Odd Goings-On at Brandeis:

My alma mater, Brandeis University, fresh from controversy over Jimmy Carter's talk there, has apparently established a closed student-faculty committee to monitor speakers on the Middle East. And, oddly enough, a talk by Daniel Pipes on the "Islamization of Europe," which is, by its title, not a talk on the Middle East, is being held up pending review by this committee.

Meanwhile, the university president, Jehuda Reinharz, and his assistant, John Hose, have gone out their way to insult Dr. Pipes, lumping him in with Norman Finkelstein, whose views on matters Jewish and Israeli make Noam Chomsky look like Ariel Sharon. Hose expressed his contempt for the students who invited Finkelstein and Pipes in this way: "These are people who tend to inflame passions, whose mission is not so much discussion and education as it is theater, a show. … If [students] want theater then it's best to go to Spingold [theater]. … But if you want serious discussion, there's lots of resources available for that already at Brandeis." So John Hose, and by extension Jehuda Reinharz--who encouraged the politicization of the university (IMHO) by proclaiming that the politically loaded concept of "social justice" is now part of Brandeis's core mission--are now the arbiters of "serious discussion"? Since when to university officials at serious schools "monitor" what speakers their students are inviting?

Anyway, a few things should be clear: (1) Brandeis claims to be a liberal arts institution open to all views, and thus has no business censoring individuals invited by students or faculty to speak, be it Pipes or Finkelstein; (2) putting Pipes' talk into the "Middle East" category was a lame way of deflecting criticism from the university for discouraging radical students from hosting Finkelstein; and (3) Brandeis is caught in a bind without any way that I can see to resolve it, at least given the ideological priors of the administration. The University is "sponsored" primarily by Jewish donors [Brandeis is a "Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian" university, named after the Supreme Court Justice and leading American Zionist Louis Brandeis] and alums who, on the whole, are quite favorably inclined toward Israel. Yet Brandeis , as a typical elite liberal arts school in the Northeast, has a large contingent of students, and a much larger contingent of faculty, who vigorously adopt the standard far left line on Israel, and want to use Brandeis resources to promote this perspective (just as their opposites on campus do). The Admnistration wants to keep the former group from knowing too much about the latter group, lest donations suffer.

Take it from an alum: if you want to give money to a prominent left-wing-dominated university, Brandeis is as good a choice as any. If you want to give money to a Jewish institution or cause, unless your donation to Brandeis is very tightly earmarked, giving to Brandeis is throwing away one's money.

For related prior Brandeis controversies, see these posts.

UPDATE: Reinharz responds. He denies comparing Pipes to Finkelstein, but acknowledges that there is indeed a faculty-student-staff committee that screens requests for speakers on the Middle East. He doesn't explain why Pipes's talk on Islam in Europe falls into that category, nor why students should be discouraged from inviting guest speakers regardless of the expertise available within the Brandeis faculty. Thanks to Soccer Dad for the pointer.

FURTHER UPDATE: This story in the Jewish Week more or less confirms my hypothesis. The Carter controversy, among others, is waking up a segment of Brandeis's donor population that Brandeis, while a fine university by standard criteria, is not a "Jewish" institution and indeed hosts a significant presence of individuals hostile to what many would consider the Jewish community's interests and priorities. Again, there is nothing new about all this. When I was a student there twenty years ago, Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis, among many others not exactly considered the best friends of Jewish communal interests, were honored guest speakers who attracted huge, adulatory crowds, and a left-wing student magazine ran a picture spread analogizing the IDF to Nazis. Not that this isn't par for the course at Northeastern "liberal" universities, but donors interested specifically in supporting a Jewish community institution will rarely have much of an interest in subsidizing such things.