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Tony Kushner to be Honored at Brandeis:

Playwright Tony Kushner is to be receive an honorary degree at Brandeis University, a Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian university (and my alma mater). Various groups, led by the Zionist Organization of America, are criticizing Brandeis for honoring Kushner, because of his harsh anti-Israel views. The interesting thing, though, is Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz's response to the controversy:

Brandeis bestows honorary degrees as a means of acknowledging the outstanding accomplishments or contributions of individual men and women in any of a number of fields of human endeavor. Just as Brandeis does not inquire into the political opinions and beliefs of faculty or staff before appointing them, or students before offering admission, so too the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions.

Over the years, Brandeis has honored hundreds of men and women of distinction whose personal views, I am sure, span the full spectrum of political discourse, and the University applies no litmus test requiring honorary degree recipients to hold particular views on Israel or topics of current political debate.

Mr. Kushner is not being honored because he is a Jew, and he is not being honored for his political opinions. Brandeis is honoring him for his extraordinary achievements as one of this generation's foremost playwrights, whose work is recognized in the arts and also addresses Brandeis's commitment to social justice.

There is an obvious contradiction between Brandeis President Reinharz stating that "the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions" and his stating that the school is honoring Kushner in part because his work "addresses Brandeis's commitment to social justice."

Moreover, given that Brandeis has officially (and not just in this context) stated that it has a "commitment to social justice," any decision Brandeis makes can be judged in that light. So it's entirely fair, based on Reinharz's own premises, to ask whether Kushner's views on Israel advance "social justice."

Two other points: I've been appalled for some time that Brandeis, allegedly which perceives itself one of the nation's top universities, now includes a "commitment to social justice" in its mission statement. When I was a student there, its much more appropriate motto was (and probably still officially is) "truth even unto its innermost parts." But a precommitment to some particular notion of "social justice" [update: itself an ideologically charged term; why not just "justice"?] can obviously interfere with the pursuit of truth, and a university's mission should be the pursuit of truth, not furtherance of ideology.

Second, while Reinharz claims that "the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions," Brandeis almost never honors Republicans, and has never, to my knowledge (and I've had correspondence with President Reinharz about this, and he didn't give me any counter-examples), given an honorary degree to anyone more conservative than a moderate Republican.

In sum, it's entirely fair to conclude that Brandeis University does consider the political views of its honorees, but that being harshly anti-Israel (which is apparently consistent with a "commitment to social justice") isn't disqualifying, unlike, say, being a conservative Republican (which apparently is not).

UPDATE: Reader (and fellow Brandeis alum) Mike Feinberg points out that Brandeis offered Jeane Kirkpatrict an honorary degree in 1994, just before Reinharz became president of the university. Prof. Gordon Fellman, in an article in the Boston Jewish Advocate, recounts what happened next:

The movement in question began at a faculty meeting I missed. I was out of town Four Latin Americanists at Brandeis, familiar with Kirkpatrick's influence south of the border, spoke in favor of a motion by one of them, to ask the Trustee to rescind the offer of a degree.

Two days later, I joined colleagues in soliciting signatures to a letter one of them wrote to the Brandeis student newspaper explaining our reasons for protesting a degree for Kirkpatrick. Of about 50 professors canvassed over a weekend, 45 signed the letter, scores more would have had there been time to ask them.

As opposition built, Kirkpatrick, assumedly sensing a lack of support from the university, withdrew. I don't suppose we will see any similar outrage over Kushner, who wrote: "The biggest supporters of Israel are the most repulsive members of the Jewish community." Quite something for Brandeis, a university named after the most important American Zionist, and whose largest financial supporters, are, according to Kushner, "the most repulsive members of the Jewish community." Anyway, given that there is precedent for an honoree withdrawing under public pressure, I don't see how anyone can ask the Zionist Organization of America and its supporters to restrain themselves from putting the same kinds of pressure on Brandeis the anti-Kirkpatrick folks did.

wm13:
Because of their need to fund raise, university administrations are actually much more accountable to the broader public than individual professors. Brandeis was founded as a Jewish university, and, surely, in its selection of honorary degree recipients, Brandeis reflects the sentiments of a majority of American Jews, for whom criticism of Israel is much less repellent than voting Republican. So the complaints in this post should be addressed to the broader public, and American Jews in particular, not to the Brandeis administration.
5.2.2006 9:56am
Justin (mail):
To point out that Kushner is committed to social justice without his intended goals actually making social justice occur is not a logical nullity - your post is illogical, because it is by definition pathological.

You throw in a "Republicans can't get honorary degrees from Brandies" - upon which any logic flowing from your post requires more than mere assertion. Care to elaborate, or are you all huff and puff?
5.2.2006 9:58am
Tocqueville:
David, as always, thank you for a thoughtful and provocative post. You are, of course, correct to point out the inconsistency. Brandeis wants to claim neutrality but their actions reveal there is no neutral ground for them to stand on. They should be honest about what they are doing.
5.2.2006 10:18am
J..:
David,

I've always disliked the lawyerly use of "allegedly" in a non-litigation setting. Allegedly has a very specific connotation and its use in litigation is to assert that something is alleged as true but not proven so. In real life, either no school is "one of the nation's" best (b/c of the inability to prove such a statement), or a Brandeis is or is not one of the "one of the nation's" best. As a fellow alumnus, I'd lean towards the latter :D

IIRC, Brandeis has given an honorary degree to Marty Peretz, a rather Hawkish pro-Israeli. In fact, wasn't James Wolfensohn a degree recipient a couple of years ago? Again, not exactly anti-Israeli.

