Frederick M. Lawrence

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Frederick M. Lawrence
8th President of Brandeis University
Term January 2011 –
Predecessor Jehuda Reinharz
Born 1955
Residence Waltham, MA
Profession Attorney
Religion Jewish
Spouse Kathy Lawrence
Children Miriam and Noah

Frederick M. Lawrence is an American legal scholar and the President of Brandeis University. He was named President on July 8, 2010 and took office on Jan. 1, 2011.[1] Lawrence is an expert on civil rights.[1]

Early Life[edit]

He is the third and youngest child of Brooklyn College sweethearts Joseph and Bea Lawrence (both deceased). His father was a chemical engineer and his mother an educator. Lawrence attended Flower Hill Elementary School, Carrie Palmer Weber Junior High School and Paul D. Schreiber High School, all in Port Washington, New York. He was valedictorian of his 1973 high school class.

Lawrence holds a B.A. from Williams College and a J.D. from Yale Law School.


He began his legal career in 1980 as clerk to Judge Amalya Lyle Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Later, Lawrence served as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where he became chief of the Civil Rights Unit.

In 1988, he joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Law where he taught courses on civil rights enforcement, criminal law, and civil procedure.

From 2005 through 2010, Lawrence was Dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School.[2]

2014 Commencement Controversy[edit]

On April 9, 2014, Brandeis University withdrew its Commencement invitation for awarding an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a famed critic of Islam and a staunch supporter of women's rights who speaks against the practice of honor killings, female genital mutilation, child marriage and various applications of Sharia Law that justify mistreatment of Muslim women by their men. 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". [3] Ali said that after having spent many months of planning for her to speak at the Commencement she was surprised Brandeis used some of her past statements as an excuse for withdrawing the invitation, especially since her views have always been open to the public and "in the age of Google, all of that is out of there". [4] She added that an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. [5]

In an open letter written to Fred Lawrence by award winning writer and historian Jeffrey Herf, who received his PhD from Brandeis, he criticizes Lawrence's decision as "an act of cowardice and appeasement ... and it has done deep and long-lasting damage to a university". [6] In another open letter by Lawrence J. Haas, the former communications director and press secretary for Vice President Al Gore, he maintains that Lawrence has "succumbed to political correctness and interest group pressure in deciding that Islam is beyond the pale of legitimate inquiry ... that such a decision is particularly appalling for a university president, for a campus is precisely the place to encourage free discussion even on controversial matters". [7]

It was later revealed that while Ali was not granted her honorary degree, she was in fact invited to Brandeis’ campus in order to speak with the student body “in a dialogue about these important issues,” [8] however, she did not accept the invitation. On April 17th, 2014, the Times of Israel wrote that “In declaring that honoring Ali would negate Brandeis’ inclusivist values, university President Fred Lawrence has provided Muslims and Jews with an essential teaching moment” [9] declaring that the issue wasn’t about free speech, but instead was about one community not lauding the renegades of another.

Other critics viewed the reaction as misguided, too. On April 13, 2014, Isaac Chotiner of the New Republic wrote that “this controversy isn't about shunning someone from polite society. It is about giving a person an honorary degree.” Chotiner would go on to write that “I certainly don't think she was deserving of a degree in the first place, so, as Gharib argues, [10] once the university realized its mistake, correcting it was reasonable.” [11]


  • Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law,


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