Brandeis was founded in 1948 as a nonsectarian Jewish community-sponsored coeducational institution on the site of the former Middlesex University. The university is named for Louis Brandeis (1856–1941), the first Jewish Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Dr. Smith's son, C. Ruggles Smith, was desperate for a way to save something of Middlesex University. He learned of a New York committee headed by Dr. Israel Goldstein that was seeking a campus to establish a Jewish-sponsored secular university. Smith approached Goldstein with a proposal to give the Middlesex campus and charter to Goldstein's committee, in the hope that his committee might "possess the apparent ability to reestablish the School of Medicine on an approved basis." While Goldstein was concerned about being saddled with a failing medical school, he was excited about the opportunity to secure a 100-acre (0.40 km2) "campus not far from New York, the premier Jewish community in the world, and only 9 miles (14 km) from Boston, one of the important Jewish population centers." Goldstein agreed to accept Smith's offer, proceeding to recruit George Alpert, a Boston lawyer with fundraising experience as national vice president of the United Jewish Appeal.
Alpert had worked his way through Boston University School of Law and co-founded the firm of Alpert and Alpert. Alpert's firm had a long association with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, of which he was to become president from 1956 to 1961 He is best known today as the father of Richard Alpert (Baba Ram Dass). He was influential in Boston's Jewish community. His Judaism "tended to be social rather than spiritual." He was involved in assisting children displaced from Germany. Alpert was to be chairman of Brandeis from 1946 to 1954, and a trustee from 1946 until his death.
By February 5, 1946, Goldstein had recruited Albert Einstein, whose involvement drew national attention to the nascent university. Einstein believed the university would attract the best young people in all fields, satisfying a real need.
In March 1946, Goldstein said the foundation had raised ten-million dollars that it would use to open the school by the following year. The foundation purchased Middlesex University's land and buildings for two-million dollars. The charter of this operation was transferred to the Foundation along with the campus. The founding organization was announced in August and named The Albert Einstein Foundation for Higher Learning, Inc. The new school would be a Jewish-sponsored secular university open to students and faculty of all races and religions.
Einstein objected to what he thought was excessively expansive promotion, and to Goldstein's sounding out Abram L. Sachar as a possible president without consulting Einstein. Einstein took great offense at Goldstein's having invited Cardinal Francis Spellman to participate in a fundraising event. Einstein also became alarmed by press announcements that exaggerated the school's success at fundraising.
Einstein threatened to sever ties with the foundation on September 2, 1946. Believing the venture could not succeed without Einstein, Goldstein quickly agreed to resign himself, and Einstein recanted. Einstein's near-departure was publicly denied. Goldstein said that, despite his resignation, he would continue to solicit donations for the foundation.
On November 1, 1946, the foundation announced that the new university would be named Brandeis University, after Louis D. Brandeis, justice of the United States Supreme Court.
By the end of 1946, the foundation said it had raised over five-hundred-thousand dollars, and two months later it said it had doubled that amount.
Einstein wanted Middlesex University's veterinary school's standards to be improved before expanding to the school, while others in the foundation wanted to simply close the veterinary school, which, by the winter of 1947, had an enrollment of just about 100 students. A professional study of the veterinary school recommended dismissing certain instructors and requiring end-of-year examinations for the students, but the foundation declined to enact any of the recommendations, to the dismay of Einstein and a couple of the foundation's trustees.
In early June 1947, Einstein made a final break with the foundation. The veterinary school was closed, despite students' protests and demonstrations. According to George Alpert, a lawyer responsible for much of the organizational effort, said that Einstein had wanted to offer the presidency of the school to left-wing scholar Harold Laski, someone that Alpert had characterized as "a man utterly alien to American principles of democracy, tarred with the Communist brush." He said, "I can compromise on any subject but one: that one is Americanism."
Two of the foundation's trustees, S. Ralph Lazrus and Dr. Otto Nathan, quit the foundation at the same time as Einstein. In response, Alpert said that Lazrus and Nathan had tried to give Brandeis University a "radical, political orientation." Alpert also criticized Lazrus' lack of fundraising success and Nathan's failure to organize an educational advisory committee. Einstein said he, Lazrus, and Nathan "have always been and have always acted in complete harmony."
