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Liebowitz shares framework for univ. changes

President Ron Liebowitz shared a framework for changes which would bring university programs in line with Brandeis’ mission and the institution’s financial capabilities on Monday. He described the university as “far too complex an institution for our size and wealth.”

Liebowitz described the university’s mission as relying upon its founding values of inclusivity and traditional Jewish roots. He affirmed Brandeis’ dedication to intellectual pursuits and undergraduate research, describing a four point plan for these changes.

Liebowitz’s plans included creating a positive student experience through more social opportunities and reaffirming Brandeis as a leading research university through funding research and supporting interdisciplinary programs.

“Ultimately we’re going to make the decision: what is it we’re going to do differently and what is it we’re going to do less of, in order to support future growth?” Liebowitz told reporters in a meeting after the speech. “The whole idea is sort of to get us into equilibrium so that we can actually look to the future and plan for the future.”

Brandeis is operating with an “ongoing structural deficit” Liebowitz stated in a speech outlining his framework. In the speech—which was live-streamed and is available on the Brandeis website—Liebowitz stated that his “vision for Brandeis is firmly rooted in the institution’s early commitment to openness and inclusivity” as well as “in the reality that Brandeis today faces some strong headwinds.”

A structural deficit, Liebowitz explained to reporters, means that on an annual basis the university takes more from its endowment than is prudent. “5 percent maximum, that’s what most endowments are advised to spend,” he said. “We happen to be spending approximately 5.7 to 5.8 percent.” What this structural deficit is telling us, Liebowitz said, is that “we have too many things going on for the number of people and the depth and the amount of resources we have to pay for them.”

If over the last several decades, Brandeis had remained closer to this 5 percent maximum, “the endowment probably would have been 1.7 or 1.8 billion now instead of one billion,” Liebowitz said.

Liebowitz’s speech called for “increased support from alumni” and he stated that he hoped to raise alumni donations from 19 percent to between 30 and 35 percent in coming years. He also spoke of a future capital campaign which would help fund Brandeis programs and get the university’s finances back on track.

In response to a question from the audience, Liebowitz estimated that a future capital campaign would have to bring in closer to $1 billion than $100 million.

Three task forces—which Liebowitz announced would be appointed later this week—will each explore a different part of the university: student life, inquiry and research, and the university’s founding values. “These groups will work during the next five or six months soliciting input from students, faculty and staff through open meetings and from alumni, parents and friends through short surveys,” he stated in his speech.

“These task forces will submit a set of recommendations for a newly formed Committee on Strategy and Planning, which I will chair,” he said. There will also be a website where individuals can provide feedback and ask questions of the task forces, according to Liebowitz.

Liebowitz stated that the Committee on Strategy and Planning will “review the recommendations from the task forces and produce an integrated plan of prioritized action items, a financial model that estimates the necessary resources to achieve those action items, a proposed time that aligns our available resources, both financial and human, with our initiatives and a narrative on how we plan to acquire the additional resources to make the vision possible.”

Changes “will likely involve redefining job descriptions [and] reorganizing departments,” according to Liebowitz.

He told reporters that considerations as to which programs will receive funding and which will have funding reduced will be made based on two factors: the true costs of running the program based on a new financial model developed over the last two years and “how much the program or activity adds to the institutional mission.”

In his speech, Liebowitz emphasized that “finances alone will never determine what we do and don’t do.”

In an interview with reporters after the speech, Liebowitz gave the example of the classics department as a program that contributes almost no funds to the institution but is integral to a liberal arts education. As a result, Liebowitz said he wanted to protect the classics program.

In his speech, Liebowitz also discussed much-needed renovations and improvements to campus buildings. One building that was in particular need of repair, he told reporters, is the Edison-Lecks Science Building building, which was supposed to be renovated in 2007 and 2008 but was postponed for almost a decade due to 2008’s economic recession.

Liebowitz told reporters that he planned to bring in outside experts to evaluate the institution’s physical infrastructure and is evaluating the final three candidates.

In response to a question from the audience, he emphasized that complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was a top priority when constructing new buildings. In an interview with reporters, Liebowitz stated that all future buildings would be fully ADA compliant.

He also gave the example of Skyline residence hall as evidence of his commitment to ADA compliance. The elevator in Skyline was originally only supposed to go up two floors, which technically complied with the ADA. Liebowitz said that, though the cost was more, he wanted the new residence hall to be fully accessible to students with disabilities.

In his speech, Liebowitz said he wanted to increase social opportunities on campus and introduced the idea of creating smaller dorm communities to achieve this goal. He plans on reexamining Greek life’s role on campus and emphasized the positive experience some alumni have expressed they had participating Greek life.

In the interview after the speech, Liebowitz said he plans to get input from those involved with Greek life but was concerned that same-sex organizations may not be in line with the Brandeis mission and that having students go off-campus for their social opportunities might negatively impact social life on campus. Brandeis University does not recognize Greek organizations.

After a question from the audience, Liebowitz also discussed an issue before the Board of Trustees: divestment of the university endowment from fossil fuels. The Board of Trustees is examining the issue and part of their November retreat from Nov. 26-27 will be dedicated to discussing the issue of divestment, Liebowitz said in an interview.

Liebowitz also emphasized that the Board of Trustees taking its time with the issue was a good sign. He stated that only 5 percent of the endowment—about $50 million—was run by fund managers which the university had more control over, while the rest of the endowment was in commingled funds and much more difficult to divest.

Liebowitz explained that trying to divest the portion of the endowment in commingled funds could jeopardize financial aid at Brandeis. “There are real risks in doing this and there are real reasons why institutions have not divested. It’s not because they don’t believe in climate change,” he said. “It’s because they way investments work, it would have a deleterious effect on your finances.”

The Committee on Strategy and Planning, which will create “action items” and develop a financial model after receiving input from the task forces, will be staffed by Provost Lisa Lynch, the Deans of the four schools, and six faculty who have been elected by their peers, according to Liebowitz, who will chair the committee.

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