To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Ron Liebowitz prepares to take office as Brandeis University’s next president

President-elect Ron Liebowitz will take office as the next president of Brandeis on July 1 and hopes to engage groups from students and faculty to alumni in shaping the future of the university.

Liebowitz, who served as president for Middlebury College from 2004 to 2015, has been on sabbatical this academic year, but has been visiting Brandeis once a week this spring to meet with administrators and students.

Brandeis' future president, Ron Leibowitz addressed students at a welcome reception this January.
Brandeis’ future president, Ron Leibowitz addressed students at a welcome reception this January.

Over the course of his campus visits, Liebowitz has met with many administrators, including Interim President Lisa Lynch’s team, deans and heads of various centers and institutes, trying to get a feel for the university and how it operates. Leibowitz has also met with students in the context of scheduled meetings and casual conversations at Sherman.

So far, he has spoken to a group of student environmental activists, the Task Force for Sexual Assault Response, Services and Prevention and Nyah Macklin ’16, this year’s president of the Student Union.

“This is part of listening and meeting with people and hearing before trying to set out and address and identify what it is that the university will do,” said Liebowitz.

Of her meeting with Leibowitz, Macklin said, “He asked me what are some of the most pressing issues that the students are having right now. We talked about both mental health, sexual assault, etc.,” said Macklin. She hopes to have a longer discussion with the president at a later date. Macklin, who was involved with the Ford Hall 2015 movement said she is “looking forward to more engagement” with Leibowitz on this topic.

“I don’t know what his schedule is, but I know that Ford Hall hasn’t really heard from him. So I’m looking forward to seeing more engagement in the future,” she said. Members of the Ford Hall 2015 movement gave him materials at the student meet-and-greet earlier this semester, though he has not had an official meeting with them.

The president-elect also met with members of the Title IX Task Force. Samantha Daniels ’16, a member of the Task Force who met with Liebowitz, said that “he was a very active listener” and “was open to everything we had to say, and that was good, and it was a very positive sign to me that he wanted to have this meeting.” Daniels said the meeting was slightly overwhelming because they covered such a wide range of issues and “barely scratched the surface.” Among these were bystander initiatives, diversity issues and intersections of racial and sexual violence, the approachability of the administration, hiring additional professional staff at the RCC and the campus climate survey. Liebowitz told the Task Force that he did not read the entire climate survey, which was “a bit troubling.” However, Daniels expressed her hope that Liebowitz would continue to meet with students as his presidency takes effect.

Matt Smetana ’17, a representative on the President’s Task Force on Sustainability also met with Liebowitz. The discussion centered on campus sustainability improvements. “He came in with a wealth of knowledge on the subject and was up to date with all of the information, which I found really awesome,” said Smetana. Liebowitz’ term at Middlebury has given him experience addressing environmental concerns. “It seemed like at Middlebury, a lot of the efforts were stemming from student voices and students. And he wanted to see that here as well,” said Smetana.

Ideas the students discussed with Leibowitz included creating a “revolving fund” for sustainability initiative wherein leftover money from a project would be saved up to be used for future initiatives.

Students from Brandeis Climate Justice are planning to meet with Leibowitz, hoping to get a sense for where he stands for divestment, according to Dan Klein ’18. Middlebury decided not to divest from fossil fuels, but Klein said there was a process behind it. Klein said in the past BCJ students have felt like they were “talking to a wall” but they want to have continued discussion about pros and cons of divestment.

Students from the Brandeis University & Al-Quds University Student Dialogue Initiative also hope to meet with Leibowitz and hope he will reinstate the partnership with Al-Quds that was suspended in 2014. Leaders of the group have told The Hoot they want to transfer what they see as a productive relationship with Lynch to new president.

Liebowitz hopes to connect with students, recalling that town halls at Middlebury were a positive way of interacting with the student body. He said at Middlebury attendance at town halls was often low, but when he used a subject line on the email suggesting hard alcohol could be banned from campus, over 400 students showed up to the discussion. “It was a packed house. And it was an amazing discussion,” said Liebowitz.

The president-elect spoke of representing nine different constituencies, including students, staff, faculty, board of trustees, parents and the federal government, which he said plays an increasingly big role on college campuses. Keeping even five of those nine groups happy, he said, is a difficult task. He intends on balancing the school’s original mission with its current constituencies, saying, “It’s not 1948. The institution has grown over 67 years, the world has changed inside and outside of Brandeis.”

Assessing the university’s financial situation will be one of Liebowitz’s first steps in determining how he can best serve Brandeis.

“Any university president is going to be looking at the financial underpinnings of the institution to get a feel for the finances and that’s important not because money drives everything but in fact money, the finances and the capacities of the institution allows one to understand what the possibilities are,” Liebowitz explained. “We’re trying to get a feel for the financial capacity and really understand what the possibilities are before we go into some dreaming exercise without some feet in reality.”

Liebowitz wants to re-engage young alumni, a key group for fundraising, recognizing that some issues on campus have left recent graduates with a negative impression of the university. He explained that a long-term goal of his is ensuring student satisfaction, especially considering the importance of young alumni.

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