Tag Archives: Roger Smith

vocabulary building (my post)

 

 

Check out my long post (from August 2017) about vocabulary building and the importance of vocabulary to a writer. It’s one of the best pieces (written by someone who knows from experience what he’s talking about) ever written on the subject.

 

Vocabulary: Building and Using One’s Own; The Delight of Same; Its Value to a Writer

 

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2018/12/27/vocabulary-building-and-using-ones-own-the-delight-of-same-its-value-to-a-writer/

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

 

 

Francis Parkman

Parkman excerpts

Excerpts from the works of the historian Francis Parkman are posted here (above) as a downloadable Word document.

In view of my mentions of the historians Carlyle and Macaulay in recent posts on rhetoric and style, I got to thinking this morning about the historian Francis Parkman, author of The Oregon Trail: Sketches of Prairie and Rocky-Mountain Life and the monumental seven-volume France and England in North America; and of an early, forgotten work: Vassall Morton: A Novel (1856), which, I dare say, few have ever read. (I am proud to be able to say that I have.)

A student at Harvard College of the historian Jared Sparks, by whom he was greatly influenced, Parkman was fluent in French and was an admirer of Froissart, whose works included the Chroniques (Chronicles) a prose history of the Hundred Years’ War written in the fourteenth century. Parkman’s style of historical writing would probably be termed “romantic” and perhaps lyrical. His research in primary sources was prodigious, belying the impression (which would show ignorance of them) that his works are not scholarly or objective. His narrative is crystal clear.

He can — and has by his admirers — be read almost for his style alone.

What modern historian writes narrative history with metaphors and descriptive passages such as the following?

a rolling sea of dull green prairie

On the right hand and on the left stretched the boundless prairie, dotted with leafless groves and bordered by gray wintry forests, scorched by the fires kindled in the dried grass by Indian hunters, and strewn with the carcasses and the bleached skulls of innumerable buffalo.

Yet hardly anyone reads Parkman nowadays.

— Roger W. Smith

   September 2020

Non-Sequaciousness (Emerson; also Carlyle)

 

 

‘The Non-Sequaciousness of Ralph Waldo Emerson’ – Irish Monthly, July 1900

 

 

non-sequaciousness ANNOTATED

 

 

 

Close reading recently of works by and about Walt Whitman have gotten me to think about the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson on Whitman. It is well known, and has often been commented upon, that there was such an influence.

The other day, I attempted to read Emerson’s essay “The Poet.” It seems likely that this essay, originally a lecture by Emerson, influenced Whitman — greatly, one would say. Whitman attended Emerson’s lecture, “Nature and the Powers of the Poet,” as a reporter for the New York Aurora. in Manhattan in 1842. Whitman was a journalist then. The great American poet whom Emerson was envisioning — the poet yet to come — seems (as Emerson described him) to prefigure the future poet Walt Whitman.

 

 

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I mentioned Emerson to a close friend of mine (a friend, importantly, who is one of the few I can share my readings and ideas with) who, at some point in the conversation — I think beforehand, actually — had mentioned that he had come across a few quotations from Emerson in blog posts of mine and had found them to be actually irritating. I forget just what he said or implied, but the gist was that Emerson’s prose was perplexing, unclear, and annoying on that account — not worth trying to decipher. I was more or less simultaneously having the same experience trying to read “The Poet.” I had been telling myself for a while that I should make a point of reading Emerson’s major (at least) essays — in part because of his influence on Whitman and also because of his fame and importance as an essayist.

I made the following note to myself recently. I don’t know if it is accurate, although I think there is at least truth in it. To verify this (and perhaps as fodder for a future essay of my own), I thought of rereading Whitman’s prose works and of taking it upon myself to read Emerson. My note to myself read as follows:

when it comes to exposition

to expository prose

Whitman as essayist/prose writer

sounds an awful lot like Emerson in the latter’s essays

the similarities are striking

the style is punchy, yet the tone is elevated (besides vigorous) — not arch or pompous, but very lofty, abstract … thoughts, ideas, the intended meaning are expressed in a somewhat elliptical manner

In the case of Whitman’s prose, I was thinking mostly of Whitman’s Preface to the first (1855) edition of Leaves of Grass and of his later work Democratic Vistas. The 1855 Preface begins with the following paragraph:

America does not repel the past or what it has produced under its forms or amid other politics or the idea of castes or the old religions . . . accepts the lesson with calmness . . . is not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and manners and literature while the life which served its requirements has passed into the new life of the new forms perceives that the corpse is slowly borne from the eating and sleeping rooms of the house . . . perceives that it waits a little while in the door . . . that it was fittest for its days . . . that its action has descended to the stalwart and wellshaped heir who approaches . . . and that he shall be fittest for his days.

