On Apr. 9 at approximately 12:15 p.m., a group of members from facilities, students and assorted staff entered the Wien Faculty Center through its back entrance to present a petition communicating their discontent with administration’s recent decision to The Board of Trustees.

This demonstration comes in the wake of the University administration announcing that it intends to delay its “annual staff performance review and merit increases and faculty merit increases until the fall” in a Mar. 14 email from President Ronald Liebowitz, Provost Carol Fierke, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky. The email provided the community with an overview of the University’s financial situation as it faces “short and long-term financial shortfall” and is looking to make budget cuts to save money.

“The administration continuously sends insensitive emails that have a lot of, let’s say, difficult to digest information without much context or sympathy or empathy,” said a non-union staff member at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management in an interview with The Justice shortly after the gathering dispersed. Out of concern for their job security, this individual has requested to be anonymous. The announcement to put a hold on merit increases was announced to all staff — union and non-union — at the same time as the rest of the community. 

Illustrating the impact of the decision on staff, a member of the Division of Science said, “Many of us are just kind of barely hanging on,” adding that the freezing of raises could potentially impact the experiences of students alongside staff and faculty. They further spoke on the indirect effects saying, “You’ve got to worry about people leaving … when the people leave departments … it can have knock-on effects that really mess with the functioning of different programs.” 

In response to the sudden announcement, Brandeis staff worked in collaboration with SEIU Local 888 to develop a petition “calling on Brandeis administration to reverse its decision and keep our evaluations and raises on track for July.” As of the morning of Apr. 15, the petition received over 300 signatures of undergraduate students, graduate student workers, staff, facilities employees, alumni and community members. Following personal statements that were given at the Faculty club during the gathering, several demonstrators attempted to deliver the petition to the Board of Trustees meeting next door. 

The initial entry was difficult as the demonstrators were reportedly stopped from entering because “a gentleman in plain clothes started blocking the door and pulling it closed,” according to the same Heller staff member. They recounted that this gentleman identified himself as the “head of the Brandeis police,” though The Justice was unable to confirm this claim as of press time. 

“So I pushed the door open, and once I did that, he grabbed my arm and he shoved me over some of the glasses that were in the room,” they said, adding that the man did not immediately let go of their arm. Instead, another person present had to tell the man that he was pushing the individual into the glass in order for him to let go. They continued, “I am a staff person here, and I experienced violence while trying to exercise my freedom of speech and … defend the confiscation of my well-earned raise.” 

Another faculty member at the University sent The Justice a video of the demonstrators entering the Board of Trustees meeting, but a board member told them to leave. 

“Can you just go on the record as rejecting us, not wanting to speak with us right now? You just want to remain anonymous and tell us to leave?” a demonstrator behind the camera asked. 

“I’m not going on any record at all,” the board member replied. They spoke over the demonstrators’ overlapping requests for comment, repeatedly asking them to leave while gesturing to the exit. The video caught President Ronald Liebowitz; the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Lisa Kranc ’75; and the rest of the board observing the interaction, but not interfering.

“So I worked at Brandeis [for] a few years and I care very deeply about this place,” a staff member of the Division of Sciences at the University shared in an Apr. 15 interview with The Justice. They are involved with this undertaking to “advocate for [themselves] and to advocate for people who are in departments that are so understaffed and overworked that they themselves can’t be involved just because they don’t have time.” They said they have friends within the University staff that “do the job of multiple people” despite not receiving compensation they feel is adequate. 

“Brandeis is undergoing a moment of identity shift where they have a lot of decisions that they’re making about free speech and expression, and the valuing of underserved and underprivileged communities here on campus,” the Heller School employee told The Justice. “It seems like every step they’re taking is in the wrong direction. And I think they took another misstep today,” they said in reference to the University’s response to the demonstration. 

Continuing their efforts, a rally is scheduled to be held Apr. 16 at 11:30 a.m., which will include “custodians, tradespeople, groundskeepers, librarians, graduate students, and representatives from SEIU Local 509, SEIU Local 888, 32BJ SEIU, and allies.” The rally is anticipated to gather at the Bernstein-Marcus Administration Center. The different unions that represent the University’s staff will gather “to demonstrate their unity as each union enters into negotiations on contracts that will expire Sunday, June 30, 2024,” an Apr. 15 press release sent to The Justice said. The press release added that many of these demonstrators were faculty members that “risked their health” by working through COVID-19 “only to suffer the post-pandemic shock of runaway inflation and exploding housing costs.” The rally will consist of workers who will share their stories and show their support for one another as they enter negotiation.