Looking at Lisa
Following Former University President Frederick Lawrence’s departure, Interim President Lisa Lynch did a great deal more than keep a seat warm for President-elect Ronald Liebowitz. In an email interview with the Justice, Lynch reflected on her numerous endeavors this year, from gauging the campus climate on race and sexual harassment to working to improve sustainability
JustFeatures: What are your favorite things about Brandeis? What do you think gives Brandeis character?
Lisa Lynch: I was drawn to the core values of Brandeis and its history as a Jewish founded nonsectarian university open to all. When I interviewed to become Dean of the Heller School nine years ago I was astounded by how many people (faculty, students and staff) talked about their engagement with social justice. While more and more colleges and universities have embraced this stance in recent years, this is something Brandeis has held as a core value since its inception and it shows. As I said today in my commencement address, this care and consideration of others first before self manifests itself over and over again at Brandeis. As much as I am not a fan of college and university rankings, I have to say that Princeton Review got it right when they ranked Brandeis first for student community service. I never cease to be amazed at the time and care that our students, faculty and staff put into working with others. At the same time I know that during this year we have grappled with the fact that as much as we think of ourselves as a kind and caring community, that not all feel as included as we might have thought. But I believe that we can and will do a much better job of making our community one that is more inclusive for all.
In terms of our character I value our highly personal education with opportunities to engage in real-world discovery and creation. As other schools grapple with what it means to be “liberal arts” I see Brandeis as very innovative in creating an intense and multifaceted learning experience. The neuroscience major who can play the lead in the musical Sunday in the Park with George is classic Brandeis. We do “liberal arts” in a research university setting. We are nerds and we are proud! The degree to which our internationally renowned scholars and artists are engaged in the teaching of both undergraduate and graduate students is part of our character.
JF: What experiences do you think best prepared you for the role of interim president? What about the position did you feel prepared for, and what surprised you about it?
LL: I do not think that anything can really prepare you for the multifaceted nature of being a President. It is the best part of the position and the most challenging. Probably the best preparation for me was the period of time that I served as Chief Economist in the US Department of Labor in the Clinton Administration. It has been long hours and the hard work, but at the same time working with my colleagues across the university I always felt a sense of common purpose that carries us all through even the most difficult moments.
JF: How have you been able to influence and shape this campus during your time?
LL: When I started the year as interim president I said I did not want to put the university on “pause”. Well that certainly has not happened! I said that I wanted to advance diversity and inclusion on our campus. It has not been easy to confront our failings on this front. But at the end of the day a university that calls itself excellent must be diverse – in thoughts, experiences, opinions and identities. As I said today in my commencement address it is through diversity of thought, expression and experience that we create new ideas and knowledge.
I also said that we needed to live up to our stated goals of being a more sustainable campus as we confront more broadly the impact of climate change on our society. Through the task force on campus sustainability we have begun a marked increase in our community’s commitment to make Brandeis more sustainable. It is a beginning but one that must be approached with a sense of urgency not only for our campus but more broadly for our society.
As someone who has worked to advance evidence based policy making I am committed to supporting this approach on our campus. Over the course of this past year I have worked with faculty, staff and students to use survey data to enlighten and inform our understanding, discussion and policies to address issues such as sexual assault, racial and sexual harassment, and faculty and staff work life.
JF: What advice would you give to President-elect Liebowitz?
LL: President-elect [Liebowitz] has no shortage of experience in higher education leadership and we are so fortunate that he will become our ninth president on July 1. Advice? - Listen, learn and embrace our community. We may be a young university but our roots and values run deep.
JF: What are your hopes for the future of Brandeis?
LL: That we raise our public profile to match our research and teaching excellence and accomplishments. That we inspire the next generation of donors to invest in financial aid so that no qualified student is unable to attend Brandeis because of the financial burden it would impose on them and their families. For our students see my commencement address for more on that.
JF: After this vigorous and eventful term as interim president — what’s next for you?
LL: Laundry and a vacation with my family. Then back to work in the Provost’s office!