President Liebowitz releases University's yearly agenda and task force updates awareness
The University’s agenda this year includes further discussion of free expression principles, decisions on new general education requirements and the hiring of new staff, University President Ronald Liebowitz told the Brandeis community in a Sept. 8 email.
“This will be a year when we move from analysis to action,” Liebowitz wrote.
The email, almost 2,500 words long, enumerated plans for the academic year, which include a continuation of the work of two task forces from last year.
The Task Force on Free Expression has proposed a set of five principles intended to “guide how we engage one another as we present, debate, and share ideas and knowledge as an academic community,” Liebowitz wrote.
“Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected,” reads the draft of proposals, which is available for view on the task force’s website.
Overall, the principles encourage Brandeis community members to engage with all ideas and accept responsibility for their actions and impact on others.
The fourth principle reaffirms peaceful protest but condemns using physical violence or otherwise preventing speech: “Once violence is normalized as an ingredient of free expression, it sets the pattern, ending rather than supporting free expression.”
In the past year, other campuses have had instances of violent responses to expressions of speech. On March 2, a demonstration at Middlebury College protesting an event featuring conservative social scientist Charles Murray ended with violence and injured a Middlebury professor, according to a March 5 Boston Globe article.
The task force’s final principle clarifies the difference between an invitation to speak on campus and the bestowal of an honorary degree. According to the draft of principles, the former does not entail University endorsement of the speaker’s work, while the latter does imply a level of endorsement of aspects of an honoree’s work. To that end, the draft explains, “A protest against the university for making a disfavored choice for a prestigious honor is not, in itself, an attack on free speech.”
In 2014, the University rescinded its honorary degree to activist and scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali after Brandeis community members spoke out against Hirsi Ali’s views on Islam and protested the University’s decision to honor her. The situation attracted national news coverage and widespread debate over free expression.
In his Sept. 8 email, Liebowitz acknowledged that free expression has become a “contentious issue on many college and university campuses” and invited community members to attend upcoming open forums, which will take place this fall before the principles are reviewed by the Board of Trustees.
Liebowitz also provided a brief update on the revisions to general education requirements, led by Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren and the Task Force on General Education. Opportunities to discuss the proposed changes, which were released last week, will be announced soon, according to Liebowitz.
Over the summer, approximately 30 faculty and administrative colleagues completed 15-page documents designed to have them address issues in their programs and their visions moving forward, according to Liebowitz’s email. Liebowitz noted that senior administrators are synthesizing these reports, the results of which will then be discussed at upcoming open meetings. The goal of these proceedings is to guide the University’s development over the next five to 10 years, Liebowitz wrote.
Other upcoming changes include appointments of a new dean of arts and sciences, a new dean of Brandeis International Business School and a new University librarian, Liebowitz wrote, noting that three search committees are expected to make recommendations this year.
Liebowitz compared the University to a successful startup: It has many merits, but it still faces challenges, among which are a lack of consistent policies and a lack of “an ephemeral identity,” Liebowitz wrote.
He also acknowledged a lack of resources and funding, adding that the University draws from its endowment “well beyond what is accepted as prudent long-term management.”
To address this, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky and Chief Financial Officer Sam Solomon will hold open presentations this year, starting in November.
These presentations will explain the University’s revenue sources and expenditures, as well as Uretsky and Solomon’s vision for long-term financial sustainability, Liebowitz wrote.
Liebowitz praised Brandeis students for their accomplishments in academics and service. “We need to harness their spirit, talent, and perspective to help mend a divided country and a troubled world,” he wrote.