Faculty votes on Gen Ed and divestment resolution
The University’s faculty convened for their monthly assembly on Friday afternoon and passed both a resolution to divest from fossil fuels and the first of two votes on the general curriculum changes.
The resolution states, “We pledge to support the president and his team as Brandeis adopts increasingly ambitious climate action plans to help fulfill the [Paris Agreement’s] commitment to ‘take forceful action’ in support of ‘the global effort to hold warming to under 2°C.’"
Senate Chair Susan Curnan (Heller) said that the Faculty Senate unanimously supported the resolution and that the resolution aims to put more commitment on the part of the faculty in supporting ambitious action planning.
Several faculty members voiced concern about the final sentence of the resolution, which described the Trustees’ responsibility “to develop and implement a strategy for ending our university’s investments in fossil fuels at the fastest pace.” One faculty member asked how much wiggle room it leaves the trustees and wondered how the resolution would keep trustees accountable for taking action.
The resolution commends President Ron Liebowitz’s signatory support of the Paris Agreement on June 1. Liebowitz gave a speech on his experience at Middlebury to push for divestment and the reduction of the college’s carbon footprint.
During his time at Middlebury College, the college was successful in reducing its carbon footprint by 52 percent, as well as spawning a socially responsible investing fund to pursue sustainable actions. “Those that want to address the consequences of climate change can do far more with what’s in their control,” said Liebowitz.
While Middlebury was not able to convince its board of trustees to commit to divestment, Liebowitz said that he would take the resolution, if approved by the faculty, to the University’s trustees and engage the issue with them.
Prof. Daniel Bergstresser (ECON) said that with approving the resolution, “There is an element of risk involved.” He does believe, however, that “it has the potential, if other universities join us, to create a larger context of change. Someone has to jump in first.”
After discussion, the faculty voted on and approved the resolution.
Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren moderated the discussion on the General Education Task Force’s proposal for general education curriculum changes.
“We did our last revision more than 23 years ago. The Task Force was appointed to better serve our students in today’s world, and [it was] also part of our goals to consider diversity and the issues of race at Ford Hall, and the agreements that we reached in 2014,” said Birren.
The Task Force has worked on this proposal for the last 18 months, with engagement from faculty and students through discussion and survey, said Birren. The final draft received unanimous support from the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, as well as “great praise” from the Faculty Senate, she said. Curnan presented a letter from the University’s Student Union that was also in general support of the proposals.
Birren added, “I really want to emphasize that this is a proposal that comes from a committee mostly made of faculty.” She additionally noted that the task force has yet to finalize the budget that will come with the changes. There will be financial implications for developing administrative support and faculty development.
In open forum, Prof. Dan Perlman (ENVS), director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, thanked the Task Force for their work.
However, he said, “I’m quite disappointed — deeply disappointed — about the document that came out of this. … In my opinion, this represents minor tweaks to a system I have not heard a great deal of support for … I don’t think this is major changes, and I don’t think this will provide students with the skills they need to thrive.”
Perlman said he sees that the resolution focuses on inputs rather than competencies or outputs, citing, for example, that “taking a writing intensive course is not the same as learning to write,” and that cutting the writing intensive requirement “is not going to help our students write better” when they already “do not write well.”
“I would have preferred some bold changes. I would have preferred something that put Brandeis on the map,” Perlman said. “I think we could have served our students much better, and I think we could have placed Brandeis as a national leader, rather than filling our students’ time with things that I don’t think are truly effective,” he concluded.
Prof. Derron Wallace (AAAS), a member of the Task Force, responded, “We wrestled greatly on the committee to ensure that this would be a proposal that represents the interest and concerns of the entire University, but also be something that would put the University on the map.”
Wallace said he believes the proposal is innovative in three ways. The digital literacy requirement is unprecedented, said Wallace, explaining that his colleagues from other universities have never heard of such a thing. Second, Wallace highlighted the broadened reformative health and life skills approach, adding that other universities are still focused solely on physical education requirements. Third, the global engagement requirement “helps us to respond to the ever-changing terrain, but also lends us the room to open contemporary and historical issues as they are relevant to the U.S. and around the world,” he said.
Prof. Jordan Pollack (COSI) asked whether there will be a committee to decide what will count as digital literacy, as there is for the current quantitative reasoning and writing intensive requirements.
Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education Elaine Wong responded that there will be an oversight committee with a similar structure that will work with each of the major departments.
Birren said that departments will have a large role in considering which type of digital literacy skills fit their field of study.
Several faculty voiced concern that the proposal needed more discussion before approval.
However, the faculty passed step one in majority vote, with voices in favor of further discussion during the next faculty meeting before offically establishing the proposal.