Education: Builder in a Hurry

In his 20th year as the first president of Brandeis University, Abram L. Sachar, 68, announced last week that he plans to retire as soon as a successor can be found. A passionate, strong-willed administrator whose phrasemaking flair and public charm raised $160 million to build the school from scratch, Sachar told the Brandeis trustees that the university needs a "reappraisal that new leadership can provide." The board voted to create for Sachar the advisory post of chancellor, in which he will continue to exercise his fund-raising talents. Sachar insists that his new job "will not impinge on the authority of the new president—I don't want to exercise an interferiority complex."

Sachar, a historian of Judaism who formerly taught at the University of Illinois, took over a defunct medical-school campus in Waltham, Mass., in 1948 and personally pushed Brandeis into the top score or so of U.S. private universities. He did so largely by courting Jewish philanthropists, even while insisting, not quite accurately, that Brandeis is "no more Jewish than Princeton is Presbyterian." Although the university has no administrative ties with any of Judaism's religious organizations, the student body, which now numbers 2,460, more than a fourth of them in graduate work, is still about 70% Jewish. The faculty is particularly strong in biochemistry, bacteriology, chemistry, physics, English, history and math. Brandeis' experience, contends Sachar, proves that it is possible to build a quality university in a hurry if "you do the best right from the beginning—you don't bridge a chasm in two leaps."

Sachar's intense concern about every detail of the university's development has been resented by some restive students and professors, who regard him as an academic dictator. Sachar, who has never been known to walk away from a fight, blandly dismisses such criticism as "the chastisements of love." An academic presidency, he says, "is not a popularity contest—I believe in strength in governing a university." In the opinion of his peers, Sachar has not only been strong himself but has also provided most of the strength of Brandeis. on Digg


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