If the main point is that Brandeis has a rather non-objectivist view of life, well, yeah. But, I'm not sure that this is a new relevation. I think Brandeis believes that it follows Jewish values, and that tikkun olum is a aprt of that. But, perhaps I am just projecting.
5.2.2006 10:24am
J..:
Oh, and David - I'd love to read your views on Siegman's moderately recent piece in NY Books on Hamas sometime. I appreciate your perspective, differ though we might.
5.2.2006 10:28am
J..:
Horrible typing above. Apologies. But, you get my meaning, I assume.
5.2.2006 10:29am
davidbernstein (mail):
J., of course Brandeis is, institutionally, favorably disposed toward Israel. The point simply is that a university that explicitly makes social philosophy/political perspective part of its mission statement, and, from an empirical perspective, clearly makes ideology a part of its decisions, can't suddenly claim it's a politically neutral decision to invite Kushner.
5.2.2006 10:33am
ox:
I've been appalled for some time that Brandeis, allegedly one of the nation's top universities, now includes a "commitment to social justice" in its mission statement.

This is rather sad commentary, I think, that any claim for social justice is read automatically as an ideological one. But social justice is a concept, and Brandeis' president did not, at least not in the statement about, articulate a particular conception of it. The rejection of the concept itself, as opposed to any specific understanding, reflects a sort of callousness and a rather narrow-minded view of the purposes of universities. And certainly not a Jewish one: "tzedek, tzedek tirdof"--justice, justice shall you pursue. Even in the university.
5.2.2006 10:38am
Cornellian (mail):
Is Brandeis really one of the nation's top universities? Even allegedly?

I think they need to publicize that "committment to social justice" slogan a bit more, like 24 point text on the front of their web page or something. Consider it something akin to a product warning label.
5.2.2006 10:40am
davidbernstein (mail):
If it's not ideological, why not just "justice" instead of "social justice?"
5.2.2006 10:40am
Smithy (mail) (www):
What's sad is that so many of the most virulently anti-Semites of the left (and nearly all the anti-Semites these days are on the left) are themselves Jews. Why would Brandeis, a university with a historically large proportion of Jewish students, wish to honor a Jew-hater like Kushner? Not to mention the fact that Kushner is a third-rate playwright, a hack who parlays fashionable political sentiment into critical acclaim from the usual suspects, a la Harold Pinter. Why would any one want to honor a fraudulent jerk like that unless they supported his anti-American, anti-Semitic politics?
5.2.2006 10:44am
Commenterlein (mail):
A "commitment to social justice" should be an entirely uncontroversial stance, and D.B.'s outrage is pretty telling.

Social justice is pretty much by definition a good thing, just as peace, health, good food, and so on. Different people can reasonably disagree on the best means for achieving social justice, or its importance relative to other goals, but only a caricature of a republican would disagree with social justice as a decent goal per se.
5.2.2006 10:44am
dk35 (mail):

There is an obvious contradiction between Brandeis President Reinharz stating that "the University does not select honorary degree recipients on the basis of their political beliefs or opinions" and his stating that the school is honoring Kushner in part because his work "addresses Brandeis's commitment to social justice."


Am I the only person who did a double-take reading this? I suppose if one were a true Libertarian, one could viably consider "social justice" a political opinion rather than an innocuous sounding goal shared by most Americans. But DB doesn't seem to be complaining about the lack of Libertarians receiving honorary degrees at Brandeis...he seems rather to be a booster of conservative Republicans. So, is the logical implication that conservative Republicans are not supporters of social justice?
5.2.2006 10:51am
mbsch13:
I agree with David on the whole "social justice" thing; as a general rule, add the adjective social to any noun, and the noun loses its meaning--"social security" is not security, "social science" is not science, and "social justice" is not justice.
5.2.2006 10:55am
ox:
What exactly is the distinction between justice and "social justice"? Is the suggestion here (via Hayek) that libertarians care about justice while egalitarians care about something different, called "social justice"? I don't think that distinction has filtered into the public sphere, and I certainly don't think it's reflected in Brandeis' commitment. (Query: should we have the same reaction to a law school's commitment to "public service"--why public?)

In the Jewish context, which is what we're talking about here, I think the invocation of a commitment to "social justice" has no such specific meaning. Social justice is used to reflect a broad commitment to civil liberties and civil rights, and to helping those in need. And there's nothing particularly ideological about those commitments, unless you have a very expansive definition of ideology to include any moral commitments. I don't think it helps to define ideology in that way. We can have a discussion about what it means to call something ideological. But the commitment to social justice in the American Jewish community crosses denominational boundaries and is generally focused on what we can do as individuals and families to make our communities more just.
5.2.2006 10:58am
J..:
Is Brandeis really one of the nation's top universities? Even allegedly?

It is generally ranked #30 or so, fwiw.

David:

But if you agree that the range of views on Israel from both Peretz and Kusner vary widely, and Brandeis gives degrees to both, I'm not sure I understand your criticism. They aren't viewpoint neutral - they won't give degrees to neo Nazis. I'm sure this isn't surprising. However, they do have a range of opinions to which they give support. Compare Peretz to Kushner.

As for social justice vs. justice, I believe it just means "justice in the world" rather than abstract study of "justice." There are good resons to think that Brandeis does not foster a good (i.e., varied) discussion on what really constitutes social justice; I can't see why the university should not have a committment to social justice at all, however.
5.2.2006 10:59am
Mackey:
So many tiny tiny violins....
5.2.2006 11:03am
great unknown (mail):
The semantic undertones of this thread are intriguing. Accuse a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, or a Maoist of being anti "social justice" and they would all vehemently deny it. Indeed, each would claim that their particular ideological-political approach is the ideal way to achieve such a goal.
The problem, obviously, lies in the definition of social justice, the evaluation of the efficacy of various means, and perhaps more importantly in how to apportion costs and benefits in an inherently non-utopian world reality.
More importantly, the phrase itself has become associated with a particular liberal, government-interventionist, egalitarian, socialistoid approach: definitely not something which could be supported by a Libertarian, at the very least. For the sake of intellectual honesty, the phrase as used in contemporary discussion should be "Social Justice", and understood to mean socialistic justice.
A university claim of a commitment to social justice would be utterly superfluous if they meant the term generally. Brandeis emphatically means "Social(istic) Justice," and should be judged with that understanding.
I personally assert that Social Justice is the antithesis of true social justice.
5.2.2006 11:09am
ox:
I see that David has modified the text of the post to claim that "social justice" is "ideologically charged." But, David, I think you need to go further. Your claim suggested that the university's sole pursuit should be the truth. But I don't think you really believe that. First, can you really pursue the truth without concern for justice? Second, universities have a profound influence on the lives of those who work and study in them. Can it really be the case that they should have no concern for matters of justice? No commitment to bettering the communities of which they are a part? Even the most committed libertarian ought to reject that view. The pursuit of truth may be a central purpose of a university, but it is not the only purpose. And the pursuit of other purposes does not necessarily implicate a university in some (expansively defined) concept of ideology.