 

 

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Then I came across Patrick Dillon’s essay on Emerson’s style; on Emerson the writer; and the applicability of the author (Dillon’s) analysis to essay-writing in general:

“The Non-Sequaciousness of Ralph Waldo Emerson”

by Patrick Dillon

The Irish Monthly

Vol. 28, No. 325 (July 1900), pp. 415-421

 

The essay is posted above as a PDF file. Also posted here (above) is a Word document containing the complete text of the essay annotated by me.

 

 

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This essay (Dillon’s) is a seminal one that addresses crucial issues about expository writing. I have been thinking about such issues myself as of late. I would like to write an essay in which I more closely consider the prose writings of writers such as Emerson and Thomas Carlyle, who seem to have marked similarities. But, first, I need to read their works carefully, as is my habit, rather than just perusing them.

Another writer, a brilliant one, who presents a challenge for the reader, is Edmund Burke. I am reading his Reflections on the Revolution in France. Burke can be difficult to follow because of his way of attacking subjects from so many different angles; his convoluted (though, paradoxically, very clear), “dense” prose; his intricate sentence structure. I would be inclined to describe his writing as elliptical, as opposed to non-sequacious — complex but not (one would never say) illogical.

 

 

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Here is the opening paragraph from The History of England from the Accession of James II by Thomas Babington Macaulay:

I purpose to write the history of England from the accession of King James the Second down to a time which is within the memory of men still living. I shall recount the errors which, in a few months, alienated a loyal gentry and priesthood from the House of Stuart. I shall trace the course of that revolution which terminated the long struggle between our sovereigns and their parliaments, and bound up together the rights of the people and the title of the reigning dynasty. I shall relate how the new settlement was, during many troubled years, successfully defended against foreign and domestic enemies; how, under that settlement, the authority of law and the security of property were found to be compatible with a liberty of discussion and of individual action never before known; how, from the auspicious union of order and freedom, sprang a prosperity of which the annals of human affairs had furnished no example; how our country, from a state of ignominious vassalage, rapidly rose to the place of umpire among European powers; how her opulence and her martial glory grew together; how, by wise and resolute good faith, was gradually established a public credit fruitful of marvels which to the statesmen of any former age would have seemed incredible; how a gigantic commerce gave birth to a maritime power, compared with which every other maritime power, ancient or modern, sinks into insignificance; how Scotland, after ages of enmity, was at length united to England, not merely by legal bonds, but by indissoluble ties of interest and affection; how, in America, the British colonies rapidly became far mightier and wealthier than the realms which Cortes and Pizarro had added to the dominions of Charles the Fifth; how in Asia, British adventurers founded an empire not less splendid and more durable than that of Alexander.

It certainly illustrates what was said in Dillon’s essay about the clarity and directness of McCauley’s prose. This is not Carlyle.

 

 

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A final thought. I have wondered about Montaigne’s quotations. Sometimes they seem tedious. I have to read more of him.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

great sports writing indeed (as it rarely is, yet should be)

 

 

Tex Maule, ‘The Giant Story’

 

 

THE GIANT STORY

by Tex Maule

Sports Illustrated

December 23, 1963

https://vault.si.com/vault/1963/12/23/the-giant-story

 

downloadable Word document, above

 

 

 

I was a New York Giants fan in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I am sure I watched the 1963 Eastern Division championship game between the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers on television. I knew the individual players and thrilled to the exploits of players such as Frank Gifford, Y. A. Tittle, and Del Shofner. Shofner was always getting open for miraculous receptions of Tittle’s passes lofted downfield in a high arch. I knew the defensive stars such as Sam Huff and Rosey Grier. I recall Frank Gifford’s one-handed catch in the 1963 game, assuming that this was the play I remember. Or did he (again) or another Giant player do it in a later game?

 

 

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The reason for this post is my commentary on Tex Maule’s 1963 Sports Illustrated story about the 1963 Giants-Steelers game. Does any sportswriter write like this nowadays? I would say no, there is no such example. Read Maule’s story and see for yourself.

