EDITORIAL: A Greek Tragedy, Chorus
In his letter to the community last month, University President Jehuda Reinharz finally uttered something about the burgeoning debate over integrated planning, the comprehensive initiative that seeks to improve the University's competitive profile through 2012. But unfortunately, in his 1,325-word letter, the president managed to say almost nothing at all.
Never mind that it would take an avid reader of the institutional lingo hosted on the president's Web site to follow Mr. Reinharz's attempt at clarifying the initiative. The real administrative sin is that the president failed to cogently explain this campaign to reform the school. His failure crowns a series of missed opportunities for high-level administrators to justify the need for a sweeping set of changes that threaten to transform the fabric of the university.
When Mr. Reinharz first endorsed the academic reforms that are a cornerstone of integrated planning during a faculty meeting last October, one might have assumed he was only towing the same line as his fellow administrator. But with his letter, the president aligned himself completely with Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe's recommendations, adding to growing frustration.
Out of the hundreds of pages of bureaucratic babble on the subject of integrated planning, a minute portion is dedicated to justifying the downsizing or elimination of certain areas of the academy. These are found only in Mr. Jaffe's 61-page report from October, though they are referenced in many of his presentations.
Mr. Reinharz suggests that ignoring Mr. Jaffe's proposal would be injurious to the University, but the president should have asked for fuller explanations from Mr. Jaffe and others. As it stands, 411 words out of 61 pages written in Mr. Jaffe's report was all the justification the president needed to rubber stamp the reduction of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies and Physics and the elimination of ancient Greek, the undergraduate linguistics program and one of the world's best doctoral programs in music composition.
The president said that integrated planning is not about money, it's about "choices." He opens his letter by trying to dispel notions that the initiative is just "a budget reduction exercise."
Mr. Reinharz believes that because the University is only going to spend more money on new facilities and programs over the next seven years, the negative connotations that usually go along with budget cutting shouldn't apply.
Here's the flawed reasoning: By the fiscal year 2012, the administration expects to have an additional $15 million of cash on hand. But the total cost of the president's "wish list," which includes Mr. Jaffe's much-maligned curricular reforms as well as needed physical improvements, is approximately $40 million. That's a gap of $25 million.
The gap would be closed, in part, by the elimination of academic programs targeted in Mr. Jaffe's proposal. Call it what you will, Mr. Reinharz, but that sounds like a budget reduction exercise to us.
All of these reductions are intended to help pave the way for programs that the University believes will attract a better pool of applicants and capitalize on its strengths-both historical and newfound. But in much the same brief and poorly-explained manner that Mr. Jaffe called for the reduction or elimination of some programs, he is advocating for the addition of others. Mr. Reinharz has told us in his letter that these changes are vital and not making them would put Brandeis at a disadvantage for years to come. Is he privy to data that have not been provided to the community? Or is the administration just taking a shot in the dark?
Of course, Mr. Jaffe, Mr. Reinharz and others-when criticized-tend to say that the specific curricular reforms remain malleable. Mr. Jaffe goes as far to say in his October 2004 report that analysis of his plans will "surely show that some of these proposals are ill-advised." We hope that the administration is being sincere in its willingness to modify its plans-because many modifications are certainly needed. As time goes on, though, the "nothing is written in stone" caveats seem to be no more than a smokescreen.
Over the next few weeks, as the recently impaneled Faculty Review Committee prepares its report for Provost Marty Krauss, we are eagerly awaiting to find out how much input will be allowed in this "discussion." The decision will ultimately fall to the Board of Trustees. Given how wonderstruck the board was with Mr. Jaffe's initial proposal last year, we fear anything presented when they meet again will be cheerfully approved.
What is most insufferable about the integrated planning initiative is not that it is ill-conceived, which it probably is, but that the University's leadership-most notably Mr. Reinharz-has continually failed to deliver to the community the crux of the plan. We don't want to hear about "academic structural deficits" any longer. But if the entire administration is operating under the assumption that programs we hold dear need to be shorn, we demand to know why.