Dear Brandeis University,
I guess I owe you an explanation, but in a way, I guess you owe me one as well. So, as tough as this letter is for me to write, I want to clear the air between us so you know what precipitated this break-up. It isn't you and it isn't me. It's you.
You probably have been combing through the applications, trying to find the one marked "Madeline Rosen." You figure, "That's a Brandeis Family! Surely their child will apply to the school." And I wish you were right. We ARE a Brandeis family, and proud of it. In fact, I am sitting right now wearing a Brandeis scarf. A scarf for heaven's sake! A scarf that I have saved for the last 20+ years and which I love wearing not just because it keeps my (ever more sensitive) neck warm, but because it proclaims to the world "I went to Brandeis and that's pretty darned awesome!" And when the Mrs. wears her "Let's shoot for the top" t-shirt, or when I show the kids my Brandeis English department sweatshirt? We smile and embrace great memories of our time on campus. And you know what? Of all the schools which I attended, Brandeis is the one school that I consistently give money to as an alum. That must say something. Two generations, 4 Brandeis students (my parents, and the wife and I, all hail to the white and the blue) and yet you aren't going to find an application for my elder child.
Maybe it isn't because you have changed -- maybe I just didn't see what you were back then and my parents were willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the world has changed around us. I don't know, but let me detail my thought process so you can understand my thinking.
First off, you, while a fine school, have made political decisions which highlight your openness and at the same time, call in to question your mission to be a safe haven for Jews and Zionists. Yes, I know, it is important to foster open debate and freedom of thought because if we stifle it for any group, we run the risk of endorsing censorship for the Jewish voice. But the fact is, my child, an ardent Zionist, should not be wandering through a campus which allows voices of hate to carry the day. It is, to my mind, simple. Maybe I am holding Brandeis up to a separate standard, and that isn't fair, but I do it. When I attended, there were all sorts of voices of dissension but there was an underlying sense that to be pro-Israel would never go out of style. The news I have read and the anecdotes retold to me by my own students who have gone through campus tell me otherwise. Sure, you say, there is tension, but that tension exists on many campuses. Yes, it does. And yes, wherever Maddie goes, she will have to confront hatred and bigotry. And if all else was equal, Brandeis, with a relatively small anti-Zionist contingent might still be a viable option for her. But all else isn't equal.
Next, you are a fine school, but one which costs a huge amount. My parents, God bless them, were able to afford to send their children to expensive schools. I am simply not in that boat. I do fine; don't get me wrong. I know that compared to the mass of the American population, I am blessed and in the top levels. But when it comes to schools, sinking 250k plus into 4 years just isn't in the financial cards. I don't want Maddie leaving school saddled with huge debts (and don't want those debts for myself) and, because the Mrs. and I are squarely comfortable, we just don't qualify for any solid financial aid. Sure, FAFSA might throw a few thousand bucks at us and I'm neither rejecting nor taking that money for granted. But the fact is, a yearly tuition bill over 50 thousand (plus all the other costs) is not defrayed much by $4,800 in grant money. But again, could we make it work if everything else was equal? Maybe. We'd scrimp and save and cut corners and find a way. But all else isn't equal.
I left Brandeis with a degree in English and American Literature. The wife left with a double BA in English and in History. We are children of the liberal arts and we are proud of it. A liberal arts education creates a rounded person -- someone who knows just enough about many things to either create a well-informed world view, or be an asset on a Trivia Night team. We, I'd like to think, are both. We both were prepared for graduate school and have found careers which leverage our multi-faceted education. But the fact is, it took me 4 years after graduation to find myself and during that time, I was lucky enough to have parents who could continue to carry me (again, God bless them). My liberal arts degree trained me to think critically and communicate effectively, but not actually DO anything. And the world has changed. No longer can a student leave having tasted of the intellectual delights of a broad range of fields and then start to find direction. While some families might still be able to set up a financial plan which can weather a longer road towards "life" and "career" we cannot. We want Maddie to try different things and end up happy in a field which suits her passions, but we need to get her on that path a touch earlier. And Brandeis, while you have many classes and tracks which I still would love to try out, the fact is, for her areas of interest, she would be floating between departments for four years, never being able to focus and start herself towards anything real. She could create her own major but how would that look to prospective employers. At other schools, she could go into a well regarded program, one nationally ranked, one with established connections into industry.
So with a heavy heart, I have to tell you that you should not expect that she, a student whose temperament, family history and intellectual curiosity would otherwise make her a poster child for Brandeis, will be applying to walk your storied halls. I have another child --- one with a different skill set, but one with the same parents, with the same underlying concerns and with the same financial limitations. Maybe in the next few years, I will win the lottery, the price of education will drop precipitously due to competition from online degree programs, or you will realize how cool it would be to have a third generation student at your school so you will come a-calling and throwing money. Maybe, you will rediscover your mission and take a stand against injustice and evil, and realize that one does not have to have a mind so open that one's heart falls out. But probably not.
So while I might still send in some money each year, it won't be as much as I have. While I may eventually come up for a reunion, it will be to relive the past, not celebrate the future. And while I wear this scarf, I will not be able to hand it down to a next generation of Brandeis student in the family. We can still be friends.
If you want to talk, feel free to contact me. To thee, alma mater, we'll always be true.