Most sports reporting (game coverage) nowadays consists of essentially “filler’ material putting the game in context — along with a summary account of the game. Some or most of the background material is written before the game or as it is in progress. The Milwaukee Bucks were facing elimination toady in the sixth game of the Eastern Conference finals and the daunting prospect of playing at Boston Garden against a heavily favored Boston Celtics squad. And so on. Then a blow by blow account of the game, and a few post-game interviews, if the reporter can get a quote or two. Down by three runs in the seventh, the Yankees loaded the bases on a single and two walks. Red Sox manager Johnny Pesky yanked his starter and brought in flame throwing reliever Dick Radatz. “He was throwing smoke,” catcher Russ Nixon said.

 

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Every play and the game itself are put into context and elucidated with consummate skill and meticulous attention to detail in Maule’s account of the 1963 Giants-Steelers game. It is an incredible piece of reporting — it speaks for itself. The reader feels like he was there, on the field.

Note how Maul intermixes reportage (description) with exposition. Some examples:

 

* * *

Buddy Dial, who was cut by the Giants in his rookie year only to become one of the best receivers in the league for Pittsburgh, found a long stick during practice one day and sneaked into a meeting of the defensive club with it.

“Here, fellows,” he said. “You better take this. You may need it to knock down Tittle’s passes Sunday.”

He was a better prophet than he knew, although even a 10-foot pole would not have been ong enough to reach Del Shofner on some of the passes Tittle threw him.

 

* * *

 

The first touchdown came on a 41-yard pass play from Tittle to Shofner, who was yards beyond Willie Daniel, the Steeler corner back attempting to cover him. Daniel, a young back in his third season, found Shofner’s experience and speed difficult to cope with. Earlier in the game Tittle had attempted a sideline pass to Shofner, luring Daniel up close. This time Shofner faked the sideline, then broke downfield, and Daniel, coming up too hard, could not reverse direction and could only watch helplessly from far behind as Shofner took the perfectly thrown pass.

Late in the second period Tittle did almost the same thing to set up the second Giant touchdown. Again it was a first-down play–a play on which Tittle does not often pass. Again Shofner beat Daniel and this time the pass carried down to the Steeler 14-yard line for a 44-yard gain.

 

* * *

The Steelers, whose main threat is the running of John Henry Johnson and Theron Sapp, had moved sporadically over the frozen ground during the first half. Their drives were aborted when [quarterback] Brown went to the air but could not connect with his receivers and the Giant defense, with linebackers playing up close, stopped Johnson and Sapp.

 

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The Steeler field goal came with seven seconds left in the half, and the drive that produced it was frustratingly typical. From the Giant 20, first and 10, Brown threw three passes. On all three he had plenty of time, but none of the passes was within reach of a receiver, and twice receivers were in the clear. On fourth down Lou Michaels kicked a 27-yard field goal.

For a few moments after the Giants got the ball for their next series of downs, it appeared that the Steelers, encouraged by their quick score, might take control of the game. They rushed Tittle hard and forced him to hurry a pass so that it fell incomplete. They smothered Phil King on a running play. It was third and eight, Del Shofner was out of the game with bruised ribs, and the Giants were in trouble–or so it seemed.

But then Frank Gifford took over Shofner’s role as first-down getter. Gifford had been laying flanker back all afternoon–just getting exercise. Tittle had thrown to him only once. Gifford’s covering man was Glenn Glass, a second-year corner back. Glass, aware that Tittle’s favorite pass to Gifford is to the outside, near the sideline, had been following Frank closely to the outside, almost conceding him the inside routes, where help might be expected from a safety or a linebacker. The Giants had discussed this during the half-time intermission, and now Tittle called a pass pattern that sent Gifford down and in. When he broke to his left, toward the center of the field, he left Glass cross-legged. Tittle’s pass was low, and Gifford reached down with one hand, hoping to tip the ball up. The ball, amazingly, stuck in his hand for a completion on the Steeler 47, a 30-yard gain and a first down. …

“That Gifford catch was the end for us,” Steeler Coach Buddy Parker said later. “It looked then like we were beginning to pick up and they were sliding. But you could see the whole club come alive after that play.”