Also, at this point, I think it would help to do a little looking around with regard to how various Jewish communities understand the phrase "social justice." Not everyone is carrying around so much libertarian conceptual baggage.
5.2.2006 11:11am
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
Smithy, Kushner is a Jewish person who rejects Zionism and feels strongly that the creation of Isreal caused more problems than it solved. I don't think its fair to say that makes Kushner anti-Semitic any more than an African American's opposition to affirmative action makes him racist. Israel presents a complicated and controversial problem about which reasonable people can and do disagree.

Also, Prof. Bernstein seems to conflate "social justice" with the welfare state or socialism. Wikipedia tells us that the term "is a philosophical definition of justice, that is, giving individuals or groups their due within society as a whole." Wikipedia says in modern history, the term has been "adopted by those who lie on the left or center-left of the political spectrum (e.g. Socialists, Social Democrats, etc.), even though there should be general acceptance by all who base their political philosophy on moral values (e.g. in the U.S., Republican voters in the Presidential Election 2004 are said to have exercised preference on moral values)." It has a long and varied history and has different meanings when used in different contexts, philosophy, politics, religion, etc.
5.2.2006 11:20am
sbron:
Maybe Brandeis should consider the primary origin
of the "Social Justice" concept in 20th century
America. "Social Justice" was the title of
Father Charles Coughlin's regular newsletter in the
1930s.
5.2.2006 11:20am
Anderson (mail) (www):
I've been appalled for some time that Brandeis, which perceives itself one of the nation's top universities, now includes a "commitment to social justice" in its mission statement.

Will the person parodying David Bernstein please quit posting under his name? Because it's getting really hard to tell you apart.

"Appalled" by a "commitment to social justice." What a shameful thing to have written.
5.2.2006 11:23am
davidbernstein (mail):
"Wikipedia says in modern history, the term has been "adopted by those who lie on the left or center-left of the political spectrum (e.g. Socialists, Social Democrats, etc.)"

Which is exactly why Brandeis uses it. Let's not be naive here, folks. Whatever "social justice" might mean in the abstract, it could hardly come as a surprise to a learned man like President Reinharz that the term in practice is associated with left-wing thought, and, in fact, Brandeis acts this way in practice.
5.2.2006 11:24am
dk:
"Social justice" is code. You will find it in the self-adulation of communists and every other manner of enemies of society. The phrase has been ruined by this association, to the point that no respectable writer would use it.
5.2.2006 11:25am
ox:
Maybe, since it is named after Brandeis, the University might be concerned with how its namesake understood the phrase, or with how the religious tradition with which its affiliated understands it.

By the way, suppose David were right (and I don't think he is) that "social justice" means something like a commitment to progressive politics. This is, after all, Brandeis University. It's not Hayek University, or Von Mises University, or Rand University. I actually don't think "social justice" has the ideological content that David thinks it has, but, suppose it did. What, really, is the issue? A university can't reflect some of the value of the person after which its named?
5.2.2006 11:29am
ox:
Maybe, since it is named after Brandeis, the University might be concerned with how its namesake understood the phrase, or with how the religious tradition with which its affiliated understands it.

By the way, suppose David were right (and I don't think he is) that "social justice" means something like a commitment to progressive politics. This is, after all, Brandeis University. It's not Hayek University, or Von Mises University, or Rand University. I actually don't think "social justice" has the ideological content that David thinks it has, but, suppose it did. What, really, is the issue? A university can't reflect some of the value of the person after which its named?
5.2.2006 11:29am
davidbernstein (mail):
If Brandeis wants to announce "we are left-wing university, nyahh nyahh nyahh" that's quite alright with me. But right it wants to be give a wink and a nod to that effect ("commitment to social justice") while still getting the benefits of being considered a major research university with no agenda other than scholarship. And it is that hypocrisy that the Kushner incident helps illuminate: how can you say we judge potential honorees on a politically neutral basis, and then say at the same time, of course we're honoring him because he's into exploring social justice?
5.2.2006 11:35am
HLSbertarian (mail):
ox said: "The rejection of the concept [of social justice] itself, as opposed to any specific understanding, reflects a sort of callousness and a rather narrow-minded view of the purposes of universities."

And: "Not everyone is carrying around so much libertarian conceptual baggage."

I think this viewpoint ignores that the common, on-campus meaning of "social justice" is, as Great Unknown noted above, "socialistic justice." I'd make this claim for most universities today, but as a recent Brandeis alum, I can assure you that that's definitely its understood meaning there.

Of course it seems "callous" to reject the concept of "Social Justice," just like the concept of "Diversity." But as some posters have already noted, if these were actually abstracted to the level ox suggests as a default, no one would be against them and they would be meaningless. There is no question on Brandeis' campus that Social Justice means "socialistic justice" (recent causes labeled "social justice" at Brandeis recently, most supported by the "Social Justice Committee" there: fair trade coffee, ban on Philip Porris-affiliated companies like Kraft Food, living wage).

