Faculty meeting discusses budgetary issues, causing graduate admissions pause
Faculty voters hold conversations regarding financial and social issues across campus.
On Feb. 9, the Brandeis faculty met with a full agenda, including new and previous motions, a presentation and a Q&A session with administration.
Originally proposed through a motion, the Task Force on Free Expression has continued to advance. 22 faculty members submitted names of those they believed would be strong additions to this group. These faculty members nominated 52 individuals in total and submitted to President Ron Liebowitz and Provost Carol Fierke on Friday Feb. 9.
Additionally, a community listening session was held to review the administrative response to the Nov. 10 protest and all preceding events. The participants at this session consisted of faculty, staff, graduate and undergraduate students. They expected the independent investigators hired by the University to attend this session, but due to a misunderstanding they ended up not being present. They received the transcript of the listening session, and moderator Prof. Jody Gittell (HELLER) stated “they were only planning to listen anyway so I think they’ll have pretty much the same information they would have had if they had been there.”
Prof. John Plotz (ENG) made a statement about general bias in regards to safety and who feels comfortable on campus. He said, “We need to do better in getting rid of this sense of asymmetry, because if you have an asymmetrical campus for safety, you have a biased campus. If some people feel safe and other people don’t, then there is a state of bias that exists, and that’s not sustainable at a place with the proud social justice tradition of Brandeis.”
Vice President of Student Affairs, Andrea Dine, was invited to give a presentation during this meeting that reiterated student rights and community standards. This presentation explained the conduct process that the students involved in the Nov. 10 protest are facing.
Prof. Bernadette Brooten (NEJS/WGS) asked Dine if the two senior students facing disciplinary action would be able to graduate this upcoming May, as criminal proceedings span over long periods of time. She explained that “without a college degree, one may not find proper employment, or may earn less, which would be a sanction while they are still considered innocent.” Dine explained that with the consent of the student, it is possible to pause the disciplinary process.
As of Friday, one of the three students facing disciplinary actions had agreed to a pause in their disciplinary process. The other two had not yet provided responses. After further questioning from Brooten, Dine explained that this process would not prevent the students from graduating if a conclusion had not been reached and the students completed all academic requirements. Dine stated that she would have to confirm with the registrar's office, but there is a possibility that these disciplinary processes could extend beyond a student's graduation date.
Plotz stated “It feels hypocritical to say that at this point we are committed to a clear process going forward at the very same moment that there is a rushed non independent investigation, which completely disregards what the University expressed as its desire for the form of investigation that would need to happen [to arrive at a shared understanding].” Dine declined the request to respond to this comment.
A new motion called for the replacement of all gender specific pronouns in the faculty handbook with gender neutral ones except in the places where external text is being coded. This motion would institute a total number of 42 changes in the University handbook. This motion passed the in-meeting vote to be sent out to the faculty for an electronic vote.
The meeting then shifted into a conversation regarding the University’s finances. Notes were shared from a Jan. 22 meeting between faculty representatives and administration. They had originally projected a surplus for this year last April, but that has turned into a $2 million deficit. Over the past three years, there has been a 50% decline in enrollment for masters programs, resulting in a $12 million decrease from initial estimates.
The University also had fewer undergraduates than expected this year. Undergraduate applications for the coming school year are down by 8%. There has been an increase in Jewish identifying applicants and a decline in non-Jewish applicants.
General unrestricted funding is below the projected target by $1 million. Interest earnings are up by $1 million, and because of unfilled positions the University has saved $4 million in vacancy savings.
In her opening statement, Provost Fierke stated “First and foremost, we need to keep a strong undergraduate liberal arts curriculum, and to be able to recruit undergraduates because we are an undergraduate supported, undergraduate tuition supported institution for the most part.”
When asked to further explain the 8% decline in applications, Fierke explained that there has been an uptick in student interest in public institutions. She believes that this statistic, combined with the University’s decline in the U.S. News and World Report rankings has contributed to this drop. She also explained that the largest decline has been seen in international applicants from China. Fierke stated that “there are multiple reasons for [the decline]. One is the economics in China, and two is that the Chinese choosing where to apply in China is really dependent on these rankings.”
The question arose of the effect that The New York Times’ advertising campaign had on general enrollment and admissions this year. Fierke explained that this campaign was not meant to affect enrollment or admissions and instead was a branding campaign.
Prof. Amy Singer (HIST) spoke about changes to the budget timeline this year, wondering why administration was notifying faculty about significant cuts so much later on in the process than they have been previously. She explained that it had been much more predictable and consistent in the past, with an amount of slots for graduate admissions being set and announced in advance. It was later clarified that the timeline is the same as it has been previously, there has just been a lot of back and forth.
Singer also explained the STEM programs have been told they can proceed with graduate admissions, while the social sciences and humanities have not. She asked for an idea of what could be expected for these departments moving forward. She also questioned whether the freeze on the science departments had been lifted, and a message to head of the faculty senate Gittell confirmed that it had at 1:10 p.m. on Feb. 9.
Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, Jeffrey Shoulson, said that University administration hopes to receive some clarity on this matter by Feb. 13. He explained that clarity means being able to begin talks with departments about what they know to make admission decisions, which was impossible at the time due to larger decisions needing to be made that will have a large effect on how the slots could be allocated. “I wish I could say more. I really do, and we understand that this is an unsatisfactory answer, and I’m sorry,” Shoulson stated.
Prof. Sarah Lamb (ANTH) explained that in her 26 years at Brandeis she has never seen anything like this. She stated “Ultimately, maybe it’s the Board of Trustees, I mean they are not running the University effectively.” She explained that they need to make budget related decisions in advance, rather than one or two before other decisions need to be made. This advanced notice would allow for normal activities of the university to not be disrupted.
Prof. Thomas Pochapsky (CHEM) spoke to disagree with the statement that Fierke made regarding PhD students and programs not generating revenue. He explained that in addition to being teachers assistants, these graduate students help with receiving and renewing of grants that are necessary for conducting research. There was actually an increase in grants over the past year.
Prof. Nina Kammerer (ANTH/HSSP) suggested that all topics discussed in the meeting are related to one another. She stated, “If we are going to solve the whole problem that we have then we need to be more conscientious and creative about thinking about those connections, and I just want to point to one of them. The fact is very clear, we have lots of evidence that our undergraduate students, our graduate students, are not encouraging others that they know to come because of the current situation of people not feeling safe and people feeling the inequity of what voices are heard.” Kammerer explained that she strongly believes that these connections need to be further examined and taken into consideration when moving forward.
Prof. Lynn Kaye (NEJS) made a statement regarding the challenges that budgeting issues present in areas of the university other than staff. She highlighted how being understaffed and having high turnover rates due to elements such as not making enough money makes the University a hard place to work and thrive for everyone, including students. Kaye stated “our budget issues are affecting lots and lots of people, not just those who are in the faculty meeting.”
This statement was seen as another recognizing the true interdependence of Brandeis and all of its different aspects. The meeting adjourned without any answers or further information regarding the budget cuts and freezes.
Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly named Prof. Amy Singer’s home department as NEJS. It has been changed to HIST.