 

 

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Hamilton Prieleaux Bee Maule (1915-1981), commonly known as Tex Maule, was the lead football writer for Sports Illustrated in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

pithiness

 

 

 

pithiness — terseness and economy in writing and speaking achieved by expressing a great deal in just a few words

 

 

“The pretended rights of these theorists [of revolution] are all extremes; and, in proportion as they are metaphysically true, they are morally and politically false.”

 

— Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

 

 

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This is pithiness by definition. It is a great example of how a great writer and thinker, a master of expository prose, can have the reader stop in his or her tracks, and think, say to oneself: so true — I never saw this before. And of how a single statement can focus and reorient one’s thinking; and enable one to not only see things more clearly than heretofore, but anew in a way not perceived before.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     July 2020

“binary” words

 

 

 

list of ‘binary words’

 

 

See downloadable Word document (above) containing my compilation/list of “binary words”

 

 

Something got me to thinking about the following: in the English language, when two words are combined to form a compound word.

Two separate words are paired and function as if they were a single, unitary word or idea.

Many of these pairings are ingenious. They most often result in one or both words taking on a new or metaphorical meaning different from the original or literal one. So dotted line (as in sign on the dotted line), while there remains a literal meaning (there are dots arranged in a line), also in our minds becomes something we think of — the two words being conjoined, so to speak — as a thing in and of itself, sort of equivalent to red tape or fine print.

What is a rumor mill or a diploma mill? The word mill is part of the compound. And, there is an adjective, e.g., diploma — formed from a noun. It is the case that many such compounds are formed of two fused nouns where one noun now functions as a qualifier and the other as the substantive. A rumor mill or diploma mill is not really a mill, although there is the idea of mass production. The two nouns having been fused together have become an abstract concept.

Or take smoking gun. There may be literally a smoking gun, but the phrase has become metaphorical, and there is usually not an actual gun. Or, take silver platter, for instance. Something that can be visualized as an object has become metaphorical. And worker bee. In botany, it refers to a specific class of bees. But worker bee has become idiomatic when used to describe a person. And we have the same things with hornet’s nest and close shave.

Often a verb, usually used in the active, has become rather listless as an adjective: e.g., peep show. But there is an implied activity associated with the controlling noun. It’s something generic, a show, and there is something going on that the verb/adjective allows us to visualize: peeping.

Some — indeed, many — of the compounds are devised to serve as euphemisms. have become hackneyed, or serve as stock phrases. To give just one example: damaged goods.

 

 

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The attached Word document contains examples of “binary words” that I thought up over the course of a few days. None are taken from a list. They were all from off the top of my head. They are in no particular order. The words come from all sorts of activities and walks of life; government, the professions, sports, the high and the low, etc.

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

the poverty of protest rhetoric

“These children that come at you with knives, they are your children. You taught them. I didn’t teach them. I just tried to help them stand up.”

— Charles Manson, trial testimony, November 17, 1970

 

 

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“The museum’s exhibition about the statue was partly a response to the defacing of it by protesters, who in 2017 splashed red liquid representing blood over the statue’s base. The protesters, who identified themselves as members of the Monument Removal Brigade, later published a statement on the internet calling for its removal as an emblem of ‘patriarchy, white supremacy and settler-colonialism.’

“ ‘Now the statue is bleeding,” the statement said. “We did not make it bleed. It is bloody at its very foundation.’ .” [italics added]

— “Roosevelt Statue to Be Removed From Museum of Natural History,” by Robin Pogrebin, The New York Times, June 21, 2020

 

 

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This is impoverished rhetoric (by the so-called Monument Removal Brigade). Which is actually inane.

It shows the impoverishment of their ideas, mental and moral vacuity on the part of so-called revolutionary reformers, and the emptiness of vandalism (excuse me, protest actions).

I could have done better in the third grade.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

POST UPDATED: generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

 

 

My post “generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)” has been updated with new content. See

 

 

https://rogers-rhetoric.com/2020/06/01/generic-writing-or-how-to-say-nothing-in-430-plus-words/

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

“bombastic prose-poetry”

 

 

“Moralists come and go; religionists fulminate and declare the pronouncements of God as to this; but Aphrodite still reigns Embowered in the festal depths of the spring.”

 

— Theodore Dreiser, Dawn: An Autobiography of Early Youth

 

The words (characterization) “bombastic prose-poetry” are not mine. They are from Scott McLemee, “Keeping It Real,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 30, 2004.

