially deflected this question in anticipation of a full University president. That president is Liebowitz, and one way or another, the community deserves an answer.
One event we know has garnered Liebowitz’ attention was last year’s Ford Hall 2015 movement, wherein students occupied the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center for over a week to demand greater action on diversifying the University. Liebowitz accepted a document from Ford Hall leaders in February about their movement, promising to read up.
Just yesterday, he emailed this month’s update on the University’s steps toward accomplishing its Ford Hall goals. These actions from Liebowitz are good, but also to be expected — indeed, Liebowitz’s email yesterday contains only a few major changes from Lynch’s in June. What many students want is a president who sincerely and wholeheartedly voices a commitment to racial justice, and makes himself available to speak in person on the topic. Evading the trope of the dispassionate establishment leader who will only address race when he is forced to will be crucial to a successful first semester.
Because make no mistake, the student body is impatient for acknowledgement of these topics, after a year of, understandably, stalling for a permanent leader. That leader is now in place, and just as touchstones like Al-Quds University, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Truth Revolt shape President Fred Lawrence’s legacy, so too will action on these topics in the next few months shape Liebowitz’ initial public reception.
So did our new president study up hard enough on his Brandeis politics? Well, volunteering to give your report first is a good way to earn points with the class.