A plea for support: Professors are people too
We as a board have dedicated past editorials to expressing the concerns and needs of students during this difficult time. However, it is important to acknowledge that students are not the only members of the Brandeis community who are struggling right now. Faculty and staff are also under an immense amount of pressure — and they, much like students, are not being properly supported by the University.
Last week, the Justice published an article detailing the events of a special Faculty Meeting and Listening Session with President Ron Liebowitz and Provost Carol Fierke, which was held on Nov. 10. While faculty expressed a number of conflicting opinions at this emergency meeting, one message was clear: Faculty are concerned about the state of our community right now, and many are frustrated by the lack of communication and assistance that they have received from administration.
Faculty play an incredibly important role in the Brandeis community. In addition to teaching classes and grading assignments, faculty are also actively engaged in research, writing books, planning academic events, and speaking at public conferences — all of which greatly serve the University. However, the past month has shown that despite all of the work that faculty pour into this institution, the administration still does not properly respect their needs and concerns.
When the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, the climate on campus changed dramatically. Our community is one that is uniquely impacted by this conflict, and as such, there became an immediate need for additional resources and support systems for individuals affected. While we as students have struggled to be present in classes and keep up with assignments as we all manage a multitude of emotions, little attention has been paid to the ways in which faculty have been impacted by rising tensions on campus.
While the administration has the ability to hide behind emails without engaging with students on a daily basis, faculty do not have this luxury.
Faculty have had to wake up in the morning and muster up the courage and the strength to stand in front of a class of students who they know are suffering. They have had to continue giving lectures and distributing assignments as if everything is normal, and they have had to offer emotional and academic support to students — all while dealing with their own complex emotions and anxieties about the state of the world.
Many faculty members have gone to great efforts to be there for students during this difficult time. In addition to being flexible about deadlines and class attendance, many professors have explicitly made themselves available as a resource to those in need of support — Some departments, such as the Politics Department, have been involved in organizing spaces for students to learn about and discuss current events.
Over the past few weeks, professors have also spent hours discussing how they can best support students. For example, on Sunday, Nov. 12, over 150 faculty gathered in an informal meeting, dedicating their personal time to these issues.
As was revealed by Prof. Sarah Lamb (ANTH)’s Nov. 14 letter to the editor, some faculty members have taken it upon themselves to advocate for students by writing to University administration. Some faculty also attended the student-led walkout to protest on-campus police violence on Nov. 13.
Such efforts to voice their opinions come at a significant risk for faculty members — especially those who are untenured. Due to their unsecured status, untenured professors often feel as though they are under constant surveillance by the University, even during less turbulent times. As such, untenured professors must be doubly careful when it comes to managing current anxieties on campus, especially if their opinions do not align with those of the University.
We as students are incredibly grateful for all that faculty have done for us — especially when all the administration has offered to us are emails and “Talking Circles,” which are also being run by faculty. However, this editorial board would also like to recognize the mental and emotional burden that this work places upon faculty. As many faculty sacrifice their personal time to help students, we are left to wonder: Who is supporting them?
The administration’s dismissive responses to faculty concerns at the Nov. 10 emergency meeting make it clear that the University is doing little to help its faculty members. If anything, the University may be making things worse. In conversations with members of this editorial board, professors have expressed their frustration at the lack of communication from the administration about events occurring on campus. Students are often the ones keeping professors informed about developing tensions on campus. For example, faculty and staff were not made aware that the University had derecognized its chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine until Nov. 8 — two days after the student body found out about the decision via an Instagram post made by SJP.
Leaving faculty in the dark about issues that are impacting students on campus makes their jobs even more difficult as professors cannot aid students if they are not aware that they are struggling. In the most recent faculty meeting on Nov. 17, faculty expressed their desire to receive emails from administration about all issues that may impact their students.
Some communications from administration have also been less than helpful. Before the walkout on Nov. 13, faculty received an email from administration telling them not to cancel classes or move classes to Zoom. Urgings such as these place limits on the measures that professors can take to accommodate students, as well as make it difficult for professors to preserve their own personal sense of comfort and safety.
Professors have openly admitted to several members of this editorial board that they are burnt out. On top of their normal responsibilities as University faculty members, professors must now also manage the newfound stress that comes with working in a community that is anxious and grieving.
As individuals who are familiar with the feeling of being unsupported on campus, this editorial board urges the University to do a better job of listening to the needs and concerns of its faculty. Professors are people too, and they cannot be expected to bear such heavy burdens without any assistance from the institution that they do so much for.