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

    June 2020

generic writing (or how to say nothing in 430 plus words)

 

 

 

Reflections on This Moment

 

This is an unprecedented moment in our history; we all feel it. The pandemic continues to be deeply challenging for everyone, and tragic for too many. Now, the horrifying death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the protests that have followed are weighing heavily on all our minds. COVID-19 has magnified and exposed our most deeply embedded failings and fault lines. We stand with the Black community, our hearts aching for a country so divided by racial injustice, arrogance, and hatred. It’s hard not to be sad, not to be angry, and to remain hopeful.

In the face of cruelty, fear, and anxiety, we need to search for what we can still hold on to, what we can still believe in. We can all be proud that the mission of the Library—to educate, welcome and respect all perspectives, convene safe and productive conversations, and offer opportunity to all—directly combats divisiveness, ignorance, hate, and racism. It is and remains our founding idea: that everyone can learn and contribute, and must be respected. And in learning about others we learn about ourselves and hopefully find ways to live together, to embrace and better understand each other.

Our varied backgrounds and experiences within our city and society are our greatest source of strength: bringing new ideas and perspectives, teaching empathy, and shining a light on how we falter. But not if we close our eyes and ears to the lessons of diversity, rejecting the validity and equal value of experiences and lives other than our own. When we fail as a society to respect learning and each other, we become inhumane and untold tragedy follows.

We all have a responsibility to actively participate in our democracy as informed citizens, to collectively refine, demand, and enact justice. Educating ourselves further about the legacy of racial injustice in this country is a key piece of this.

The Library, your Library, is committed to enabling that learning. We will offer every tool, book, and collection we can, welcome and serve all, and encourage all to respect each other, learn together and from one another. All the accumulated knowledge we hold reminds us that we are capable, yes, of horror, but on balance, we are still capable together of imagining and achieving better.

For 125 years, whether in person or for now only online, we have led the fight against ignorance to support understanding, empathy, and solidarity. In this difficult moment, we reinforce our mission, and stand with all of our communities against injustice and racism.

Thank you, and please stay safe.

 

 

Yours,

Tony

Anthony W. Marx

President, The New York Public Library

June 1, 2020

 

 

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I am a devoted New York Public Library patron.

This message came in the form of an email.

I was hoping that Mr. Marx might say something about library services and plans for or the possibility of reopening.

If I may be permitted to do so, I ask what has Mr. Marx said here? Perhaps we have had similar thoughts in our private musings. But what is his purpose in writing this message? To library supporters and patrons. What has he said that might affect our views on anything one way or the other? And what does any of this have to do with the library, or Mr. Marx’s role as its president?

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

   June 1, 2020

 

 

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addendum, June 2

 

 

There have been similar posts this evening from other cultural institutions in the City such as the Park Avenue Armory and Queens Public Library.

It has occurred to me that what Mr. Marx and the other executives of these institutions are doing amounts to preening. They are using the tragic death of George Floyd to get credit for THEMSELVES and perhaps increased support for their institutions. Should I, should I be so inclined, put a post here stating the obvious: that I am greatly distressed about George Floyd’s death — to perhaps show myself in a good light as someone who cares? Should I, could I afford it, take out an advisement in a newspaper for the same purpose? What would the point be? All decent people feel the same way. Should I tell everyone that I do? Do they need to hear that? Would it do them good to hear it?

 

 

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addendum, June 10

 

 

The following are recent messages sent by email to alumni and members of the Brandeis University community by Brandeis University President Ronald D. Liebowitz.

 

 

June 1, 2020

 

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

George Floyd’s killing was cruel, inhumane, and contemptible. The injustice of violence against black people must stop.

The history of our great university is intertwined with the pursuit of justice. Brandeis was created in response to antisemitism and bigotry. We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.

These are not just words or noble ideas. These are principles that inspire us at Brandeis to educate, to learn, and to act.

With that in mind, I join with Mark Brimhall-Vargas, chief diversity officer, in calling for us to come together, even if virtually. In the message Mark sent on Friday, he mentioned two different events happening this week. The Heller School is hosting a conference, “Co-Constructing Racial Justice through Life and Work.” And Mark will host “Coming Together to Face Systemic Racism.” I hope you will join me in attending both.

