$84.7 million funding plan to go into effect
University President Ron Liebowitz’s ‘Springboard Funding Plan’ will fill gaps in University operations.
University President Ron Liebowitz announced in a community-wide email on Thursday that his $84.7 million “Springboard Funding Plan” is ready to go into effect. The proposal, originally valued at approximately $73 million, will “address gaps in University operations that must be filled before pursuing a major capital campaign,” according to a Jan. 22 Justice article.
Springboard initiatives will address “both day-to-day operational gaps and the larger strategic goals” of the University’s Framework for Our Future. For example, the University plans to hire a minimum of 15 new faculty members for the School of Arts and Sciences and the Brandeis International Business School on top of regular annual hiring. Ideally, the University would hire 35 to 40 new faculty members, Liebowitz said during a joint interview on Monday with the Justice, The Brandeis Hoot and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky. In his email, Liebowitz explained that this would help to better meet student needs, particularly in reducing the size of larger introductory courses. With this, the Springboard plan will add more funding to provide faculty members with better benefits, the salary pool for staff and faculty will grow in size and there will be improved efforts to recruit and retain these faculty and staff. In an Oct. 28 email to the Justice and The Brandeis Hoot, Director of Media Relations Julie Jette said that according to Uretsky, nearly 70% of the Springboard operating funds will go toward personnel on campus, including the faculty.
The University also plans to better meet the needs of students by hiring more therapists for the Brandeis Counseling Center and invest more into public safety. To do so, the school will be hiring a night lieutenant and another police officer. In addition to adding personnel, the University will be “updating our campus security-camera network, and adding transportation shuttles to increase service and reduce wait times,” according to the email. During the interview, Uretsky said that improving public safety is a priority, and related projects include additional personnel, more security cameras, improved WiFi and expanded shuttle services. The priority for WiFi is in Gosman Sports and Convocation Center, because it is the University's evacuation center. Uretsky added that the University has also increased funding for the shuttle programs during evening hours, which will help students in need of safe transportation at one or two in the morning.
Additionally, according to Liebowitz’s email, the University will be hiring an additional academic advisor for Academic Services and intends to increase staffing of the International Students and Scholars Office by hiring an international student advisor.
Liebowitz said that the University would also use the money to increase the amount of emergency funding that exists for both graduate and undergraduate students and would be constructing laboratories for new science faculty members.Buildings with the most-needed maintenance will be modernized to address the issue of code-compliance. Edison-Lecks Science Building, which houses the Chemistry Department, is high on the list for renovation because of “practical reasons in terms of the age of the building and the condition, safety issues, but also in order to have success in our science program,” Liebowitz said in the interview.
The email also addresses modernizing technology for better ways for students to look at their grades and to research classes to register for. During the joint interview, Uretsky confirmed that the University will be working toward decommissioning Sage within the next two years, which is phase two of a two-part transition project in the University’s Information and Technology Services. Phase one involved the transition from Peoplesoft to Workday for the University’s Office of Human Resources’ payroll and finance operations. According to Liebowitz’s email, they are looking for ways to use a cloud-based, secure system to help students monitor their academic tracks.
Some of the funding will be going towards the upcoming Request for Dining proposal and improving campus dining, but the cost for dining would likely increase as meal plan options become more flexible, Liebowitz and Uretsky said during the interview. The University will not necessarily choose the least expensive vendor. Rather, they will decide by determining a balance between the school's needs and community feedback received at the Request for Proposal open forums.
He added in his email that more resources would be added to support diversity, equity and inclusion in the forms of education, development and training. He also said he plans to add more staff resources for the University Ombuds program. During the joint interview, Liebowitz commented on the success of the Ombuds office from the staff perspective, saying he had heard positive feedback from “faculty and staff for sure. Students I am not so sure about … I have not heard much from student’s feedback.” He said the reason for this disconnect could be staff being more outspoken about the office than students.
The plan also includes increasing funding for the staff in the Office of Communications, Marketing and External Relations in order to “enhance our strategic marketing and internal communications capacity and effectiveness,” according to his email. More money will be added to the president’s discretionary fund, which he said will go toward the recommendations made from all four of the Framework task forces.
The Springboard funding has two parts, both of which are now underway. The first is $40.7 million that will be going toward the operational budget. Of this, $21.6 million was raised from the trustees. The rest of the money is coming from “an increase in unrestricted bequests and annual fund contributions, and a temporary increase in the spend rate on a portion of our endowment.” The second part is $44 million that came from Brandeis’ recent bond refinancing.
During the joint interview, Liebowitz and Uretsky said that the University’s bonds have become competitive and have increased in demand. “The bonds the day that they went to market were six times oversubscribed from the amount of bonds that we were issuing, and so the greater demand means that the ultimate price that we have to pay in terms of the interest rate was lower,” Uretsky said.
He added that there was a “roadshow” for the community of investors where the University described its plans on what to do with the debt issuance. They described the University's financial health to the potential investors, as well as the trajectory of the institution. “Folks were very pleased,” Uretsky said. Extra money was raised on top of the initially projected $26 million because there was high investor demand and favorable interest-rate market conditions, according to Liebowitz in his email. The extra money was obtained without increasing the University’s debt.
Despite the number of initiatives outlined in his email, Liebowitz said there is still not enough funding to achieve what he called his “vision” of the University. He wrote, “Springboard is just the first step, providing an essential boost in our efforts to better support the Brandeis community, match our capacity to demand, and revitalize outdated infrastructure.” The next step is a major fundraising campaign, which he addresses in his Springboard plan, saying the University will hire more staff dedicated to alumni engagement.