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Reinharz accidental email reply sparks off campus media coverage

By ipedan

Section: News

April 15, 2005

Editor's Note: This story has been updated from the print version with late breaking information.

An email by University President Jehuda Reinharz inquiring of a students scholarship status was mistakenly sent to the student himself rather than Reinharzs Executive Assistant Dr. John Hose and has sparked an article in at least the Waltham Daily News-Tribune, inquiries by the Boston Globe and WRKO radio (A.M. 680). The email exchange (reproduced in its entirety on page 3) began when Brian Snyder 05, who is president of the unofficial fraternity Sigma Alpha Mu, sent a scathing but error ridden email to Reinharz. Snyders email criticized Reinharz for the Universitys choice of Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall as Commencement speaker.

Reinharzs terse reply, John, find out if he is on scholarship, was intended for Hose but send to Snyder by accident when Reinharz hit the wrong button in his mail program.

It wasnt a response. I didnt respond. I sent an email to John which unfortunately I punched the wrong key, but it was not a response, Reinharz told the Hoot.

You know, in 12 years, I messed up once. Actually, I may have messed up more but I dont know about it. Who knows where my emails have gone, but its been a good record, he said. And if I got that kind of email that harps so much on finances, Id do it again.

Reinharz said he was spurred to investigate further based on the tone of Snyders email.

He actually says that his four years at Brandeis have been a waste, Reinharz said. Its really very sad and thats the spirit [in which] I wrote the email [to Hose].

Reinharz denied rumors circulating online that his goal was to either try to revoke the scholarship or to not respond if Snyder was not on scholarship, which some posters on the Brandeis LiveJournal community contended might make Snyder be seen as less worthy in the eyes of the senior administration.

You know, on the face of it, it so idiotic, Reinharz said. Lets assume for a second that I wanted to revoke it, I couldnt have revoked it five weeks before he graduates because hes already received it.

Reinharz, who later sent Snyder an official email response, said that because Snyder in his email mentioned money issues at least three times he felt that he needed to see if Snyder was having financial difficulty.

When somebody writes to me about money issues repeatedly and about the fact that his money has been misspent by the university, I do fact checking, Reinharz told The Hoot. I fact check anytime somebody says to me A, B, C and D, and Ive done this and that, I always check and so I sent an email to John and figured maybe the guy has real financial difficulties, maybe his family couldnt meet those expenses. I wanted to know because sometimes students think that they are not on scholarship and they actually are on scholarship because of loans or other things.

In his email, also submitted as a letter to the editor to both The Hoot and the Justice and forwarded to many people on and off campus through email and instant messenger, Snyder levied several accusations against the Brandeis administration which the Hoot was either unable to verify or has confirmed to be false. The Hoot notified Snyder of these inaccuracies Wednesday but he has failed to respond to our inquiries or correct them on his web site as of press time.

In his main point, Snyder criticizes the University for not having Commencement speakers that are like HBO Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G.), former Saturday Night Live actor Will Ferrell or U2 singer Bono, whom Snyder claimed Harvard College and the University of Pennsylvania honored with degrees in previous years. Although Bono did receive an honorary degree from UPenn, neither Cohen nor Ferrell have received a degree from either. Instead both delivered speeches at Harvards class day, a student-organized pre-Commencement event, in successive years.

Snyder claimed Brandeis has provided Waltham Police with addresses of students living off-campus so that the police can pre-empt off-campus parties, a charge vigorously denied in the past by both Chief Ed Callahan of Brandeis Public Safety and Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer, who has stated that Brandeis does not actually have any such list.

There is no way for the University to know where students live, if they dont live on campus, and they dont list the address on their registration and directory forms, Sawyer told The Hoot. I have no list of where off-campus students live. The only way I know is when Waltham reports police responses to Waltham residences where Brandeis students reside.

Snyder then accused Sawyer of needlessly spending tuition dollars on an ice rink which stood in front of the Shapiro Student Center until recently.

As far as I know, from [Chief Operating Officer] Peter French, students came to Jean Eddy or Rick Sawyer and said they wanted to have an ice rink, Reinharz said. So they thought it was a good idea and built the ice rink. If Mr. Snyder does not use skates, well, what can I do? Hes not the only student here.

The ice rink, while unfinished and ultimately unsuccessful, was an experiment that did not cost students any money, according to Sawyer. Rather, a small amount of unused money from another construction project was tapped to purchase wood and supplies, and Brandeis employees constructed the rink.

Snyder also accused the university of firing Prof. Lyman Stookey (LGLS), his academic advisor, for not having tenure. The Hoot could not confirm the details of Stookeys departure, but untenured professors come up for contract renewal at various intervals. In general, the Presidents Office has no involvement in hiring and firing decisions within the School of Arts and Sciences.

Reinharz told The Hoot that this is not the first time that he has received emails with many factual inaccuracies, and that is why he fact checks.

I have people who write to me and say and I swear to you Ive had hundreds of these my father was a founder of Brandeis. My father was the first trustee, he said. Most of the time claims turn out to be false: No one has every heard of him. The archives have no notice of him. But I always fact check because I dont want to write back and say yes your father was a great man or your father was a bum, so I fact check everything.

Another of Snyders complaints was the contention that the process for recommending a commencement speaker is cumbersome and non-transparent. Snyder claimed that he attempted to recommend Sacha Baron Cohen as speaker but was rebuffed by Hose last fall.

Reinharz responded that anyone may recommend a potential speaker for review but must do so by writing a reasoned recommendation.

You cant just send me an email and say, by the way, here is a good guy for you to look at, Reinharz said. I am not going to do the research on this guy. If somebody feels passionate about somebody being nominated, theyve got to do the research;

theyve got to write it upjust like any trustee. I dont accept [email requests] from trustees either.

Submissions are then evaluated by a committee of the Board of Trustees which includes one student representative. In the past some student leaders have claimed that this process is insufficiently transparent and open to student input.

One factor that disqualifies many potential speakers is that Brandeis does not pay its commencement speaker, choosing instead to offer an honorary degree, according to former Board of Trustees student representative Jonathan Sclarsic 03. Brandeis must find the candidate worthy of holding a degree and the candidate must be willing to speak without receiving the $30,000 or more fee that many major celebrities charge to make appearances.

Snyder related his four miserable years at Brandeis in his letter, to which Reinharz commented, if he says he had four miserable years, my question would be, in four years you had no chance of airing your complaints? Five weeks prior to commencement you remember that youve had a miserable time at Brandeis?

Looking at his web site, it looks like hes been having a very good time so I am just surprised…he knows that there is so much human infrastructure here, Reinharz said. He can come to my office hours any time, he can come to John Hose, to his advisors, he can go to Student Life. I cant believe that for four years hes pent this all in and all of the sudden it came out five weeks before [graduation]. There is something that doesnt make sense.

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