As Brandeisians, not all of our experiences are shared ones. We come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives. But I know that there are some things we have in common. This includes an unwavering commitment to justice, equity, and inclusion. It includes respecting other people, no matter their background.

I hope to see you at one of the events tomorrow or the next day. Let us come together to express our commitment to ending racist violence.

Sincerely,

Ron Liebowitz

 

 

 

June 9. 2020

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

Black Lives Matter.

Last week, I wrote to all of you saying violence against Black people must stop. The killing of George Floyd by police was inhuman, contemptible, and tragic. We gathered together virtually, and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.

I said then that we must do more; we must do better.

In that spirit, I am announcing an initiative that will transform our campus and address systemic racism. I have asked key administrators to develop and submit action plans in the next 90 days.

• These action plans must include ongoing, significant engagement with members of the campus community. We must listen, and understand the kinds of systemic racism, bias, and ill-treatment experienced by Black members of our community. But we must go further than dialogue and understanding. We must rapidly move toward concrete change.

• The action plans I am calling for must be transformational, including new approaches regarding the roles and responsibilities of Public Safety, the Department of Community Living, Human Resources, Athletics, the Academy, and all of us who are charged with creating and sustaining a safe, respectful environment for learning and living.

• Action plans must be developed with broad input from diverse constituencies. Black students, Black student organizations, other students of color, other student organizations, faculty, members of each of the aforementioned departments, and other staff should all be invited to be part of the drafting process.

I am asking the following administrators to develop and submit these action plans by September 1:

• Executive Vice President Stew Uretsky, Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley, Vice President for Human Resources Robin Switzer, and Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Ed Callahan for the plans for Public Safety and Human Resources

•Vice Provost for Student Affairs Raymond Ou, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Tim Touchette, and Director of Athletics Lauren Haynie for the plans for Community Living, Residential Life, and Athletics

• Provost Lisa Lynch, Dean Eric Chasalow, Dean Dorothy Hodgson, Dean Katy Graddy, Dean David Weil, and Vice President Lynne Rosansky for the plan for the Academy and its constituent Schools

Despite concerted efforts to address past incidents on campus, discrimination and bias continue to be issues for us at Brandeis. While we have piloted a number of initiatives, most of them voluntary in nature, across the university, we are committed to a more comprehensive approach to addressing racism in order to build stronger, more respectful relationships within the community.

Our university was founded on principles of inclusion that are as relevant today as they were in 1948. As I said at the community virtual gathering last week, we have not always lived up to our ideals, but those ideals — our values — point us in the right direction. The administration and I are committed to moving beyond “business as usual” and requesting voluntary efforts for change. We must work together to build a community that is diverse, welcoming, and free from bias and discrimination.

Sincerely,

Ron Liebowitz

 

 
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These communiqués are similar to the above email sent by Anthony W. Marx, President of the New York Public Library, on June 1.

I am a Brandeis University alumnus. The school has always been a liberal, forward looking place, in terms of views on the issues and the university community. University President Liebowitz feels it is incumbent upon him — he has taken upon himself, as have administrators of all sorts of educational and cultural institutions — to articulate his views at this time as the voice of the university.

But what has he said? What do these communiqués tell us? Why is he writing?

Because he feels he ought to say something.

President Liebowitz says in his first communiqué: “We cannot tolerate discrimination, hatred, or violence against another person based on their race, religion, or background. These values are as important today as they were at our founding.” And, in the second, he writes: “We gathered together virtually [after the murder of George Floyd], and I heard many of you express outrage, fear, and the exhaustion of living with cruel racism in your lives and on our campus.”

This is so vague as to be meaningless.

If there are racial injustices embedded in university policies — or in present campus realities — President Liebowitz could have said what they were, without necessarily going into detail. Then, we could see what they were; what problems he feels the university should address; and steps he is contemplating or undertaking. No such problems or injustices are mentioned. They are conspicuous by the absence of any mention of them.

So why should one read these communiqués? President Liebowitz did mention that the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis was hosting two conferences on addressing the problem of systematic racism. They don’t sound interesting to me, but at least this is informative.

Here, in essence, is the letter I would have written: We deplore the murder of George Floyd. We deplore the racism endemic in our society and the murder of our black citizens. We are ever mindful of these issues and are holding two virtual conferences this week that you may wish to attend. …

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   post updated June 10, 2020