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Students discuss ideal characteristics for future president

By Jess Linde

Section: News

March 20, 2015

A small group of students agreed that candidates to replace Fred Lawrence as Brandeis’ President ought to envision themselves as a long-term member of the Brandeis community, in a Thursday, March 19 discussion sponsored by the Student Union.

Attendees gathered in the International Lounge in Usdan for the event, led by Student Union President Sneha Walia ’15, Vice President Charlotte Franco ’15 and Student Representative to the Board of Trustees Grady Ward ’16, where they broke into three groups before sharing their conversations and ideas as a larger group. Ward and Walia began the event by clarifying the duties of the university president. “In our interactions with the administration, we have found that the number one feature the board looks for is fundraising ability,” Walia said. “In our discussion today we would like to discuss what students want, and how we can work to make sure our interests are represented,” added Ward.

Ward, who will be speaking for 30 uninterrupted minutes at the upcoming board meeting, also asked that students be specific and respectful in their discussions. Despite the wide range of opinions, many attendees had specific wants. “I would like a president of color,” said Union Minority Senator Marlha Lagardere ’16. “I also think it would be important to have a president who openly supports the student population and is not just at the whim of the Board of Trustees.”

Other students agreed that a future president ought to be more honestly engaged with the student body and ready to put many years of work into their time at Brandeis. “Change takes a long time, so we need a person who’s ready to be here for a long time,” said Franco. “President Lawrence was definitely around, but it would be great to have a president who engaged and really got to know students.”

Students also cited being upset with the extreme amount of confidentiality around the Board of Trustees, considering that the Board has the final decision on serious issues like tuition increases.

Class of 2017 Senator Ben Margolin insisted that because of Brandeis’ close ties to the Jewish community, any future president should be Jewish and religious to some degree, regardless of gender. This received support from Tzlil Levy ’17, and Margolin brought up the idea that because Brandeis was founded in part to provide higher education for Jews rejected from colleges because of their religion, a non-Jewish president could not represent Brandeis’ values. Another student also argued that a Brandeis alumnus would be the ideal choice. This was met with some resistance from students such as Lagardere and Union Chief of Staff Flora Wang ’15.

Wang reminded the group that Brandeis was founded on ideals that are applicable to any marginalized group, such as equality and nondiscrimination, and that on a campus that is increasingly ethnically and religiously diverse, that search categories ought to be wider. “I know that we’ll probably never see an immigrant Asian woman president,” Wang said, before clarifying that she had nothing against a Jewish president. “But we also can’t focus on one group being represented at a time at Brandeis when we’re so diverse.” Overall, the students in attendance seemed to agree that no matter who the next president ends up being, they want a president who not only represents them but is willing to get to know them, fight for them and lead them with pride.

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