Administrators met with senators to answer student questions
Senators asked administrators questions about mental health services, anti-racism efforts, campus dining and more.
Though there were no club recognitions, charters or decharters, the April 11 Senate meeting was still full of activity, being just one of the few meetings from this semester to run the full two hours. The meeting was broken down into four blocks, during which University administrators were invited to answer questions submitted by senators — a deviation from the standard meeting procedure.
The administrators appearing in the first block were Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Andrea Dine; Director of the Prevention, Advocacy & Resource Center Sarah Berg; Medical Director of the Student Health Center Dr. Colleen Collins; Interim Director of Hiatt Career Center Jon Schlesinger; Director of the Brandeis Counseling Center Amy Scobie-Carroll; and Director of the Ombuds Don Greenstein.
Union President-elect Krupa Sourirajan ’23 directed questions to both individual administrators and the block as a whole. She started with a question for the group regarding how the senators can promote “a safe and healthy campus before the pandemic ends.”
Dine said that senators should do their best to serve as role models in practicing the University’s health initiatives and policies for their classmates.
Sourirajan then asked what support systems the University is planning for fall 2021 as campus life and academics begin to resemble that of a normal year.
Collins said that the Health Center plans on bringing in an additional part-time physician with expertise in reproductive health. She also said that there are plans for creating a Reiki wellness room for students. Reiki is a form of Japanese alternative medicine that uses the concept of a “universal energy field” directed from the practitioner to the patient through the hands.
Sourirajan directed the next question of the first block to Greenstein, asking why a student in need of assistance would go to the Ombuds rather than one of the University’s other problem-specific resources. Greenstein said that the Ombuds are not trying to replace any group or department. Instead, he said that any student can reach out to an Ombuds for help in seeking resources and information that they need.
Sourirajan also asked how the BCC is planning to help students manage anxiety as the school transitions back to normal. Scobie-Carroll said that the school knows that students have been reporting heightened rates of anxiety throughout the pandemic. She said that the BCC is working on expanding anxiety treatment options, and that she expected the school’s community therapy service to be “very busy” in the fall.
The second block featured additional administrators, including Senior Associate Dean for Arts and Sciences Elaine Wong, Senior Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Kim Godsoe, Dean of Arts of Sciences Prof. Dorothy Hodgson (ANTH), Dean of Academic Services Erika Smith and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke.
Sourirajan asked the first question of the second block, which was about the University’s decision to only give off five days for the entire semester despite “reports of higher rates of burnout.”
Hodgson responded that because of the prevalent risk of COVID-19, the University wanted to minimize chances for students to leave the campus for extended periods. She added that faculty have been trying to be attentive and compassionate to students.
After Fierke introduced herself as a biochemist looking to set up a research group, Hodgson said that she has helped launch the Office for Research and Creative Collaborations. The office will assist students in getting access to research opportunities and making connections with faculty. She explained that the University will work to provide stipends for students who demonstrate financial need, as well as create a form where faculty can post research opportunities for students, which she said will improve transparency.
The third block brought three new administrators to the meeting: Director of the Office of Equal Opportunity Sonia Jurado, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas and Director of the Gender and Sexuality Center Julián Cancino.
Sourirajan asked the third group what the University is doing to address racism on campus. Brimhall-Vargas said that work surrounding anti-racism issues is being done “unit by unit,” and that those units will be turned in by this week. The units are division-specific, and by April 15, every vice president and dean will receive units for their respective divisions. He also said that the Intercultural Center will be filling the empty director position shortly, likely to be announced by May.
The last group of administrators consisted of Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky, Chief Financial Officer Samuel Solomon, Vice President of Student Affairs Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, Vice President for Campus Operations Lois Stanley, Assistant Vice President of Student Engagement and Campus Life Shelby Harris, Director of Community Service Lucas Malo, Assistant Dean of Students Steph Grimes, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Tim Touchette, Director of Student Activities Dennis Hicks and University President Ron Liebowitz.
In response to a question regarding how tuition money is used by the school, Solomon explained that tuition only makes up about 50% of Brandeis’ revenue each year. He said that the rest comes from donations, auxiliary enterprises and a variety of other sources. About two thirds of the total money is spent on salary and benefits for faculty and staff, and about 20 million dollars each year goes to paying off debt and the bond principles on campus buildings.
Sourirajan asked when Sodexo’s extended contract will expire, to which Stanley answered that this will happen in June 2022. The catering company has been undergoing “much closer oversight” this year as part of the contract extension. She also said that based on the results of the fall survey of students’ opinions on the dining halls, “customer service was good, but food quality was low.”
Harris said that the University is planning activities for rising sophomores and juniors for next year to make up for the lack of many traditional events this year due to COVID-19.
Sourirajan asked the administrators why Presence was chosen as a platform for club financial activities considering the problems clubs have had with it. Grimes answered that the University had been transitioning from Sums to Slate as the platform for clubs to request allocations, but decided to use Presence. “It’s not the best product right now, but we are trying to work with it,” Grimes said.
Ou went further, commenting “I want to apologize for the implementation of Presence. We should have done more testing.” He continued, saying, “Even though everyone involved had good intentions, it has not gone well for two years." Grimes said that recently, the makers of Presence have said that testing is going well on their end. Grimes, Hicks and Information Technology Services are working hard to improve the platform.
Towards the end of the meeting, Touchette clarified that despite the requirement that students move out within 24 hours of their last final, the University is flexible and willing to work with students. “We always accommodate our students,” Touchette said, “Whatever you need, you just need to tell us why you need it, and we’ll make it happen.”