University President Ron Liebowitz sent an email to the Brandeis community on Aug. 29 addressing the concerns and actions of the #StillConcernedStudents at the end of the spring 2019 semester. 

Last spring, #StillConcernedStudents protested policy practices on campus in a widely-publicized rally on May 1. The students marched from the Rabb steps to the Department of Community Living, the Department of Public Safety office, the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center and the Shapiro Campus Center. Along the way, the students announced a list of demands they had for the University. The movement draws membership and messages from the rallies of the Concerned Students 2015 movement that led the 2015 Ford Hall sit-in.

Liebowitz stressed in his email the importance of ensuring that all members of the Brandeis community are welcome. He mentioned the progress made last year that began with the conclusion of the independent investigation into campus climate following the termination of men’s basketball coach Brian Meehan

According to the email, senior administration officials underwent additional diversity, equity and inclusion training from Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, a specialist in diversity training for administrators. The group that received the training included Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas; Senior Vice President for Institutional Advancement Zamira Korff; General Counsel Steven Locke; Provost Lisa Lynch; Chief of Staff William O’Reilly; Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky and Interim Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations William Walker. 

The entire team met with Washington four times, and each member met with Washington twice individually. 

Liebowitz wrote that this training was just the beginning of an extensive training process that began with the President’s Management Council, which includes the previously mentioned members of his senior team, as well as “deans, other division and unit heads, and leaders of units within their purview.”

Liebowitz’s email was followed shortly after by a message from Provost Lisa Lynch and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky, which detailed these policy changes. 

Lynch and Uretsky’s changes to policy, press conference responses from administration

In a joint interview on Thursday with the Justice and The Brandeis Hoot, Lynch, Uretsky and Liebowitz detailed a meeting in early May with five students of the #StillConcernedStudents group, Prof. Chad Williams (AAAS) and employees from Academic Services and the Brandeis Counseling Center. During the conference, Liebowitz admitted that the administration acted “in error” when they removed a sign hung on Squire Bridge by the #StillConcernedStudents, and acknowledged that his letter to the community after the protests “upset members of the community on both sides.”

The various initiatives the University is taking fall into eight categories and include a variety of aspects of campus that were of concern to the demonstrators in the spring. They include mental health; Ombuds office staffing; reporting of complaints and public release of data; the Student Conduct Board; policy on banners; Brandeis policy on classified research; increasing transportation equitability; accessibility and the Department of Community Living’s and Public Safety’s accountability for the safety and overall well-being of students.  

The most concrete and imminent policy changes centered around the use of protest banners, the presence of Brandeis police officers at events hosted by student of color organizations and an expansion of free shuttle routes on holidays and to new locations. 

New policy on protest materials

According to Lynch and Uretsky’s email, student protesters will now be required to submit their protest materials to the Dean of Students office. There is no current plan to have an independent body review the signs for approval, Lynch and Liebowitz said in the interview. 

Liebowitz signaled that the senior administrative staff was open to changing the office that approves or denies protest signs, saying that it “doesn’t have to be the Dean of Students Office, in any of our view.”

Lynch said that the new policy was to “not squash free speech… but to [protest] in a way that is safe, that we’re not having people hanging from dangerous places, putting up banners.”

“I think there are limits to everything. Even free speech has limits. Even the most extreme or the most laissez-faire approach to free speech has limitations, and I think that’s what we’re trying to strike the balance between … but there are limits, and you can cross those limits, and that’s when the University has to speak up,” said Liebowitz.  

Response to claim of excessive policing and new Graduate Student Policy

One of the demands of the #StillConcernedStudents in last semester’s protests was to “end the excessive policing of student of color organizations on campus.” In the interview, Uretsky said there is “no evidence of that,” and he elaborated that a Fall 2018 third party campus climate investigation yielded no evidence of excessive policing of student of color organizations on campus. 

The email from Lynch, however, details a new pilot policy in response to the claim of excessive policing. Specially trained graduate student “event monitors” will take the place of uniformed police officers at certain events held in Cholmondeley's Coffee House. The monitors will “help ensure that events are being held within defined occupancy levels” and “notify Public Safety if situations that could impact life and/or property arise,” per the email. The Departments of Public Safety and Student Affairs will jointly interview the candidates. The graduate students are supposed to “provide a positive interaction presence for students hosting social events at Chum’s,” according to Lynch’s email. “We’re responding to the language that was used by [#StillConcernedStudents],” Uretsky said during the interview. 

New shuttle routes and times

The University announced new transportation routes in response to the #StillConcernedStudents demands to “expand transportation routes from campus to Market Basket Plaza and back, to reduce transportation costs and food insecurity for low income students” and to “open transportation routes for students who do not have the financial ability to travel home during recess.” 

A 12-passenger shuttle will run from campus to Market Basket Plaza between noon and 4 p.m. on weekdays, according to Lynch’s email. Additionally, a contract will be taken out with Joseph’s Transportation to provide shuttle service between the University and Waltham on holidays and recesses. That shuttle will run from noon to midnight. 

Both of the new routes will be considered one-year pilot programs, to be reevaluated based on how many people take rides. 

Assistant Vice President for Communications and External Relations Max Pearlstein said in an email to the Justice on Monday that the route run on holidays would cost $1,200 a day, and the other route to Market Basket Plaza would not cost the University money because of savings in other areas. Uretsky said the money for the new routes will be taken from the administration’s transportation funding and will not be deducted from any other earmarked portions of the budget.  

Student response

The three administrators at the press conference said that the members of #StillConcernedStudents from the May meeting had not been consulted before the administration released the new policy changes. 

“We feel good that what we put forward addressed what they were requesting,” Uretsky and Liebowitz said. 

Uretsky commented that some of the policy changes, such as the new transportation routes, were designed as pilot programs in order to receive a response from the students. 

“We said, ‘Look, we took our responsibility to do the work that we could do over the summer, and we’ll go forward from there,’” said Lynch.