Prof. Jonathan Sarna, Chair of the Brandeis Bronfman Contest
If you know one thing about this blog, it should be that I care about what my readers think and that I always try to have you in mind.
Yesterday I asked if you were sick of the Bronfman contest. Most of you said no. I have an agreement over e-mail with someone that s/he will skip the blog for now and I’ll e-mail when the series/conversation is over. That sounds like a good bargain to me.
I think given our deep investment in the conversation on Jewish ideas so far– more than any other blog, website, or organization— we owe it to ourselves to see this contest and its ideas through. That’s what I plan to do.
Writing Prof. Sarna: We Want Answers
So, in the best interest of everyone who generously shared their proposals here and keeping in mind that many of you are very upset about how you feel you’ve been treated, I decided to write Prof. Sarna, the head of the contest, to find out some answers. We deserve to know the basics, right?
I didn’t plan to publish the letter (that wasn’t my intent in writing it), but given the response and its minimalist tone, I’ve decided to do it anyway, as I believe it will answer (or at least address) a number of questions we’ve been contemplating.
Intention & Tone
My goal in writing the letter was to get answers to some of our questions. I tried to be as non-threatening as possible in doing so in order to represent us and our intentions accurately. We have respect for the contest as a whole, but we don’t necessarily like their air of secrecy or half-way notifications about what is going on.
(You can also read a more passionate statement of frustration and discontent from one of my readers, Ian Zwerling, in his letter to the Brandeis Justice.)
Here is my call and response correspondence with Prof. Sarna.
“Dear Ms. Norton,
Thank you so much for writing. My comments are interspersed below:
Maya Norton wrote:
Dear Prof. Sarna,
I write you with the greatest respect at what I can only imagine is an unspeakably busy time for you and your team.
As you know, I have had the pleasure of hosting 12 great proposals (4 finalists, 8 regular contributors) for the next big idea in Jewish communal innovation on my blog, The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy.
As a central address in the Jewish blogging world for the contest, many questions are understandably directed my way. I hope you won’t mind if I pass some by you in hopes of finding some answers:
1. When might we expect the 20 semifinalists’ proposals to be published and what will the URL be? Have the semifinalists been notified of their status?
All of the semi-finalists have been informed. Only some of the 20 have agreed to allow us to publish their proposals. I hope that we can have a website up within a month.
2. What procedures or tenets are in place to guarantee that the ideas contained in the unpublished proposals will be protected?
We follow the regular search procedures at Brandeis. Only those individuals who have agreed in writing to allow us to post their proposals will have their proposals uploaded onto the site. Everything else connected to the search is, naturally, confidential.
Keep reading to learn more!
3. Will the Feb. 24th symposium be filmed or liveblogged for a worldwide audience? How shortly will the decision of the winner come in its wake?
I expect that we will film the symposium. We hope to announce the winner shortly after the symposium, but no promises.
4. Are you able to share any information about the composition of the committee beyond the information that has been released by official announcement?
The committee is composed of senior Brandeis University faculty. It includes faculty (male and female) from several different departments. Nobody outside of Brandeis is on the search committee. The composition of search committees at Brandeis is confidential. I am chairing the search.
5. Beyond the finalists and semifinalists, are there any plans by Brandeis or Mr. Bronfman to follow up on the ideas received (book, web publication, etc)?
None to my knowledge.
Lastly, when the contest has passed and you are finally able to draw a free breath of spring air, would you be amenable to an interview on my blog as we have focused so much energy and attention on this initiative? For obvious reasons, I would screen questions so that everything would be done with a maximum amount of respect for what the contest was attempting to accomplish.
It’s simply that my readers are so invested and invigorated by this idea, I believe they would like to have a better understanding of how to proceed now (in a general sense, not specific), and your insight in this matter would be sincerely appreciately.
Glad to think about this when the time comes.
For your reference, the homepage for the Bronfman Big Idea Series is here.
Thank you in advance & Shavua Tov,
Readers, Your Turn
Now it’s your turn to react Prof. Sarna’s words. I know there are some very strong feelings at stake– and I want to hear them– but as usual I ask that you keep it in the spirit of wholesome conversation so that we can learn from each other. Please avoid base insults and name calling, should you be tempted. I want real discussion.
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