Professors discuss Concerned Listserv
The first faculty meeting of the year was held last Thursday and included not only a summary of recent University changes, but a discussion of recent sexual assault issues and faculty arguments over the private Listserv discovered last summer.
The meeting began with a memorial tribute to Prof. Luis Yglesias, who was a professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Brandeis for 42 years and passed away last May.
Lawrence reported that a search for next provost is underway after current Provost Steve Goldstein ’78 announced this would be his last year in the position. A committee began an internal search over the summer, but the process is still ongoing. Lawrence mentioned the importance of finding the right person for the job, as the provost plays a key role in building the University’s academic vision and the successes it has had both structurally and financially.
He then went on to discuss the University’s current financial situation. Lawrence said that he was pleased to announce that out of a goal of $100 million, Brandeis has already passed the $40 million mark in increasing the Catalyst Fund, which was initiated in January to help fund scholarships for undergraduate students and fellowships for graduate students. According to an April 1 Justice article, the University had already raised over one-third of its goal by press time. A class of 1990 alumna recently donated $1 million toward scholarships and endowment, and an anonymous donor gave $2.5 million. Lawrence stressed that the University will continue to look for young alumni to donate.
Brandeis ended its last fiscal year in a deficit but finished $2 million ahead of its initial goal. Although still in debt, the University is in less debt than anticipated, and thus the goal of being in surplus for next year is on track. Lawrence also mentioned the multiple investments the school made in terms of renovations. Ziv Quad, the Foster Mods, Schwartz Auditorium and Usdan Dining Hall were all renovated this summer, and a new space was created for the Lemberg Children’s Center.
In terms of admissions, Lawrence said that the Class of 2018 is larger than expected because it received the highest number of applications in the University’s history. The first-year class is comprised of just over 860 students, which is higher than the average of 820. The class also has a high percentage of international students. While the goal is to return to 820 students per class, Lawrence said that “over-acceptance is a positive sign” and is “gratifying.”
Moving forward, Lawrence began to discuss the topic of sexual assault on campus. He said that while the University has “come a long way in the last few years,” there is still more to be done in terms of addressing this issue. He mentioned that while the University has already hired Shelia McMahon as a sexual assault and prevention specialist, reorganized the Health Center and hired a new counseling team, it must continue to develop and expand training, including training all faculty and staff about University protocol surrounding sexual assault. He said that compliance with Title IX is legally necessary but is “not sufficient,” as the University must go above and beyond, and be “leaders” in preventing sexual assault and violence.
Afterward, as the floor was opened for questions, Prof. Sue Lanser (ENG) stood up to speak about the leaked emails amongst faculty from the “Concerned” Listserv. Specifically, she addressed Lawrence’s response to the issue—an online letter which was released in July—and said it was seen by many faculty members as a call to restrict the faculty’s freedom of expression. She went on to read a letter signed by many members of the English department, which called for Lawrence to make another public statement, this time defending free speech and the faculty members who have been attacked in articles about the Listserv and through hate mail.
Lawrence responded that the letter was a call for civility and should not be interpreted as a restriction of free expression because all political views are welcome at Brandeis. In the letter, Lawrence stated that he “comdemn[s]” many of the “abhorrent” statements made by faculty but the University maintains its “staunch support of freedom of expression and academic inquiry” and in the future, must handle disagreements in an “open, civil” manner.
Prof. Jonathan Sarna (NEJS) stood up to discuss his views, adding that rhetoric is important, and that statements made in emails sent across the Listserv were “appalling,” and he was “ashamed” of some of the language used in the emails. Many other faculty began to express their views as well, but Lawrence ended the discussion by saying a forum should be held at a different time to discuss this topic in full.
Prof. Irv Epstein (CHEM), speaking on behalf of the provost, discussed grants, special programs and new initiatives from the summer. Prof. Jané Kandev (PHYS) was named as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, an honor that gives recipients a $1 million grant to conduct research. Other professors who received grants were Profs. James Haber (BIOL), Mary Jo Larson (Heller), Isaac Krauss (CHEM) and Palmira Santos (Heller). The Rose Art Museum also received a $100,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support future programs, hire a Curator of Academic Projects and help integrate the museum more fully into Brandeis curriculum.
Prof. Dan Perlman (BIOL), the associate provost of innovation and education, discussed the newly-designed Center for Teaching and Learning. Located on the second level of the Farber Library, this center will facilitate changes in curriculum, provide workshops and conduct confidential consultations and classroom visits. The official opening of this center will take place from Oct. 6 through Oct. 8, during which Dr. Craig Nelson, a nationally recognized scholar of teaching from Indiana University, will conduct a series of workshops on effective teaching and ways to maximize student learning.
Finally, Prof. Tom Pochapsky (CHEM) presented the agenda for the first Faculty Senate meeting. At the meeting, he said that faculty will address Title IX issues, retirement fund issues during a time of financial crisis, scheduling issues and the potential implementation of plagiarism software called “Turnitin.”
The meeting concluded with the introduction of new faculty.