Now more than ever, University must support Graduate Programs
On March 14, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke sent an email to University faculty announcing that, in order to strategically use the University’s resources, she and University President Ron Liebowitz had begun a review of Brandeis doctoral programs. In that email, Fierke mentioned the gathering and sharing of information, which the administration expects will result in “some PhD programs… be[ing] enlarged [with] others be[ing] put on hiatus.” Though this has been the only official, written communication from the University regarding this process, more information including the fact that this plan has been in development for quite some time has been disseminated through other channels.
Brandeis has entered into a contract to employ the services of an outside limited liability company called Academic Analytics to gather specific data about all of the graduate programs.
This company has been used in the past at other institutions of higher learning fo similar purposes, which has been protested by the faculty at these institutions both for its cost and the skewed results that it generates. Numerous Brandeis peer institutions that employed this company’s services have mentioned that the lack of opportunities for professors and departments to correct any issues identified by the company has been detrimental to the stated goal of improving the University itself.
The American Association of University Professors has even issued an advisory statement regarding the use of this organization’s metrics, urging universities who seek to employ them to “exercise extreme caution.”One of the many things we learn as graduate students is that evidence is not always as objective as it appears; how it is collected, curated, and presented matters.
We know that this kind of data only tells one kind of story: that a profit/loss statement based entirely in financial logic does not and cannot take into account the ways in which our many different disciplines provide immense value.This data will be collected and analyzed to make decisions about funding and program cuts without being fully or fairly informed. Additionally, in the broader context of academia, it is important to remember that while COVID-19 has exacerbated these challenges, they are also, in some ways, endemic to the university system. Those of us in academia have internalized the critique that higher education is too disconnected from the economic needs of our time, to the point that it has guided market-driven strategies to evaluate, defund, and reshape academic programs and their purpose.
More than ever, statistics on alumni outcomes, “productivity,” and degree completion timelines have been adopted as part of an “evidence-based strategy” to evaluate and determine the future of many graduate programs as economic, political, and social forces converge upon our institutions. Federal and state governments, as well as private institutions, have been behind this push to develop metrics for evaluating the financial condition and future of colleges and universities. The wave of college closures and mergers that swept Massachusetts, and the country at large, in recent years are just one of the consequences of this turn towards measuring “financial responsibility.” While this may appear as sound business logic, these efforts to quantify the worth of and return on investment feel all too familiar. These issues all converge on the decades-long shift towards private and soft funding that have long placed our educational institutions in a precarious position, both economically and socially.
This is especially problematic for private institutions like Brandeis that largely rely on non-federal or state sources of revenue such as research grants, private and alumni donations, endowments, as well as tuition and board. o uphold these universities, it is now on us, the students and future graduates and alumni, to become rational, economic humans as we pursue our studies and goals.This issue predates the global pandemic that has changed so many elements of our lives for the past few years, but the University’s plan does not take the impact of the pandemic into account in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, the pandemic rages on with consequences on the University too numerous to mention. The repercussions of the pandemic are reflected throughout the system of higher education. None of these factors include the effect of illness or the trauma of living through a global pandemic on the student body.
Students have lost immeasurable time, resources, and opportunities to illness and death around them and have continued to be asked to work at the same pace as if nothing were happening. Even now, many students continue to suffer from the effects of COVID-19. This is detrimental to the productive output from members of the academic community, especially when measured according to standards which negate this experience. Evaluations that fail to consider the impacts of COVID-19 on all facets of life send the message that people who suffer from chronic illness or disability are not seen as viable members of the academic community.
Our University purports to pride itself on its commitments to truth, critical inquiry, and justice. These are the values that led us to invest our lives, our labor, our money and debt into our Brandeis education. These values motivate our study, our research, and our teaching. How is hiring an outside firm to gut certain departments in the name of a limited definition of “data,” anything but an utter betrayal of these values?
A recent Brandeis task force recommended that the University further connections and collaborations across departments to advance the study of social justice in order to “honor our founding values.” In what way is this encouraged by pitting programs against one another to determine which are deemed important or viable enough to continue? We know that cuts will not only affect PhD students — these decisions will reverberate throughout the Brandeis community. Those of us whose positions are at risk are invaluable mentors and instructors to undergraduates.
We support our professors’ cutting-edge research – and we are the futures of our disciplines. We have invested so much in Brandeis. To realize its values, our University must invest in us as it promised to do when we entered.