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Many concerns brought up at town hall

Students brought up a number of concerns at a Sept. 9 town hall held by Brandeis University’s Interim President Lisa M. Lynch, Senior Vice President of Students and Enrollment Andrew Flagel and Vice President of Operations James W. Gray, but few were addressed in full. At the meeting, Lynch confirmed that she was not a candidate for the Brandeis presidency, and will resume her duties as provost once a permanent president is chosen.

Most questions were addressed quickly, except for those asked by Abbie Goldberg ’16 and Saren McAllister ’18, both student environmental activists at Brandeis, who demanded a definitive opinion from Lynch on divestment from fossil fuels. “We were promised an update last year, but we never heard from the committees on this,” McAllister said. In response, Lynch said, “We do not have a very large endowment, so it is hard to talk about divestment without also talking about having enough money to keep Brandeis running.” MacAllister and Goldberg refused to back down, promising to keep fighting for divestment, but Lynch encouraged them to contact Brandeis’ newest sustainability manager and contact her office after the meeting.

The meeting took place Wednesday evening in a sparsely-populated Levin Ballroom, and began with several students addressing financial issues. “After paying all my fees for tuition, housing and books, I have almost nothing left, even with financial aid,” said one junior. “Because of my year, I have to have an expensive meal plan for food that I do not like and need to force myself to eat.”

The system of mandatory meal plans, which is now in its first year of operation, leaves very little left to buy food with, said the student, a Charles River resident. “I prefer to cook, and at the end all the pressure goes to my parents,” she said.

“Financial aid is obviously an issue we have to keep improving on,” Lynch responded. “But it takes a lot of time and even more money.”

Tay Howard ’17 had similar grievances with the way Brandeis treats its students. “I got a terrible lottery number last year, and I had no real option but to get pulled in or move off campus,” Howard said. Howard, a Georgia native who came to Brandeis as part of the Myra Kraft Transitional Year Program (MKTYP), could not afford to move off campus and now lives in East Quad. “I got lucky, but I almost ended up with nowhere to go,” Howard said.

Flagel responded with a promise of improvement. “I hate our current lottery system,” Flagel said. “We have new people working on revising and giving us a better one, because I have heard many stories like yours, and they are terrible.”

He insisted that the university will continue to address issues around housing, as well as issues of cigarette smoking on campus. “For that issue we need to find out how to balance and preventative measures that do not just punish people or are just empty words,” Flagel said. “We know that smoking and secondhand smoke is a health issue, but we cannot just fine students into stopping” Lynch agreed.

Howard also brought up the issue of East’s lack of air conditioning, and the extreme heat that has affected students there, some of whom cannot afford a decent fan for their room. “The buildings in East are so old that they would have to be gutted to fit in AC, and we cannot fit that into our budget at the moment,” said Gray.

Budget restrictions were also cited to a group of science students, who did not provide their names, as reasons why Usdan Dining Hall closed sooner than Sherman. “Our recitations last until pretty late at night sometimes,” said one student. “I just wish I did not have to pray to get out in time to get to Usdan before it closes.”

“We will experiment with new hours but based on past experiments, we cannot afford to keep both halls open late,” Gray said.

Jamie Wong ’17, an E-board member of the Brandeis Asian-American Students Association asked Lynch if she had plans to interact with and support Asian-American communities at Brandeis in a more substantive way. “Brandeis prides itself on social justice and diversity; I just want to know if you are willing to hear what we have to say and want in order to make that more real,” Wong said.

“Diversity is very important to me, and it was a big part of my work as provost,” Lynch said. “I have been advising my interim replacement on that, and I do think it is something that needs to be addressed.”

The meeting ended with Flagel’s announcement that because of “a significant amount” of alcohol-related hospital transports stemming from parties at the Foster Mods in recent weekends, that parties at the Mods are suspended for two weeks, information that was released via email Thursday.

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