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Brandeis University names its ninth president

Brandeis University has named former Middlebury College president Ronald Liebowitz as the university’s new leader.
Brandeis University has named former Middlebury College president Ronald Liebowitz as the university’s new leader.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Brandeis University on Thurday appointed former Middlebury College leader Ron Liebowitz as its ninth president, citing his record of raising the Vermont school’s stature and leading it through challenging times.

In Liebowitz, the Waltham liberal arts college chose an established fund-raiser who oversaw a $535 million campaign and increased the rate of alumni giving at Middlebury, something that will be important at a school where fund-raising declined under the previous president, Frederick M. Lawrence, who stepped down early this year.

Under Liebowitz, Middlebury also started several research centers and expanded its language programs.

Students and faculty Thursday praised the hire and said they hope Liebowitz will be open, involve them in decision-making, and make student and faculty diversity a priority.

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“I am excited to work with Brandeis faculty, staff, and students to advance Brandeis so it can be a model for teaching, learning and research that befits its history and our times,” Liebowitz said in a prepared statement.

Liebowitz called Brandeis unique for its strong undergraduate curriculums and renowned graduate programs. He said fund-raising will be a “key focus” of his tenure.

Brandeis Provost Lisa Lynch has served as interim president since July, when Lawrence stepped down after 4½ years to become a researcher at Yale Law School.

Liebowitz, 58, is originally from New York City and lives in Newton with his wife, Jessica, and three children. He plans to formally take over next July. His wife, a visiting scholar at Boston College, also plans to take an active role at Brandeis, focused on the “intellectual and creative life on campus,” he said.

Liebowitz has an undergraduate degree from Bucknell University and a doctorate from Columbia University, according to the Middlebury website, and is an expert in Russian economic and political geography.

Under Liebowitz, Middlebury added 120 endowed student scholarships and 16 endowed faculty positions, according to that college’s website.

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He joins Brandeis at a time when the campus needs a strong fund-raiser. Contributions fell under Lawrence in an era when college presidents are increasingly valued for their ability to raise money.

While Brandeis brought in about $90 million annually on average during the four years before Lawrence, contributions dropped in each of the four years under his watch, averaging about $37 million annually, financial statements show. The school raised $63.8 million in 2010, the year before he started, and $32.5 million last year, according to the statements.

Brandeis, a Jewish-sponsored, nonsectarian university, has more students and the president is paid more, but Middlebury’s endowment is larger.

There are about 3,600 undergraduates at Brandeis and 2,450 at Middlebury. The Brandeis endowment is $766 million, tax filings show, and Middlebury’s is $972 million.

Lawrence last year made $954,000 in total compensation. At Middlebury, Liebowitz was paid $561,000.

Brandeis faced criticism and protests by students, faculty, alumni and others after a Globe report in November 2013, and another in 2014, revealed that Lawrence’s predecessor, Jehuda Reinharz, had received millions of dollars from the school for part-time work since stepping down as president in 2010.

In response to the controversy, Brandeis announced changes designed to set a more open and fair process for determining executive compensation.

Several Brandeis faculty members said Thursday that they are excited about Liebowitz, who rose through the ranks from an associate professor at Middlebury to president during his 31 years at the school, and they said they hope he will include them in decision-making.

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The president also comes at a time when about 200 part-time and adjunct faculty are considering unionizing.

One professor with a unique perspective is Theodore Sasson, who teaches Jewish studies at both Brandeis and Middlebury.

“Ron is enormously admired and appreciated by the Middlebury College staff and faculty for leading the institution,” Sasson said.

He commended Liebowitz as a “steady presence” who guided the school through the financial crisis and helped it emerge stronger than ever without laying off staff.

Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor, said the new president will need to understand the changing Jewish community, since many of the college’s original donors have died and younger alumni need to be courted.

“It has to find new donors to replace those, and the new president will have that as a challenge,” Fellman said.

Fellman also said Liebowitz should not use the school as a platform to promote a personal political agenda about Israel.

On Israel, Liebowitz said the university should provide “a forum for full discussion.”

Students also had advice for the new leader. Eric Miller, a senior from San Diego, said the concerns of some students this semester were drowned out by several protests calling for more campus diversity.

“I think that the president should focus on everyone, not just the loudest voices on campus,” Miller said.

Rebecca Cohen, a freshman from New Jersey, said she chose Brandeis because the student body seemed accepting, and because it is an easy place to practice the Jewish faith.

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“The best thing we could hope for from Ron Liebowitz is steady, consistent and open communication. I hope he’s very accessible,” Cohen said.


Globe correspondent Felicia Gans contributed to this report. Krantz can be reached at laura.
krantz@globe.com
. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz

Correction: This story has been corrected after an earlier version misidentified Frederick M. Lawrence.