Univ. working on website updates, public image

November 8, 2019

The university is working towards upgrading the current website to make it more accessible and improving Brandeis’s branding, according to a self-study published by the university in September 2018. The study also reflects on how Brandeis is working towards better communicating how the university has a Jewish dimension but is also a nonsectarian university.

In the self-study, the university examined areas of educational effectiveness as part of the university’s accreditation process through the New England Commissions of Higher Education (NECHE). The ninth standard of nine NECHE standards focuses on integrity, transparency and public disclosure. This article is the second part of The Brandeis Hoot’s coverage on the ninth standard.

Standard Nine: Integrity, Transparency and Public Disclosure

Transparency and Public Disclosure

Website Accessibility

The university uses its website as the “first source of information for prospective students, parents, members of the Brandeis community and for others interested in Brandeis, according to the self-study.

The Office of Communications has the responsibility for updating the website with 19 full-time staff members. One of the biggest challenges to the website is making sure that all of the information on Brandeis’ 300 individual websites of programs and around 90,000 web pages is up to date, according to the self-study. 

The Office of Communications is working to make the website more accessible. “Assistive technologies can greatly reduce barriers, but keeping pace with those technologies requires special efforts and expenditures on our website,” according to the self-study. 

Sarah Ferguson, the web accessibility specialist, explained in an interview with The Hoot that the coding determines how accessible a website is. “The template that we write for each web page must have code that is screen reader friendly,” Ferguson explained. 

Each department has specific representatives that are responsible for making updates to the website and are trained by the members of the Office of Communications.

The redesign project for the Brandeis website started in 2015, Audrey Griffin-Goode, the director of digital communications, told The Hoot in an interview. The university worked with an external vendor that helped to design a new website and create templates that were more responsive and accessible for individuals that may use assistive technologies. 

The first stage of the redesign process was releasing a new homepage and other first-level webpages—pages that individuals would click on first. This was completed in February 2017. 

The second stage is the migration of the 22,000 individual academic, administrative and center and institute websites into the new templates. This migration is split up into five different phases, Griffin-Goode explained. These phases are defined by institutional profile, relevance to recruitment, relationship to the top-level and high traffic. The first phase of migration was completed in October 2017.

The Jewish Dimension

Another major issue that the university is working towards is communicating to the greater Brandeis community and the world “the Jewish dimension of a nonsectarian university,” writes the self-study.

Brandeis ranks low in marketability, according to an earlier Hoot article because of the university’s presentation as a Jewish institution. Mark Neustadt, a marketing analyst with speciality in colleges and universities, said that Brandeis should present itself as an institution with the broad Jewish values of “a reverence for learning and scholarship, cultivation of critical thinking, and using one’s gifts and accomplishments for the betterment of society.” The university ranked lower in marketability than Neustadt had ever seen before, according to an earlier Hoot article

Brandeis is working towards “continuing the affirmation that this is a nonsectarian university, open to all and eagerly seeking a diverse and inclusive community,” according to the self-study.

They are also planning on continuing and increasing their “commitment to academic strengths in Jewish studies” through opportunities for further Jewish experiences and their already special relationships to the Jewish community. 

There are also plans to further communicate how the previous parts “all fit together, noting how our Jewish roots imbue us with an ethos and set of ideals that are meaningful and appealing to the full range of students, faculty and staff whom we wish to attract,” writes the self-study. 

The Brandeis Brand

Brandeis struggles with media presence beyond the Brandeis community. When the self-study was published in 2018, there were just three people in the media relations team and one part-time individual devoted to social media, reads the study. 

“Brandeis has lacked an adequate external relations/government and public affairs capability,” writes the self-study. “The result of the under-investment in this area has been modest visibility and public awareness of Brandeis in an increasingly competitive higher-education marketplace.” 

Updates to the “Brandeis brand” have been made to increase the university’s competitiveness in their environment. The Office of Communications is currently developing a new “agency model” designed to deliver better outreach. 

This model was most recently tested when Professor Michael Rosbash (NBIO) and Professor Emeritus Jeffrey Hall (BIOL) won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their research endeavors. Brandeis created an advertising campaign, which was a series of targeted events that the university used to promote their Nobel Prize winning professors and the ability for Brandeis professors to “explore without boundaries.” 

Looking into the future, the university is also working towards a more comprehensive update to the entire website, rather than just the 22,000 that the current update is working towards. Brandeis is also hoping to create a University Factbook that goes more into detail about the university’s endeavors and fast facts. The date for the release and location of the Factbook was not specified in the self-study.

This is the final part in a series analyzing the self-study.

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