Yes, it's good politics for the left to make "socialistic justice" ionto "Social Justice," and "affirmative action" into "Diversity." That doesn't mean that every time opponents enagage these topics, they have to take pains to redefine the terms. I'm certainly not against "life," but I'm also certainly not "Pro-Life." Just because the right has done well with that particular term, doesn't mean I have to explain what the term has come to mean before I declare opposition, for fear of being labeled "callous" toward life.
5.2.2006 11:40am
HLSbertarian (mail):
ox said: "I actually don't think "social justice" has the ideological content that David thinks it has, but, suppose it did. What, really, is the issue? A university can't reflect some of the value of the person after which its named?"

Prof. Bernstein isn't questioning their right to exist or follow any policy they choose. He's calling them out on hypocrisy and doublespeak.
5.2.2006 11:43am
dk35 (mail):
DB,

So, what this post is really about then is your claim to read the mind of the President of Brandeis University to know exactly what he means when he writes "social justice." And, because the President of Brandeis probably is aware that some left-wing movements have tried to appropriate the term, therefore his use of the term is proof positive of his agreement with said appropriation.

Maybe it's just me, but if you set out to attack the integrity of the President of Brandeis University, you should present a little more evidence than that to back it up.
5.2.2006 11:44am
alkali (mail) (www):
1) Doesn't the pursuit of truth presuppose some positive notion of what sort of truth is worth pursuing? That is, Brandeis has some sort of "agenda" by which it concludes that a medical sciences research center is more worth its resources than a center devoted to Kirk/Spock slash fanfic? Is there any way around that?

2) Are Georgetown and Notre Dame major research universities with no agenda other than scholarship? How about Southern Methodist? Yeshiva? If not, what benefits that otherwise accrue to major research universities with no agenda other than scholarship are they missing out on?
5.2.2006 11:49am
HLSbertarian (mail):
dk35 said: "So, what this post is really about then is your claim to read the mind of the President of Brandeis University to know exactly what he means when he writes 'social justice.'"

Like I said, there is VERY little question as to what the term means at Brandeis. I'd also agree with Prof. Bernstein that the term is "code" and that there's little doubt what it means these days in nearly every context in which it's used, but that proves too much for this discussion. In my 4 years at Brandeis, the phrase was exclusively a label for socialistic and PC causes, and proponents understood this almost as well as opponents. Did anyone have a different experience?
5.2.2006 11:49am
dk35 (mail):
HLSbertarian,

Did you have a conversation with the President of Brandeis about the term?
5.2.2006 11:54am
J..:
The Kushner "incident" appears really to be device to get at a different issue: should Brandeis have a more inclusive idea of what "social justice" is when it teaches whatever it teaches to students.

Primarily, I think it pretty clear by now that Kusher is a bad example of that - Brandeis does an OK job at presenting multiple ideas of what how Israeli policy should develop. Kushner is one idea. Peretz another. The Israeli chief SC justice from a couple of years ago is another. Clearly, there are limits on the range of ideas, but at least these are pretty divergent.

However, if you want to show that the university does not have a wide range of views on what constitutes "social justice," I think you'll have an easier time. But, I'm not sure railing against the phrase is the right thing to do. I think it more important to discuss if Brandeisians are getting a well rounded education full of complete critical thinking. IOW, there isn't much to balance the Gordie Feldmans of the school. And, that is an educational deficiency.
5.2.2006 11:58am
davidbernstein (mail):
J, it's two separate, though related issues: the narrow issue of whether Brandeis's claims that it is ideologically neutral in its selection of honorees is credible (it's not) and the broader issue of whether Brandeis should have an official commitment to "social justice" (it shouldn't).
5.2.2006 12:04pm
Salieri:
People here seem to think that because many people believe the best way to achieve social justice is through "progressive" policies that makes social justice a code for left wing ideology. I think most left wing institutions would support conservative policies if there was overwhelming evidence that such policies could accomplish that goal. The evidence is not overwhelming and there is a reasonable debate about whether left wing or right wing policies are the best method to further the cause of social justice. Brandeis has a right to take sides in that debate without being accused of hypocrisy and doublespeak.
5.2.2006 12:06pm
ox (mail):
Let me respond to a couple points:

1. "social justice" means socialism, or some political variant of it.

I think that claim is demonstrably false as a description of how the term is used within the Jewish community, regardless of denomination. And that matters here, given the affiliation of the University (and, we might add, many of its students). As I said above, within the religious community, the phrase signifies a commitment to civil liberties and civil rights and to caring for the needy. And there really is nothing ideologically objectionable about that--or about telling your students that there is more to this world than making a buck. "And if I am only for myself, what am I?" A commitment to social justice in our communities reminds us of that question--that we have responsibilities (regardless of how the state acts) to other people. And it's sad that, though all this commentary, David still hasn't modified his position that the University can have something to say about this without contravening its central purpose of seeking knowledge. I actually think David doesn't disagree--as his constant posting about freedom in the university shows. He thinks universities must care about justice. He just doesn't like it when they disagree with his view of justice. And that's fine. Which brings me to the second point:

2. The issue here is Brandeis' hypocrisy, not some larger worry about "social justice."

I have no problem with David's criticism of Brandeis giving Kushner an award. In fact, given Kushner's views on Israel, I have some sympathy for that criticism. But David went much further to argue that the university should have no place for a commitment to "social justice." Now, I'm not sure who is doing the winking here. Clearly, David meant by that what most libertarians mean--some sort of welfare egalitarianism. But it's far from obvious that that's what Reinharz meant (one could ask him ...) or that "social justice" must be understood ideologically. I submit that, within the Jewish community, it isn't and needn't be; the same way "public service" needn't be controversial for libertarians within a law school.

It would be helpful for David to say something about what role, if any, the pursuit of justice should have in a university. And since people (reasonably) disagree about what justice is, how does that shape his answer? Because people disagree about truth, too, and still we think they can associate for the purpose of advancing it.

