Why is it that so much of how Brandeis engages in “usual business” seems normal and good, while so much of it seems so strange and wasteful? Throughout the day, I am struck repeatedly by ways in which the university could fix any number of minor and sometimes major inconveniences and adjust its procedures to better suit the needs of its students, faculty and staff.
This question was answered all the way back in the fall, when Brandeis held a number of meetings during which a consultant presented to viewers a financial portrait for our institution. Several weeks after the discussions surrounding the consultant’s findings, another consultant presented a picture of “perceptions of Brandeis,” elucidating the feelings showcased by groups and individuals about how they—we—feel about our institution. These feelings were felt by individuals before arriving, while here, after graduating and from numerous other perspectives.
Any individual who went to the meetings would know that much of what both pictures seemed to indicate was that there are changes that need to be made, yet the resources with which we can make changes are difficult to come by. The world seems to run on money, and moreover, Brandeis’ world seems to run partially on “sweat equity,” which can loosely be described for us as extra and sustained effort put toward functionality and excellence.
Sweat equity is visible across nearly every sector of Brandeis. Faculty members who keep additional hours and refuse to accept extra compensation for their labor. Staff who stay hard at work during employee shortages. Students who load up on five and a half classes, participate in three clubs and study hard in the library dungeon until the intercoms announce that it is time to leave, getting too little sleep later that night.
Many of these behaviors are written off as hallmarks of classic Brandeis behavior, but by the words of the original consultant who was brought in to examine and critique our university, this type of sweat equity is simply not sustainable over the long run. Overspending should not have been the norm in the past. Understaffing and overworking should not be the norm in the present. Wastefulness and non-sustainability cannot be the norm for the future.
To best prepare our university and ourselves for the future, changes are needed and actions must be taken to allow our university to run leaner and more effectively than ever. Changes like those can start anywhere, at any level, and any one of us can make an impact regardless of who we are in the community.
Any person has the potential to make a positive impact on how Brandeis runs, and I encourage you to get involved if you feel passionately about making our community as good as it can be. As a member of the undergraduate Student Union, I have witnessed the power of one student to do meaningful things by taking part in the process. The results of any person with a thought of how to make a practical change in Brandeis’ functions, combined with empowerment, are very real.
Physical improvements to campus and new services have been made via personal, team and committee initiatives on the Student Union. Adjustments in how courses are taught have been enacted after students voiced their opinions in open dialogues with academic heads. Brandeis itself came to an agreement to accelerate its commitment to racial justice and to hold itself to higher standards following the Ford Hall 2015 sit-in.
Any institution such as Brandeis can be only as exceptional as the sum of its parts. Our people are uncommonly devoted to positive change. With that devotion, we can work to bring “the usual business” to a state of excellence. It’s on us to step up to make the changes we desire, it’s our responsibility to engage—personally and as a community—in the arenas of change and find solutions to dilemmas of sweat equity and waste. It should be our task to commit ourselves to working in preparation for the best future we can build; for the sake of our peers, our university and ourselves.
If you have an idea of how to be involved but do not know where to begin, feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will find what you need to get started.