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Civil rights scholar named new Brandeis president

Posted by Your Town  July 8, 2010 06:11 PM

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Brandeis University today named Frederick M. Lawrence, dean of George Washington Law School and a former Boston University law professor, as its eighth president.

Lawrence, a prominent civil rights scholar who once headed the national legal affairs committee of the Anti-Defamation League, will succeed long-time president Jehuda Reinharz in January when he steps down after 16 years to lead a Jewish foundation focused on leadership education.

Lawrence will come to the Waltham school amid financial upheaval as the small research college with Jewish roots and a strong liberal arts focus works to position itself for the future and raise its profile as a world-class institution.

"This is a compelling opportunity for me to be a part of furthering and building a research college, a liberal arts college that is an anchor for a great university," Lawrence said in a phone interview. "As a non-sectarian school with deep roots in the Jewish community, Brandeis pulls together various strands of my life in a way that is unique in higher education."

Following the trustees' vote this afternoon on Lawrence's appointment, the newly named president; his wife Kathy, an English professor at George Washington; and their 25-year-old daughter and 23-year-old son attended a reception with the Brandeis community.

Faculty, trustees, and a student on the search committee praised Lawrence's accomplishments at George Washington, citing his impressive track record of fund-raising, and ability to attract top-notch faculty. They also commended his inclusive leadership style, commitment to social justice, and international expansion of the law school -- qualities they say make the 54-year-old legal scholar a perfect fit for Brandeis at this time.

Brandeis, established in 1948 and the nation's youngest major research university, made great gains under Reinharz' tenure -- admitting higher-caliber students, tripling its endowment, and establishing new academic programs. But it faces major financial pressures following a plummeting endowment and dwindling donations.

"Brandeis is in its adolescence in a way; it's got some choices to make as it becomes a real grown-up world-class university," said Jack Connors Jr., vice chairman of the Board of Trustees and a member of the presidential search committee. "I think Fred will help guide the university to some wise decisions. There's only so much resources to go around, and I think he's thoughtful enough not to see them as an ox to be gored, but as a cow to be milked."

Unlike most colleges, Brandeis relies heavily on donors to fund a significant portion of its operating costs. In a bind to raise money, Reinharz thrust the school into the international spotlight last year by announcing it would close its art museum and auction off its precious works, a plan that has since been put on hold in favor of loaning out the art instead.

In February, the university also developed a plan to create a balanced operating budget by 2014 that involved cutting two dozen faculty positions and eliminating a range of academic offerings.


Frederick M. Lawrence

Early years: Raised on Long Island’s north shore in Port Washington, N.Y. His parents, a chemical engineer and a high school English teacher, helped found the Reform Jewish congregation attended by the family.

Education: Graduated magna cum laude from Williams College in 1977 with a degree in political economy; Yale Law School in 1980.

Academic career: Dean of George Washington Law School since 2005. His research has focused on civil rights crimes and free expression. Faculty at Boston University School of Law from 1988-2005, where he also served three years as associate dean for academic affairs. Prior to that, he was assistant US attorney for the southern district of New York, where Rudy Giuliani named him chief of the office’s civil rights in 1986.

Personal: 54 years old. Married to Kathy Lawrence, an English professor at George Washington University. They have a 25-year-old daughter, Miriam, and a 23-year-old son, Noah. Frederick Lawrence is an accomplished singer, having performed with the New York Choral Society in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

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