This Day in Jewish History |

1948: Brandeis University's Inauguration

David Green
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On the day it opened, Brandeis had 107 students and 13 faculty members.Credit: Brandeis University website
David Green

On this day in 1948, the inaugural ceremony for Brandeis University took place in Waltham, Massachusetts, west of Boston, on the site of the campus of the failed Middlesex University. Named for Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), the first Jew to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and an American Zionist leader, the university was established with the support of Jewish sponsors, but has always been non-sectarian, and open to students of all backgrounds.

The university's founding was not smooth: One of those involved early on was Albert Einstein, but he ended his association with the project because of disagreements over fund-raising efforts, and over the identity of the school’s first president. He even turned down a suggestion that the university be named for him.

As a school that accepted both women and men from the day it opened its doors, Brandeis suffered in the 1970s, when the Ivy League universities, which it viewed as its competition, began to go co-educational. It has always struggled as well to balance its strong reputation for Jewish studies and its appeal to Jewish students with its desire for diversity and multiculturalism.

Usen Castle, a Brandeis landmark.Credit: Mike Lovett/Wikipedia

In retrospect, the success of Brandeis as an elite research university is most associated with its first president, Abram L. Sachar, a historian and a longtime director of the National Hillel Foundation. Sachar is credited with raising $250 million during his years with the university -- two decades as president, followed by service as chancellor and chancellor emeritus, a position he held until his death, in 1993.

On the day it opened, Brandeis had 107 students and 13 faculty members. Today, it has some 5,300 students, 60 percent of them undergraduates. Its school of graduate studies offers doctoral programs in 19 different fields, as well as an international business school and a school of social policy and management. Over the years, its campus, whose first master plan was designed by architect Eero Saarinen (though that was only partially realized), has more than doubled in area to its present 235 acres, and its research library holds more than 1.6 million volumes.