Board of Trustees discusses free speech on campus at meeting
At the Board of Trustees’ meeting on Wednesday, the Board discussed issues of free speech on campus, the forthcoming draft of a financial and strategic plan and online education, according to a draft statement from undergraduate representatives Mohamed Sidique ’15 and Grady Ward ’16.
The draft of the financial and strategic plan, according to Ward, is a list of priorities and areas in which the University aims to grow within the next few years, drafted by University President Frederick Lawrence, coupled with a plan to achieve those priorities and goals.
Ward said in an interview with the Justice that, while he could not reveal details about the plan at the moment, he expects a public draft of the plan to be available by the end of the semester. But as of now, he said, he worries about a lack of student involvement and even awareness of the plan, especially in contrast to the strategic plan which began drafting with several committees and town hall-style meetings three years ago.
“That’s essentially going to govern our future for the next few years, and no students really have been involved in the drafting of that process, which is a little bit concerning to me,” he said.
“How [the goals are] implemented, I think, will largely be a more collective process,” he added, “but the overall issues have kind of been decided for us, and the overall direction in which our university’s going has been largely decided without any student input.”
In addition, the issue of free speech and the “atmosphere on campus,” especially in light of the controversy over a student’s tweets during the winter break, were discussed in the Students and Enrollment Committee, according to Ward, and were“of primary concern to the board and the student body,” according to the statement.
During this meeting, trustees considered what the University’s response to such incidents should be, he said.
“I think they’ve embraced the fact that they can’t control what students say, or how they say it, or what mediums they say it on,” said Ward, “but of active concern to trustees is how our university deals with conflict when he have it.”
“I feel like that’s something that will be probably addressed by the trustees at some point in time,” he added, “but I think that it needs to be addressed in a very rational manner and a very impartial manner, and I don’t think that now is the time to do that.”
Meanwhile, Sidique, who did not respond to the Justice’s initial request for an interview, is spearheading an initiative to offer a class “intended on exposing students to differing viewpoints, and better understanding and appreciating intellectual diversity,” according to the representatives’ statement.
“That seems like such a fundamental part of the Brandeis identity and the Brandeis culture that it would make sense to have a class that kind of faces that,” said Ward of the efforts to establish such a class.
Trustees also discussed online classes at the meeting, said Ward, although mostly in relation to graduate-level courses and degrees. While the representatives “stressed the continued importance and value in face to face communication” in undergraduate education, they wrote, they also noted the potential for students to explore “niches” and academic areas that Brandeis does not cover.
Brandeis joined the online learning consortium “2U” for two semesters, offering courses to undergraduates starting in spring 2014, but ended its involvement with the program after the summer 2014 semester due to a lack of enrollment.
Asked whether Brandeis or the Board would consider another, similar partnership, Ward said, “There are, I think, three or four really big major ones out there, but if we decide that pursuing membership in one is a priority, I think it’ll probably be another year before we establish which one is our priority.”
The joint statement from Ward and Sidique foreshadowed that the topic “will be seriously discussed” at the next Board meeting, in March.
The Board also voted to approve two new graduate degree programs: a Master of Education in Teacher Leadership, offered through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and an Executive MBA program for Physicians, through the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. Each will be taught partly online, according to Ward.
Issues brought up at the last board meeting, such as Brandeis’ cost of attendance, sexual assault prevention and diversity, remain on the table, said Ward.
The Board moves “relatively slowly,” said Ward, adding that the issues at hand do “require a lot of deliberate, conscious thought.”
“Our strategy is really to keep talking about the issues, but not necessarily putting 100 percent of our pressure on them to address them immediately,” said Ward.
Affordability and the cost of attending Brandeis, which Ward said was “probably my number one concern right now,” has not yet seen concrete progress. However, he added that a Student Union working group on financial issues and transparency is “working very actively with both senior administration and other people who are able to give us information about how we can better integrate ourselves into the budget and planning process.”
On the topic of sexual assault on campus, Ward said that the Board is “taking a lot of action on sexual assault and sexual assault prevention.” While he wouldn’t provide details, he said that students can expect to see some new developments in this area within the next six months.
Ward added that he and Sidique sought to include language about “diversity on campus and diversity of thought” in Brandeis’ strategic plan and to keep that topic at the forefront of discussion.
The Board of Trustees meets next on March 25.