President Liebowitz announces "springboard" funding plan for University
The administration put forth a $73 million proposal, termed “springboard funding,” that will address gaps in University operations that must be filled before pursuing a major capital campaign, University President Ron Liebowitz announced in last week. The proposal is split into two parts and spreads spending over three years, allotting $47 million for incremental operations and $26 million for capital expenditures.
In a joint interview with the Justice and The Brandeis Hoot on Thursday, Liebowitz said that a gaps analysis found human, physical and financial gaps in the University’s current financial and structural models and that these shortcomings must be addressed as a first step toward the he laid out last semester. As the quality of University programs has gone up, funding increases have not followed, and Brandeis is now “doing more than we could afford,” Liebowitz explained.
Funding for incremental operations
The Board of Trustees has already approved the proposal “in principle,” as well as three sources of funding for operations: increasing endowment spending, utilizing annual savings from the new financial framework and expanding the Brandeis Annual Fund participation. In a meeting next week, the Board will vote to approve a fourth source: early philanthropic investments. These early donations would result in “gift credit” for the future capital campaign, an intense fundraising effort over a set period of time which Liebowitz is planning to conduct, according to the email.
If the Board does not approve the last funding source, or if fundraising and savings do not meet expectations, the administration will triage the available funds to the departments that need it the most, such as those of academic and student affairs and the Office of Institutional Advancement, Liebowitz said in the interview.
Institutional Advancement, which will see an increase in staffing in an effort to return to 2006 staffing levels, will be one of the sources of funding, per the email. “IA was one of the hardest hits after the  recession,” Liebowitz explained in the interview. Tuition covers less than 75 percent of the University’s budget, so much of its success is based on fundraising, which is done through the Institutional Advancement Office.
“We need a really vibrant fundraising program,” Liebowitz said. Currently, IA has three fundraisers dispatched on the road, but 15 to 18 are needed, he continued. If the springboard proposal is successful, that range will eventually be reached. According to the springboard proposal, building up Institutional Advancement will ideally result in more fundraising and therefore more money to fund the proposal itself.
Another key source of funds for the proposal will come from endowment spending, which would increase from its current rate of 5.7 percent to up to 6.2 percent for the next three years. Though this would result in a significant cost to the endowment, this choice is “basically investing in ourselves” and therefore “worth the risk,” Liebowitz said.
Gaps in incremental operations
Apart from the replacement positions which come naturally with retirement, 17 new full-time faculty members will be hired, the majority of which will be in the College of Arts and Sciences, according to Liebowitz. Two or three of these positions will be created at the Brandeis International Business School, as a recent reaccreditation report required the University to employ more full-time faculty rather than adjuncts.
In addition, much of the funding will go to increased staffing in a variety of areas — Campus Operations, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Office of Communications, the Brandeis Counseling Center and the Division of Student Affairs. Among other positions, the administration has already hired four part-time therapists and is looking to hire four more public safety officers and another lawyer, as the University currently employs only one.
Due to the large incoming class of 2022, student life has already seen an increase in funding and resources, such as graduate student mentors and additional counselors. These are changes the University was “going to do anyway,” but were still included in the springboard proposal, Liebowitz said.
Brandeis, unlike many other universities, does not have a president’s discretionary fund, but this new proposal would establish one, Liebowitz said in the interview. Using recommendations from task forces, this fund would pinpoint initiatives such as funding a new course dedicated to faculty-student research outside the University’s main budget. This would incentivize faculty members to spend time working together with students and on new projects, according to Liebowitz.
The is set to receive an additional $1 million in funding through this proposal. The Fund sponsors “innovative scholarly inquiry and creative activities that have the potential for significant, sustained impact” per its website. It currently provides $250,000 to $300,000 in awards each year, all under $50,000 each, according to a Jan. 17 email from Director of Media Relations Julie Jette.
The administration also plans to revisit parts of their contract with Sodexo that is set to expire June 30, 2023, per the same email. In the interview, Liebowitz referenced examining a component unpopular with students: requiring students to purchase a meal plan even if their housing arrangement contains a kitchen.
The University currently maintains a debt portfolio of about $270 million, and by refinancing a series of bonds that is nearing maturity, the University will save $26 million, which comes in a lump sum. Refinancing the bonds extends the life of the bonds but at a lower interest rate. However, the University is limited in how it can spend the savings from refinancing these bonds, which means it can only be put toward capital expenditures, according to Liebowitz.
Though it will “take many years and a successful capital campaign to modernize our infrastructure,” this $26 million will allow the University to address the most pressing issues, Liebowitz wrote in the email. This part of the proposal targets physical and technological infrastructure and equipment; projects will be evaluated through a safety and needs perspective, and will not go toward “luxuries,” Liebowitz said in the joint interview. This includes remodeling buildings to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act standards as well as replacing the old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in IBS.
—Jen Geller contributed reporting.