Last point: by taking the name Brandeis, I think the university sends a message regarding its values. Imagine Hayek University taking a neutral stand on whether free markets are a good thing. That would be some kind of institutional cognitive dissonance.

My position here isn't inconsistent: I think "social justice" refers broadly to a religious commitment to pursue justice and righteousness (tzedek) in the world. But it would surprise me all the same if a school named after Brandeis didn't have additional progressive commitments that it states in more specific terms.
5.2.2006 12:08pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
dk35 said: "HLSbertarian,

Did you have a conversation with the President of Brandeis about the term?"


I've heard President Reinharz, as well as many other administrators, faculty members, and students use the term countless times over 4 years. There is no doubt as to the term's meaning, at least not on that campus. There is also no way President Reinharz would use this term there without understanding this meaning.

I'm pretty sure "social justice" has lost any plausible claim to innocuousness at Brandeis.

I haven't asked Pat Robertson personally what he means by "Pro-Life," but I'm pretty sure I know what it means by now.
5.2.2006 12:11pm
davidbernstein (mail):
["social justice" means socialism, or some political variant of it.

I think that claim is demonstrably false as a description of how the term is used within the Jewish community, regardless of denomination.]

Ox, I went to conservative and Orthodox Jewish day schools for 12 years, and never, ever heard anyone refer to "social justice", as such. I certainly heard talk of Tzedakah, which means "justice" and "tzedek tirdof" -- you shall pursue justice.

I think Reform Jewish activists, otoh, do talk about social justice, but there is nothing in particular that separates the Reform movement's view of justice from the liberal wing of the Democratic party, and that the latter, not "Jewish tradition" is the source of that viewpoint.

In any event, I don't think a university should be committed to "justice", "social justice" or anything else; justice is a much more politically neutral term, but why should a (non-religious) university have ANY pre-commitments other than to scholarship? And saying that Brandeis is a Jewish university doesn't help, because it's not, it is Jewish sponsored, but non-sectarian.
5.2.2006 12:19pm
therut:
The idea that Universitites stand for all the great causes above makes me laugh. The "Truth" HAHAHA. They obviously have no idea. You give Universities too much credit and praise. They are a place one goes to get a degree that you can use to do something purposeful in life. Like get a job, make money ,get on with life and realize that The Great University was just that and nothing more.
5.2.2006 12:20pm
ox:
These pages from the UJC (here and here) strike me as typical of what leaders in the Jewish community are referring to when they talk about "social justice": humanitarianism, human rights, public service, etc.
5.2.2006 12:24pm
Steve:
"Appalled" by a "commitment to social justice." What a shameful thing to have written.

Shameful? It's friggin' hilarious.
5.2.2006 12:30pm
ox:
So they called "social justice" something different, "social action," tzedekah, or something else. But to take the examples from my last post, the UJC is a very broad tent. And the commitment to bettering the world, through social action, the pursuit of justice, or what have you, is shared by Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Orthodox Jews alike. The underlying ethical commitment is central to the tradition and not sectarian. It would be helpful to recognize that point--and to see that a university can further it, or provide opportunities for doing so (as nearly all do), without compromising its scholarly mission.
5.2.2006 12:31pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
ox: I understand the type of rhetoric in the Jewish community that you believe falls under the rubric of "social justice." Are there any examples of Jewish community leaders actually using the term "social justice" outside of the leftist context (ie, not referring to correcting inherent injustices in a market economy, etc.)?

I'm not being sarcastic, I'd actually like to know if they use the term more widely than Prof. Bernstein says above. (Though, I maintain that even if they do, the term remains nothing more than left wing code at Brandeis.)
5.2.2006 12:35pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
ox said: "It would be helpful to recognize that point--and to see that a university can further it, or provide opportunities for doing so (as nearly all do), without compromising its scholarly mission."

Part of the point is that it does compromise the "scholarly mission." At Brandeis, I've seen measures like "fair trade coffee" pass without nearly enough opportunity for reasoned debate because the dominant viewpoint from those on the Social Justice Committee and elsewhere was something to the effect of, 'enlightened people couldn't be against this.'
5.2.2006 12:40pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Ox, Brandeis is "non-sectarian" not among Jewish sects, but in being a secular university. It is not a Jewish university. We can go on all day about "social justice" and the Jewish community, with you claiming that it just means "justice" and my claiming that it has specific left-wing connotations, but given that Brandeis is officially NOT a Jewish university, that's all rather irrelevant.

To say that the university somehow is not religiously Jewish, but represents Jews-as-an-ethnicity's commitment to "social justice" strikes me as nonsensical; while a religious tradition may haveparticular commitments, the idea that an ethnic group does strikes me as borderline racist.
5.2.2006 12:43pm
ox:
HLS,

I think if you look around, you'll find Jews of various denominations all engaged in projects described as social justice.

More generally, I think your disappointments at Brandeis have colored your understanding of what it might mean for a university to pursue justice, or to provide an opportunity for students to do so. Perhaps this a problem for libertarians more generally, who feel (and perhaps are) alienated from some campuses (although not at my alma mater). Where libertarians have a strong presence, they don't seem to mind so much that student committees pass resolutions that they favor, etc. This is just part of the life of student politics, and every university has its own.

But when speaking of a commiment to social justice, I don't think our focus needs to be so partisan. There are opportunities for service, some "ideological" and others not. Modern universities are communities, too, not merely associations of discrete automatons. We should recognize that, comment on the formative experience that students have while they live in places of study, often for the first time away from home. It is proper that they be aware of some concern for the rest of the world. Their lives will be that much more enriched if, every so often, they look up from their studies and ask what they might do to better their communities.

I wonder if David really thinks that service of this kind has no place in universities today? Ignore the slogans for a moment--and ask whether it is really all about academic learning.
5.2.2006 12:52pm
J..:

(ie, not referring to correcting inherent injustices in a market economy, etc.)?

