Students voice concerns at roundtable with administration

November 6, 2014

On Wednesday evening, Nov. 5, students gathered at a round table discussion in Sherman Function Hall with members of the administration. Students asked questions regarding major issues within the Brandeis community. The event was sponsored by the Student Union, to bring about greater transparency and give students a chance to make their voices heard.

Students heard from Vice President for Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel, Vice President for Operations Jim Gray, Provost Lisa Lynch, Associate Dean of Director of Student Activities Stephanie Grimes, Dean of Students Jamele Adams and Director of Community Living Tim Touchette. Discourse spanned an array of subjects, from Sodexo practices and sustainability to budgeting and sexual violence services.

An early topic included the current situation regarding Sodexo’s alleged mistreatment of employees, including cutting hours and violating contracts. One student asked how the university is working to address these issues.

Gray stated he shared concern for the treatment of all employees on campus but said, “The Sodexo employees have a contract that they work under, and I believe that Sodexo works very hard to keep the terms of that contract.” Gray noted there are many sides from which to view this issue.

“The fact that someone says they’ve done something wrong does not make it so every time,” said Gray. “And the fact that they say they haven’t done anything wrong does also does not make it true. Certainly we try to monitor the volume of what’s happening.”

He also commented that the process of addressing grievances is never simple and requires a great deal of cooperation from many groups, including both Sodexo management and the workers’ union.

Another issue raised was that of increased student enrollment and whether, moving forward, the university plans to stagnate or continue growing. To this question, Flagel answered, “The intention is to keep the overall student body to a consistent level, about where we were last year.” He explained that a larger than anticipated number of students accepted offers, and this year, admissions will be based off those numbers, likely resulting in an even more competitive process.

A student involved with the Office of Prevention Services and the active bystander program asked the panel about changes underway regarding such organizations. Flagel affirmed his belief in the value of bystander training. He also discussed the “evolution of concepts for a Rape Crisis Center,” the back and forth regarding plans to staff and manage the center.

Later on, a student asked about efforts to encourage coordination between various services on campus, noting a petition Brandeis Students Against Sexual Violence sent to administrators requesting semi-regular meetings between groups. Flagel said that he supports these meetings, but noted it can be difficult to bring about coordination between student groups. He also discussed the task force currently working to analyze the best possible ways to protect students from sexual violence on campus.

Throughout the discussion, a series of concerns were raised regarding public safety. One student noted how easily anyone can enter campus and its buildings. Touchette explained that people generally feel quite comfortable at Brandeis, but stressed the need to report any suspicious behavior. He also said he is interested in continuing a conversation about reforming guest policies.

Several questions were also posed on the subject of sustainability, including the use of disposable plates and silverware at Sherman. The administrators explained they are waiting to replace the broken dishwasher in Sherman until the large-scale renovation of the facility this summer, explaining that the cost of disposable utensils is significantly less than that of a new dishwasher. Another issue was the number of lights left on in empty buildings at night. Gray affirmed his commitment to energy conservation and explained his desire to begin a series of sustainability campaigns, naming “Turn Off the Lights” as a worthy option.

A few students discussed the small number of gender-neutral facilities. Flagel commented, “What would be enormously helpful is to get together with a campus map so you could help me understand where the largest problems are … so that we can take a proactive look.” He also stated that gender-neutral housing is something he would like to look further into.

There was also a discussion about tuition, current efforts to manage costs and the process of budgeting university funds.

“It’s the constant push and pull of how can we maintain increases in tuition as low as we possibly can, at the same time sustain the biggest commitment to financial aid and maintain the level of the student experience that you all have every right to expect,” Flagel said. “The process becomes a balancing act.”

He described the “robust discussions” that take place regarding budgeting. There was also a discussion regarding how to bring increased student participation into these discussions. A student questioned why there is such a small student presence in the budgeting process. Flagel and Lynch replied that there are student representatives at Board of Trustees meetings, whom they encourage to speak up. To this, another student stated that there are only two representatives for the entire student body, and that they are not allowed to report back on the meetings. Flagel responded, and stated that there is also one representative for the graduate students. He explained that the Board of Trustees is primarily composed of alumni along with faculty, all “individuals who care deeply” about Brandeis. Lynch also said that in the past, there have been hearings between the budgeting committee and student council, and she hopes to bring back these exchanges in the future.

At the close of the discussion, Student Union President Sneha Walia ’15 and Chief of Staff Flora Wang ’15 thanked administers for coming and encouraged students to continue conversations and always make their voices heard on campus.

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