OpeningOn April 26, 1948, Brandeis University announced that Abram L. Sachar, chairman of the National Hillel Commission, had been chosen as Brandeis' first president. Sachar promised that Brandeis University would follow Louis Brandeis' principles of academic integrity and service. He also promised that students and faculty would never be chosen based on quotas of "genetic or ethnic or economic distribution" because choices based on quotas "are based on the assumption that there are standard population strains, on the belief that the ideal American must look and act like an eighteenth-century Puritan, that the melting pot of America must mold all who all who live here into such a pattern." Students who applied to the school were not asked their race, religion, or ancestry.
Brandeis decided its undergraduate instruction would not be organized with traditional departments or divisions, and instead it would have four schools, namely the School of General Studies, the School of Social Studies, the School of Humanities, and the School of Science.
On October 14, 1948, Brandeis University received its first freshman class of 107 students. They were taught by thirteen instructors in eight buildings on a 100-acre (0.40 km2) campus. Students came from 28 states and six foreign countries. The library was formerly a barn, students slept in the former medical school building and two army barracks, and the cafeteria was where the medical school had stored cadavers. Historians Elinor and Robert Slater later called the opening of Brandeis one of the great moments in Jewish history.
Early yearsEleanor Roosevelt joined the board of trustees in 1949. Joseph M. Proskauer joined the board in 1950.
Construction of on-campus dormitories began in March 1950 with the goal of ninety percent of students living on campus. Construction on an athletic field began in May 1950. Brandeis' football team played its first game on September 30, 1950, a road win against Maine Maritime Academy. Their first varsity game was on September 29, 1951, with a home loss against the University of New Hampshire. Brandeis Stadium opened in time for a home win against American International College on October 13, 1951. The team won four of nine games during its first season. Brandeis Stadium opened in time for a home win against American International College on October 13, 1951. Construction of a 2,000-seat amphitheater began in February 1952.
The state legislature of Massachusetts authorized Brandeis to award master's degrees, doctorate degrees, and honorary degrees in 1951.
Brandeis' first graduating class of 101 students received their degrees on June 16, 1952. Leonard Bernstein, director of Brandeis' Center of Creative Arts, planned a four-day ceremony to commemorate the occasion. Held in the newly opened amphitheater, the ceremony included the world premier of Bernstein's opera Trouble in Tahiti. Eleanor Roosevelt and Massachusetts Governor Paul A. Dever spoke at the commencement ceremony.
In 1953, Einstein declined the offer of an honorary degree from Brandeis, writing to Brandeis president Abram L. Sachar that "what happened in the stage of preparation of Brandeis University was not at all caused by a misunderstanding and cannot be made good any more." Instead, at the graduation ceremony for Brandeis' second graduating class of 108 students, individuals given Brandeis' first honorary degrees included Illinois Senator Paul H. Douglas, Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, and Alpert.
Brandeis inaugurated its graduate program, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, in 1954. In the same year, Brandeis became fully accredited, joining the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. As of 1954, Brandeis had 22 buildings and a 192-acre (0.78 km2) campus.
In 1954, Brandeis began construction on an interfaith center consisting of separate Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish chapels. Designed by the architectural firm of Harrison & Abramovitz, the three chapels surrounded a natural pond. Brandeis announced that no official chaplains would be named, and attendance at chapel services would not be required. The Roman Catholic chapel was named Bethlehem, meaning house of bread, and it was dedicated on September 9, 1955. Dedicated on September 11, 1955, the Jewish chapel was named in memory of Mendel and Leah Berlin, parents of Boston surgeon Dr. David D. Berlin. Named in memory of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, the Protestant chapel was dedicated on October 30, 1955.
Brandeis received a donation from New York industrialist Jack A. Goldfarb to build a library. Harrison & Abramovitz designed the building. Built of brick and glass, the library was designed to hold 750,000 volumes.
A nine-foot bronze statue of Justice Louis D. Brandeis was unveiled in 1956. Created by sculptor Robert Berks, the statue was placed on Boston Rock, the highest point on campus.