Tzedakah requires charity - i.e., the giving from one to another. If you consider this "correcting inherent injustices in a market economy" then, no, it is impossible to discuss the Jewish ideal of Tzedakah without talking about such things. Brandeis openly states that it wishes to teach people to "remain[ ] deeply concerned about the welfare of others," and a committment to the "highest ethical and cultural values" of the "American Jewish community" (which MUST include Tzedakah). There is nothing underhanded going on here. Everything is out in the open.

Whether free-trade coffee fits that ideal is a different issue. It is THAT issue that I agree Brandeis does not teach with enough diversity of opinions. What consitutes justice is question #1. If the school wishes to instill a sense of justice (question #2) is not really debateable, is it? I can't see how anyone would think that is a bad thing, or that Brandeis wasn't up front about what it is doing.

(BTW: The notion that reformists jews get their beleifs from the Democractic party while the orthodoxy have their beliefs rooted in religion is rather exclusionary, historically incorrect, and pretty wrong headed. Plus, it means that you must believe that those reformists who write where they get their beliefs are liers, as they are too well thoughout to be simply missing the point.)
5.2.2006 1:02pm
ox:
To say that the university somehow is not religiously Jewish, but represents Jews-as-an-ethnicity's commitment to "social justice" strikes me as nonsensical; while a religious tradition may haveparticular commitments, the idea that an ethnic group does strikes me as borderline racist.

Since I never claimed that Jews, as an ethnic group, have particular moral commitments, I don't take myself to be the object of this criticism. Though I do find the insinuation troubling. I've said a lot in the comments above, and I have tried to be civil at all times. Critical yes, but respectful. I did claim that the rejection of the concept of "social justice" reflects a sort of callousness, and I'll stand by that claim for the reasons I've indicated at length above. I think part of the role of universities is to encourage students to think about themselves as having responsibilities to others. That's not yet a political claim but a moral one. I've said nothing about how those responsibilities should be fulfilled or even described their substance. I think students can reasonably and indeed productively disagree about such questions--and hopefully they will have the opportunity to do that.

As to Brandeis, perhaps I've misunderstood the affiliation with Judaism. There does seem to be some connection, even though the univerity is secular. Whether that connection is strong enough to support a statement of values with some religious content (even if they are almost completely ecumenical) is obviously something alumni would know better.
5.2.2006 1:06pm
ox:
To say that the university somehow is not religiously Jewish, but represents Jews-as-an-ethnicity's commitment to "social justice" strikes me as nonsensical; while a religious tradition may haveparticular commitments, the idea that an ethnic group does strikes me as borderline racist.

Since I never claimed that Jews, as an ethnic group, have particular moral commitments, I don't take myself to be the object of this criticism. Though I do find the insinuation troubling. I've said a lot in the comments above, and I have tried to be civil at all times. Critical yes, but respectful. I did claim that the rejection of the concept of "social justice" reflects a sort of callousness, and I'll stand by that claim for the reasons I've indicated at length above. I think part of the role of universities is to encourage students to think about themselves as having responsibilities to others. That's not yet a political claim but a moral one. I've said nothing about how those responsibilities should be fulfilled or even described their substance. I think students can reasonably and indeed productively disagree about such questions--and hopefully they will have the opportunity to do that.

As to Brandeis, perhaps I've misunderstood the affiliation with Judaism. There does seem to be some connection, even though the univerity is secular. Whether that connection is strong enough to support a statement of values with some religious content (even if they are almost completely ecumenical) is obviously something alumni would know better.
5.2.2006 1:06pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
ox,

I don't necessarily disagree with any of your larger points about how to properly view the university community (or rather, I do disagree on several points, but won't get into it here).

But the original argument was chiefly semantic: What does the term "social justice" mean here?

My point, based mainly on first-hand experience at Brandeis, is that there it is code for leftist causes, chiefly those that seek to correct perceived "injustices" of the free market economy and further several PC viewpoints.

Your point, as I understand it, is that "social justice" COULD stand for a whole range of desirable commitments to community goals, some ideological and some not.

I agree that the words "social justice" COULD carry the meaning you describe, and I don't necessarily disagree that all of the meanings you describe are undesirable goals for a university. But my point was that the words "social justice" DON'T mean these things, certainly not lately at Brandeis.

"Pro-life" COULD mean opposition to war or cold-blooded murder. The problem is that 99% of the time, it doesn't. "Social justice" could mean "Tikkun Olam," or "public service." The problem is that, at least on campus, it doesn't.

Accepting that the words "social justice" have been irreprably tinged with partisanship doesn't necessarily mean rejecting your view of the role of public service or humanitarianism in the university community.
5.2.2006 1:07pm
Bobbie:
Someone might want to tell the Catholic Church that social justice is solely a left-wing view.
5.2.2006 1:12pm
davidbernstein (mail):
Correction: The (official) Reform movement's commitment to "sj" doesn't come from the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, it merely has the same roots. I'll stick by that until someone can show me a clear example of the Reform movement taking a position at odds with that of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party (going so far as to oppose the war in Iraq, which, literally, has nothing to do with any plausible expertise the movement may have on Judaism or anything else).
5.2.2006 1:13pm
ox:
HLS,

