At the second faculty meeting of the year, Brandeis faculty discussed the University’s drop in the U.S. News & World Report rankings and how the University can work to better integrate academic and social life. 

The chair of the Faculty Senate, Prof. Joel Christensen (CLAS), touched on major concerns of the faculty such as equity “across contract, tenure types and different departments and schools,” the University’s ranking and the “expansion and encroachment of administration into faculty life.” These concerns were determined through a faculty priority survey that was conducted at the beginning of the year.

Christensen also voiced his concern for the lack of attention to climate change. “There is very little about climate change in [the] long term projection in the plan for the facilities. We think that if we want to be forward-thinking about this, and really make Brandeis not just sustainable but livable for the next 30 years, climate change has to be at the top of our priorities,” Christensen said. 

Faculty members brought up concerns about climate change several times during the meeting. Prof. Sabine von Mering (ENVS) said that she wanted to hear more about the investigation into Brandeis’ use of endowment funds for fossil fuel investments. There has been an ongoing discussion about the use of the University’s endowment funds and the Board of Trustees’ policies on fossil fuel investments that were adopted in the fall of 2018

“With respect to any new initiatives, what [is being done] to make sure that [how climate change is taken into account] is the first question we ask and not the last?” von Mering asked.

University President Ron Liebowitz responded that the investment committee is working on a statement related to responsible investment that will be presented to the Board of Trustees in November or January. Liebowitz also said that in regards to the issue of new building initiatives, he presumes that the University will prioritize making future projects green.

Liebowitz also addressed concerns over the drop in the University’s ranking, saying that he thought the rankings were “ludicrous.” Liebowitz dove deeper into the two areas where Brandeis fell behind, one being the six-year graduation rate and the other being the percentage of each class that was in the top 10% of their high school class. Fewer “than 50% of high schools rank their students” and only “24% of high schools whose students [Brandeis receives] rank the students,” Liebowitz said.

However, the drop in ranking was not of high concern to Liebowitz, although he acknowledged that it was an issue for the “external world,” such as for international students who rely on the rankings to judge universities. 

Liebowitz also discussed the Board of Trustees’ meeting that focused on the Springboard and Framework for Future plans. Springboard is a three-year plan that aims to increase fundraising to enable the University to launch a large fundraising campaign in the future.

Richard Reynolds, the interim vice president of campus operations, talked about plans for Brandeis to better integrate academic and social life. The plans, which are described in Framework for Our Future: Focused Physical Planning, aim to keep the University’s “small school feel,” improve research and improve horizontal and vertical connectivity. This is achieved through “key components that strive to bring individuals together to promote interaction and collaboration,” Reynolds wrote in a slideshow that he presented. 

The University is working with two consulting firms, Leggat McCall Properties and William Rawn Associates, that previously helped with the construction of Skyline Residence Hall to create an “actionable, physical plan for the near term.” 

According to Reynolds’ presentation, these consultants have rated the University’s facilities an “average facilities condition index of .43” out of a 1.00 scale, which is considered poor. The assessment resulted in three task forces to address various aspects of focused physical planning. The Framework for the Future task forces also focus on student living and learning, supporting research, creativity and collaborative innovation and honoring the founding values of the University.

In terms of residential life, Reynolds’ presentation explained that “more beds [are] needed to fully house first year students without the use of lofted triples,” and that “Usdan’s basement dining facility is outdated and is not a welcoming community-building space.” Part of the proposal to address this problem is the creation of a new “swing residence hall with ground-floor dining” where Kutz Hall is currently. This new dining area would replace the dining areas in the Usdan Student Center, and the space in Usdan would be used for “additional student services and student life functions,” Reynolds’ presentation said. Reynolds said that any major renovations or construction of new buildings would have to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which complicates updating older buildings.

The faculty meeting continued with University Provost Lisa Lynch reviewing the demographics of the first-year class for both the undergraduate and graduate classes. The undergraduate class has 866 students with an additional 120 in the mid-year class, while the graduate class consists of 299 students. 

Lynch also touched on two amicus briefs that Brandeis is involved in, one of which is in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Liebowitz notified the Brandeis community about this amicus brief in an Oct. 8 email saying that the deportation of DACA recipients “would be an immense loss to us all.'' 

The other amicus brief is to “support a current legal challenge to the expansion and continued existence of optional practical training,” Lynch said. Optional practical training allows international students to work on a student visa and is a “critical component of the education that [is provided in the United States].” The University’s position is that “any rollback of OPT will harm international students as well as American higher education,” she said.

The faculty meeting wrapped up with a presentation by the Wellington Prize recipient, Prof. John Wilmes (MATH), who went to the Amazon Rainforest to see sloths among other wildlife.