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Brandeis’ distinguished faculty: Bernstein and Maslow

By Zach Phil Schwartz

Section: Features

October 16, 2015

Building Brandeis into the world-class institution it is today took time, patience and most important of all, the right people. It was too heavy a task to handle entirely at the management level—it was a task that required the right minds be distributed throughout. While the administration worked tirelessly to stimulate Brandeis’ totally unforeseen growth, the exceptionally skilled and dedicated teaching faculty provided the pulse needed to bring the university to the next level. The newborn school attracted world-renowned leaders in their fields, like Abraham Maslow and Leonard Bernstein: two past members of the Brandeis teaching faculty who exemplified Brandeis’ mission of excellence.

A pioneer in the field of psychology, Maslow was born in Brooklyn in 1908 to Russian Jewish parents. He got his start in psychology at the University of Wisconsin, where he went to graduate school. He conducted research at Columbia University, where he developed his theoretical approach to the field known as humanistic psychology, as opposed to the then more prevalent empirical school. Maslow would become a renowned leader in psychology, in conversation with greats like Sigmund Freud.

In 1951, Maslow founded Brandeis’ psychology program, bringing both a well-known figure and his humanistic school of thought to the three-year-old institution. In a 2013 article in BrandeisNOW, Leah Burrows explains how Maslow’s pioneering views and theories on psychology were met with much disagreement and dismissal among the other faculty in the program, somewhat tarnishing his reputation here in the process. She explains how Maslow’s fellow faculty “didn’t appreciate his views,” and thus he faded after his time as a Brandeis professor ended in 1969. He died one year later of a heart attack at the age of 62.

Maslow was a pivotal professor in the early history of Brandeis by spearheading the psychology program as well as impacting students with his teachings, although today his memory goes less noticed than it should. The BrandeisNOW article says that “it is generally hard to preserve the legacy of professors, even ones as influential as Maslow.” This is why the legacy of past professors must be celebrated, especially in the event that their memory does fade.

A true way of honoring Brandeis’ past is exhibited in the annual Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts, an event first begun by Bernstein himself—then a member of the Brandeis faculty—at the 1952 commencement. Like Maslow, Bernstein was a high-profile figure before joining the Brandeis faculty, acting as yet another spark that would thrust the university to greatness.

Bernstein, arguably one of the most important musical figures in contemporary American history, is often grouped with contemporaries Aaron Copland and Dmitri Mitropoulos. He was born in 1918 to Ukrainian Jewish parents in Lawrence, MA, and grew up playing an upright piano that can be found today in Slosberg Music Center. He began his Harvard education at the age of 17, at a time when anti-Semitism and intolerance were pervasive in several institutions of higher learning. By 1945, he was the music director of the New York Symphony Orchestra. In 1951, he began his teaching career as a Brandeis professor, acting on his devotion to musical education as well as his desire to teach at the newly-born nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored institution, having gone through the education system himself at a time of severe intolerance.

Bernstein was a professor at Brandeis until 1958, during which time he also acted as a major figure at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA. After parting with the university as a professor to become the music director at the New York Philharmonic, Bernstein became a university fellow, showing a fierce devotion to Brandeis even after his tenure as professor had concluded. Bernstein continued to show his devotion to the university in his service on the Board of Trustees from 1976 to 1981, continuing as a trustee emeritus until his death in 1990. Bernstein had devoted himself to almost 40 of the first 42 years of Brandeis University, throughout which his exceptional music career interwove with a passion for education and what the university stood for.

Leonard Bernstein died of a heart attack in 1990, shortly after announcing his retirement from conducting. He was 72 years old.

Maslow and Bernstein were both extremely influential national leaders in their fields and also represent the exceptional faculty that thrust Brandeis University to greatness. In 1948, Brandeis had 13 faculty members who provided the world-class education that the institution today prides itself on with over 500 members. Sadly, faculty members’ legacies tend to fade, which is why it is important to remember those influential figures who originally molded Brandeis. Not only do the skilled faculty members work toward the academic goals of the university, but they also believe in the values it stands for. This is what attracts high-profile figures to teach here and what will continue the university’s ongoing tradition of excellence.

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