I take your point, and, although I continue to think that the term "social justice" is less loaded than has been suggested above, there's a substantive, non-semantic issue at stake here, namely, whether the pursuit of justice has any place in the university. You may not disagree with me about that (at least in its general form), but David claims to. Admittedly, this is a ways off from the point of David's original post. But I think the starkness with which he phrased his initial claim--being appalled that the president of a university would reference a commitment to social justice--and the contrast with the university's pedagogical mission makes the criticism leveled above appropriate. There's an argument to be had here. (On that note, I'm afraid I need to sign off ... but I do appreciate the discussion above.)
5.2.2006 1:17pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Re: the Wiki article mentioned, it's interesting to see the left-wing figure cited for the supposed coining of the term "social justice":
The term "social justice" was coined by the Jesuit Luigi Taparelli in the 1840s, based on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. He wrote extensively in his journal Civiltà Cattolica, engaging both capitalist and socialist theories from a Catholic natural law viewpoint. His basic premise was that the rival economic theories, based on subjective Cartesian thinking, undermined the unity of society present in Thomistic metaphysics; neither the liberal capitalists nor the communists concerned themselves with public moral philosophy. Pope Leo XIII, who studied under Taparelli, published in 1891 the encyclical, Rerum Novarum (On the Condition of the Working Classes), rejecting both socialism and capitalism, while defending labor unions and private property. He stated that society should be based on cooperation and not class conflict and competition. The encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On the Restoration of Social Order) of 1931 by Pope Pius XI, encourages a living wage, subsidiarity, and teaches that social justice is a personal virtue: society can be just only if individuals are just.
Those left-wing Catholics! Maybe John Cornwall's next bestseller will be Marx's Popes.
5.2.2006 1:34pm
dk35 (mail):
HLSbertarian,

"Irreperably tinged" only in your own mind, I'm afraid. I would imagine there are many conservative republicans who aren't prepared to concede that only left-wingers believe in "social justice." And unless there is evidence to the contrary (which you haven't provided thus far), I don't see how it can just be assumed that the President of Brandeis is using the term in a political way.

Demonizing an essentially ideologically neutral phrase does not help you win battles against those with whom you disagree. In fact, I think it's an sign of conceding too much. To take your example, I believe that women have a moral and legal right to autonomy over their own bodies, and also consider myself "pro-life" in the simple sense of being for life as a general matter. Just because Pat Robertson is taking a neutral, uncontroversial phrase and applying it to a particular political/ideological cause (and unlike in the case of the President of Brandeis, I think there is ample evidence from Robertson's own mouth that, in his opinion, pro-life=anti-abortion rights), doesn't mean that I have to accept it.
5.2.2006 1:35pm
Anthony A (mail):
It's my experience that the word "social" placed in front of another word is a term of negation, like "un-" or "non-".

"Social science" is the art of arguing for predetermined conclusions by assembling data which support one's position while explaining away data which contradict it.

"Social policy" is a confused hodge-podge of laws which create incentives which operate at cross-purposes and which ban or severly burden actions which are known to produce results which the policy nominally favors.

"Social justice" is the state of enriching members of one group at the expense of another group, regardless of the individual situations, merits, or actions of any individual member of either group.
5.2.2006 1:38pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
ox,

I appreciate the discussion as well.

One more point to add: I believe there's a reason for the "starkness" you notice in Prof. Bernstein's post. Of course, I can't speak for him, but I can speak from my own experience. I spent a summer working on freedom of speech in academia. After a few weeks of constant contact with these issues, it was far from riduculous for lofty phrases like "social justice" to set off immediate sneering because we all knew wht was meant by them the great majority of the time. In fact, they became hot words for us because they often appeared in lofty preambles to PC crackdowns on student freedom of conscience or expression.

Prof. Bernstein can speak for himself, but imagine that his familiarity with these issues (a la 'You Can't Say That') explains his rather correct shortcut to the true meaning of "social justice" in this context that to others seems too stark.
5.2.2006 1:39pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
dk35 said: "'Irreperably tinged' only in your own mind, I'm afraid.
[...]
To take your example, I believe that women have a moral and legal right to autonomy over their own bodies, and also consider myself "pro-life" in the simple sense of being for life as a general matter."


I think you make a valid point generally, but do you really believe that those who oppose abortion haven't succeeded in making the default meaning of "Pro-life" be "against abortion?" Could you really give a talk starting with the words, "I am pro-life" without having to explain your particular meaning, UNLESS your meaning was "anti-abortion?"

That said, we can of course reasonably disagree as to how much evidence there is that when Pres. Reinharz says "social justice" he means what I assume he means. From first-hand experience, I'm fairly confident in my views, but of course I don't claim to look into the man's soul.
5.2.2006 1:53pm
pro-freethought:
1. DB said:

"If Brandeis wants to announce "we are left-wing university, nyahh nyahh nyahh" that's quite alright with me. But right it wants to be give a wink and a nod to that effect ("commitment to social justice") while still getting the benefits of being considered a major research university with no agenda other than scholarship."

What would the George Mason Law School have to say on this matter? A left-wing law school could not be a serious research center, but a right-wing law school could? It is clear that George Mason Law is a bastion of conservatism, so does DB's own principle make his faculty a joke or does that only work for left-wing schools? I think serious scholarship comes out of GMU, but its pretty clear that there's a conservative/libertarian agenda being promoted at GMU.

2. If one is a libertarian, wouldn't one agree that if we all lived in a sufficiently libertarian society, that our society met the requirements for social justice, i.e. wouldn't we live in a just society? Libertarianism falls under the social/political philosophy category last time I checked.

3. DB's real beef here is that this guy is not pro-Israel, and anyone who isn't pro-Israel is not "kosher" with DB. Israel is obviously correct on the vast majority of the actions it takes, and if you don't agree with that, you are an anti-semite, or at the very least, an idiot--this is what I gather DB's views are.