After Brandeis University awarded an honorary doctorate to Israeli Premier David Ben-Gurion in 1960, Jordan boycotted Brandeis University, announcing that it would not issue currency permits to Jordanian students at Brandeis.
On May 16, 1960, Brandeis announced it would discontinue its varsity football team. President Abram Sachar pointed to the cost of the team as one reason for the decision. Brandeis' football coach Benny Friedman said it was difficult to recruit football players who were also excellent students with so much competition in the Boston metropolitan area. Brandeis said the discontinuation of varsity football would allow it to expand intercollegiate activity in other sports. During its nine years of varsity play, Brandeis' football team recorded 34 wins, 33 losses, and four ties.
In 1985, Brandeis was elected to membership in the Association of American Universities, an association that focuses on graduate education and research.
Student takeover of Ford HallOn January 8, 1969, about 70 black students entered then-student-center, Ford Hall, ejected everyone else from the building, and refused to leave. The students' demands included the hiring of more black faculty members, increasing black student enrollment from four percent to ten percent of the student body, establishing an independent department on African American studies, and an increase in scholarships for black students. The student protesters renamed the school Malcolm X University for the duration of the siege, distributing buttons with the new name and logo, and issued a list of fourteen demands for better minority representation on campus. The students refused to allow telephone calls go through the switchboard. Over 200 white students staged a sit-in in the lobby of the administration building. Classes continued on campus during the protest. Other campuses that had protests at the same time included San Francisco State College, the University of Minnesota, Swarthmore College, Cheyney State College, Queens College, and San Jose State College.
President Morris B. Abram said that, although he recognized "the deep frustration and anger which black students here and all over the country—and often is—the indifference and duplicity of white men in relation to blacks", the students' actions were an affront to the university, Abram said that "nothing less than academic freedom itself is under assault." The faculty condemned the students' actions as well.
On the third day of the protest, Abram proposed creating three committees to "spell out in detail those points which still divide us." The students rejected the idea.
On the fourth day of the protest, the Middlesex Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order, requiring the students to leave Ford Hall. While Abram said he would not allow the order to be enforced by forcibly removing the students from Ford Hall, he did say that 65 students had been suspended for their actions.
On January 18, the black students exited Ford Hall, ending the eleven-day occupation of the building. Brandeis and students still were not in agreement on one of the demands, namely the establishment of an autonomous department on African American studies. Brandeis insisted that such a department be subject to the same rules as any other department. No violence or destruction of property had taken place during the occupation. Brandeis gave the students amnesty from their actions.
Ronald Walters became the first chair of Afro-American studies at Brandeis later the same year.
Ford Hall was demolished in August 2000 to make way for the Shapiro Campus Center, which was opened and dedicated October 3, 2002.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali honorary doctorateIn 2014, Brandeis announced it would offer an honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, "a staunch supporter of women's rights", and an outspoken campaigner against female genital mutilation, honor killing and Islam in general. After complaints from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and internal consultation with faculty and students, Brandeis publicly withdrew the offer, citing that Ali's statements condemning Islam were "inconsistent with the University's core values". 87 out of 511 faculty members at Brandeis signed a letter to the university president.
The university announced that the decision to withdraw the invitation was made after a discussion between Ayaan Ali and President Frederick Lawrence, stating that "She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women's rights ... but we cannot overlook certain of her past statements". According to Brandeis, Ali was never invited to speak at commencement, she was only invited to receive an honorary degree. Ali said that Brandeis' decision surprised her because Brandeis said they did not know what she had said in the past even though her speeches were publicly available on the internet, calling it a "feeble excuse". Ali stated that the university's decision was motivated in part by fear of offending Muslims. She argued that the "spirit of free expression" referred to in the Brandeis statement has been betrayed and stifled.
While some commentators such as Abullah Antepli, the Muslim chaplain and adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies at Duke University, applauded the decision and warned against "making renegades into heroes", other academic commentators such as the University of Chicago's Jerry Coyne and the George Mason University Foundation Professor David Bernstein (law professor) criticized the decision as an attack on academic values such as freedom of inquiry and intellectual independence from religious pressure groups.