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Framework plan includes campus renovations

UPDATED: 12/11 2:18 p.m.

Administrators are beginning to plan updates to the university, expanding upon the President’s Framework for the Future, according to President Ron Liebowitz, who has been having “open discussions” with various groups on campus about status report updates regarding the Framework. 

These open discussions are meant to inform the community and gather input about the new proposals, Liebowitz told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview. Discussions so far have included a dinner with undergraduate students on Tuesday, lunch with graduate students on Wednesday, a staff meeting that would have taken place on Tuesday had the university not closed because of weather conditions, a faculty meeting next week and other planned events, according to Liebowitz. 

“The plan in itself—the overarching plan—needs to be endorsed by the Board of Trustees before we actually move forward on any of our great ideas; although, I will clarify that by saying that of the 250 recommendations that came out of the task forces, some of them—a number of them—are already being worked on by the various offices that are responsible for those proposals,” Liebowitz told The Hoot in an interview. 

“So, the Dean of Art and Sciences, the Dean of IBS, the various committees on campus, have been getting the recommendations that came from the task forces. The Framework, instead, is the overarching view of what we are trying to work on for the future of Brandeis. It was really a two to three year process of trying to figure out what is the essence of Brandeis, what are the core strengths of Brandeis and what should be the future of Brandeis.” 

Some of the new plans include returning to the university’s “founding ethos” by supporting the American Jewish community and making the school attractive to “Jews of all types,” creating a “center for civic engagement,” updating physical infrastructure and returning the faculty-to-student ratio to at least what it was in 2007. This was before the university laid off faculty due to the recession and the university grew to its near 3,700 undergraduate enrollment. 

The university also wants to increase horizontal connectivity among different departments to create “hubs for historical strengths” such as the Health Science and Social Policy program, according to Liebowitz. Potential physical infrastructure changes include connecting the buildings in the humanities quad to increase accessibility and foster stronger connections, adding social spaces to residential quads, particularly those in North Quad, adding residential spaces and dining areas in Kutz Hall and centralizing student services in Lower Usdan. Other potential renovations could be made to Brown Social Science Center, Slosberg Music Center and Spingold Theater Center, according to Liebowitz. Sachar, Lemberg and Edison-Lecks may be adapted or reused. 

Liebowitz said the residential halls were assessed and North Quad has “good bones,” but East Quad does not. He said that he thinks the quad will eventually be rebuilt but that its rebuilding is a longer term issue.

Lindsay Philcox ’21, who attended the Tuesday dinner, told The Hoot that she noticed that there was no definitive timeline and that the proposals seemed “pretty long term,” but she appreciated the awareness of a need for change.

Liebowitz said that there is a “semblance” of a “hopeful” timeline in place. He said that he hopes that the Board of Trustees will engage the plan at the end of January to at least endorse the concept of the Framework and the administration and trustees will begin to form a timeline and sequence of events. The administration has pledged to spend from January to April to estimate the costs of the Framework ideas, according to Liebowitz. He said while there is not a definitive timeline yet, he “would hope that first-years, sophomores and juniors will see the fruits of what will come from the Framework.” 

The capital campaign to begin efforts to raise $1 billion to support proposals in the Framework will launch publicly after 20 to 40 percent of the goal had been raised in a “quiet phase,” meaning that the university would begin to accelerate its fundraising capacity after a couple of years. which would take a couple of years. He said that there hasn’t been a large capital campaign at Brandeis in at least 10 years and that campaigns like these are always about supporting student financial aid, faculty and academic programs and infrastructure because “that’s what it takes to run a university.” There will be a silent phase of the campaign in which they won’t publicly announce it, but they will go to the university’s largest donors and ask for pledges. In these types of campaigns, the initial fundraising efforts often attempt to account for 20 percent of the overall fundraising goal. 

He said that once you go public, it could last five to six years and that if the university raises roughly $60 million a year over an eight year period, there would still be a deficit of $520 million. 

“It’s not a full billion dollars to play with. But still, that $500 million goes a long way to achieving some of the goals that are planned here.” 

Liebowitz said the administration’s priorities include the next phase of updating the science building—which Liebowitz said has been in process for over 10 years—and updating residential halls so that they are no longer simply “transactional sleeping spaces” but also community spaces. 

Liebowitz said that he is comfortable taking on some debt to fund some new projects because the university has previously been risk-averse in their borrowing habits, and he thinks that the institution has “undersold” itself. 

Vice President of Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky previously told The Hoot that he typically favors not taking on more debt. 

“[Stewart Uretsky] and [Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer] Sam Solomon are very much engaged in finding the sweet spot in terms of how much debt we can take on without putting into peril our bonding rating and financial standing,” said Liebowitz. “So he has to be the reality check.”

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that President Ron Liebowitz said the capital campaign was launching in 2020. Liebowitz said that it would launch publicly after 20 to 40 percent of the goal had been raised in a “quiet phase,” which would take a couple of years.

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