4. This does not concern DB, but some of the other commenters. Where are all of the socialists I always hear about on VC? I don't think I have ever met anyone who has proclaimed to be a socialist, really no one even close, and I hang out with a left-leaning crowd. Seriously, where is the socialist movement? We didn't even study Marx in my political philosophy class, at that liberal-elite university I attended with that liberal philosophy professor who taught the class!!!! Seriously, aside from a few flakes here or there, I don't think there is any socialist movement brewing. BTW, disagreeing with a conservative point of view does not place one into the "socialist" category. Maybe this is where the confusion stems from?
5.2.2006 2:07pm
Observer (mail):
I took my daughter to look at Brandeis last year (she's a high school junior) and she was repelled by the physical ugliness of the place. Granted, she had just come from visiting Wellesley College, which is breath-taking, but I have to agree that Brandeis looked both run-down and ugly - filled with mid-20th-century ugly buildings. The campus reminded me of all the passionate leftist Jewish girls I've known over the years - unshaven legs and armpits, unkempt hair, utter indifference to Judaism as a faith, and lots of anger, especially at men. Sheesh.
5.2.2006 2:08pm
davidbernstein (mail):
(1) PF: Where did I say that one should judge a university by the views of the faculty, as opposed to whehter its underlying commitments are to scholarship, not ideology?
(2) Social justice, as has been well-established on this thread, is a code word associated with the left. I would no more say I'm for "social justice" than I would say, as someone who believes abortion should be legal, that I am "pro-life."
(3) If I wanted to beef about Kushner's views, I'd do so. I'm beefing about Reinharz's double-talk.
(4) Americans never call themselves socialists. At Brandeis, I had several friends who did call themselves socialists, who were all from England or India. Their views on economics were indistinguishable from Americans I knew who never used the word "socialist."
5.2.2006 2:14pm
HLSbertarian (mail):
Observer,

I'm in total agreement. The whole campus is a something of a graveyard for 50s architecture. To me the whole design always smacked of a "ignore traditional methods of building and layout even when they make sense" vibe.

PS: Despite whate nearly every comment of mine might suggest, don't get me wrong, I had a great time at Brandeis.
5.2.2006 2:17pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
"Social justice" is indeed code, because there is little agreement about what constitutes justice. I consider that people who put drug abuse above work (and I have relatives in that category) have no just claim on support from anyone else. Liberals, of course, would disagree.

I consider that people who murder, rape, and rob others really do not deserve to be given any special treatment just because they are black. Liberals, of course, disagree. (Yes, I'm thinking of California Supreme Court Justice Rose Bird's opinion in which she argued that because the man who raped and murdered an old lady was black, he did not deserve the death penalty.)

Saying that you support "social justice" is like saying you support "freedom." What do you mean by freedom? It means something quite different for the left than it does for decent people.
5.2.2006 2:32pm
SLS 1L:
I'm well off on the left, but I agree that "social justice" is a left-wing code phrase. The term is used almost exclusively by people on the left, and almost exclusively in two contexts:

1) As a glittering generality ("commitment to social justice").
2) When discussing issues of distributive justice and disparate impact. People might talk about "social justice" when arguing that the death penalty is racist or otherwise discriminatory, but they never do when arguing that it's Just Wrong.
5.2.2006 2:32pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
"Social justice" is indeed code, because there is little agreement about what constitutes justice.

By that argument, "goodness," "virtue," "decency," and for that matter "justice" are all code words.
5.2.2006 4:23pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Just because Pat Robertson is taking a neutral, uncontroversial phrase and applying it to a particular political/ideological cause (and unlike in the case of the President of Brandeis, I think there is ample evidence from Robertson's own mouth that, in his opinion, pro-life=anti-abortion rights), doesn't mean that I have to accept it.
Oh, please. It certainly does if you want to have intelligible conversation with anybody. Pro-life, in the U.S., means "anti-abortion." In Humpty-Dumptyland, yes, words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean. But in the real world, words refer to what they're commonly understood to refer to. We don't need to "prove" that someone means exactly what the word always means in common discourse.
5.2.2006 5:55pm
Bobbie:
In addition to the Catholic Church, someone might want to tell President Bush that social justice is a left-wing code term.
5.2.2006 6:16pm
Bobbie:
I meant to quote from the article. Bush, that left-winger, said, in part:

By protecting the people of the Americas from those who operate outside the law we strengthen democracy, we promote social justice, and we make prosperity more likely. Citizens who live in fear for their lives because of drug lords, and terrorists, and criminal gangs are not free citizens. So we must continue to work for the day that all citizens can count on their governments to protect them from criminals, and advance the peace and stability that can only come from freedom.
5.2.2006 6:18pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Anderson writes:



"Social justice" is indeed code, because there is little agreement about what constitutes justice.


By that argument, "goodness," "virtue," "decency," and for that matter "justice" are all code words.
If a particular phrase is used by a particular group (and only that particular group) to mean something other than the dictionary meanings of those words, yes, it is probably code.

When you hear the word "diversity" to refer to hiring practices, you know it doesn't mean hiring a diverse set of intellectual perspectives. It means hiring blacks, Hispanics, women (and even better womyn), and gay, bisexual, transgendered, and (next year) transspecied faculty. The theory is that members of these groups will bring a different set of perspectives to the academy than existing crop of white, non-Hispanic, straight male professors (who presumably spend all their time at the country club, when they aren't beating their wives, raping their servants of color, and volunteering for the Bush For Emperor campaign).

By the way: I do agree that having a diversity of faculty probably will bring in perspectives that aren't always well represented--but it would be really cool if "diversity" meant that it was okay for non-leftists to get hired, too. I suspect that a survey of American universities would find that there are more openly lesbian professors (who are being drawn from a group that includes about 1% of the population) than there are openly conservative professors (who are being drawn from a group that represents about 25% of the population).

If a conservative uses the term "diversity" to refer to hiring, it is either ironic, or intended to tweak the leftists into incomprehensible rage, by suggesting that perhaps having one or two registered Republicans in a department of forty might be worthwhile.
5.2.2006 6:31pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Bush, that left-winger,
Conservatives have been muttering about Bush's pandering towards the left for several years now. He is doing what is, after all, the primary function of government--protecting us from external threats, and showing some serious leadership in doing so, no matter how low it takes him the polls. As a result, there has been a willingness to cut him some slack as refuses to rein in a Republican Congress's efforts to do what the Democrats did for many years (buy votes with pork), and actively works with leftists like Teddy Kennedy on No Child Left Behind. But this latest maneuver to buy leftist support in the news media concern immigration is exposing him to very real opposition from "his" base.
5.2.2006 6:37pm