The University’s Board of Trustees held a retreat on Nov. 18 and 19 to discuss ongoing plans for Brandeis’ future. According to a December email to the community from Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz, the main topics the Board discussed were infrastructure improvements, Brandeis’ brand positioning among other higher education institutions and how the University has responded to the negative results of the recently administered Campus Climate Survey.

According to Liebowitz’s email, Brandeis Campus Operations Office and “external consultants” William Rawn Associates and Leggat McCall Properties are assessing the physical condition of over 100 campus buildings. Liebowitz wrote that the University’s main infrastructural goals are to increase accessibility and sustainability, improve the quality of residence halls and update the academic buildings to allow for greater collaboration.

Elizabeth Johnson, CEO of higher education marketing and branding company Simpson Scarborough, presented findings related to the University’s brand position. According to Liebowitz, to determine popular perceptions of Brandeis’ image, Simpson Scarborough surveyed 5000 prospective undergraduate and graduate students from across the country, in addition to alumni, parents, philanthropists, friends of the University and academic and administrative leaders. The results concluded that many view Brandeis as providing a foundation in liberal arts to aid in intellectual growth and practical skills; supporting rigorous inquiry and critical thinking; producing important, daring and consequential knowledge and research; and having students and faculty “apply their talents to improve the world.” 

Academic Provost Kim Godsoe, Equal Opportunity Director Sonia Jurado and Director of Sexual Assault Services and Prevention Sarah Berg presented the findings of the 2019 Campus Climate Survey. The survey revealed that students’ feelings of alienation on campus and sexual harassment cases were at a similar level to that of the first campus climate survey administered in 2015. According to Liebowitz, the University has responded to the survey by establishing and expanding existing support resources such as the Ombuds Office, Gender and Sexuality Center, Intercultural Center, Office of Equal Opportunity and the Prevention Advocacy & Resource Center, which provides 24 hour support and has seen an increasing number of students engaging with its services. The University has also updated the Support at Brandeis website, which now provides an extensive list of support resources, organized by categories of possible support required, including academic support, mental health support and sexual misconduct support.

Liebowitz updated the trustees on the process of seeking input from the Brandeis community on the Framework for Our Future. After the Board’s anticipated approval in early 2020, the Framework and task force reports will be available to the public on the Framework website. The Trustees split into groups to further discuss key parts of the Framework, including “Nurturing a Culture of Scholarly Inquiry and Academic Excellence,” “Creating an Integrated, Inclusive, and Vibrant Student Experience” and “Reengaging Brandeis’ Founding Ethos.” Liebowitz put the Framework into historical context by discussing the circumstances behind the creation of Brandeis and expressing the value of the University in establishing vertical connectivity (collaboration between faculty, graduate students, undergraduates and staff), and horizontal connectivity (collaboration between departments to create new opportunities for learning and research).  

Before the retreat’s main business, the trustees honored philanthropist Morton Mandel, who passed away in October. Mandel donated millions to the University. His wife, Barbara Mandel, passed away shortly after the retreat was held. The trustees also welcomed the newest board member, Monique L. Nelson, into Brandeis’ ad hoc Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Nelson is the CEO of UniWorld Group, a multicultural marketing agency.

To conclude the email, Liebowitz said that he “look[s] forward to engaging the campus community as we continue to plan Brandeis’ future,” and encouraged anyone with questions to reach out.