Brandeis administrators responded to questions about the upcoming spring semester, coronavirus-related restrictions and Brandeis’s financial health in a community check-in on Monday night. Students should not expect restrictions to be loosened on the Brandeis campus, said President Ron Liebowitz, and the university is working to follow state guidelines on the pandemic.
On the panel answering questions were Liebowitz, Provost Lisa Lynch, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky, Vice President of Student Affairs Raymond Ou and Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas.
The administrators discussed student housing for the upcoming spring semester, which will run from Monday, Feb. 1, to May 5 rather than its originally scheduled date of Jan. 19, according to an email from Provost Lisa Lynch and the university calendar. Lynch clarified that spring courses’ in-person or online status would be released by Dec. 1, though the deadline to apply for housing for the spring semester is Oct. 30 at 5 p.m.
Students who are currently on campus and are planning on returning in the spring will not have to move out, according to Ou. He added that students will arrive back as early as Jan. 25 and that whether or not students will have to quarantine upon arrival in the spring will depend on state guidelines. Lynch mentioned that Brandeis is working to “expedite the quarantine period” as much as possible.
When asked about penalties for cancelling housing contracts after the original early November deadline, and the possibility of having roommates, the panelists did not directly answer the question, instead talking about housing dates and move-in more broadly. However, Senior Vice President of Communications, Marketing and External Relations Dan Kim did send a clarifying email on Oct. 29 explaining that students now have until Dec. 4 to cancel spring housing contracts without penalty.
After Dec. 4, students will be charged for 100 percent of their housing contract. The date change means that students will have three days after the location of classes—online, in-person or hybrid—is released on Dec. 1 to decide whether or not to cancel spring housing contracts.
The email from Kim also stated, “If you are considering not returning to campus, please remove all of your belongings from your room when you depart this semester.” DCL will charge students a $500 packing fee plus shipping costs if the department has to pack up a student’s room, according to the email.
“Students will not be able to access rooms or apartments in between the fall and spring semester (unless they have been approved for winter break housing and are residing on campus), so again, you should remove all your items before you leave if there is a chance you won’t return,” the email read.
A student’s need-based financial aid will also be reduced if a student decides not to live on campus during the spring semester, wrote Kim, who referred students to Student Financial Services at 781-736-3700 for more information.
Like the fall semester, the spring promises few breaks for students. Students will have a few days off—Feb. 15, March 9, March 29 and April 2—for the Passover Holiday and President’s Day, according to the talk and an earlier email from Lynch. Since students will be unable to return home for Passover break, Liebowitz stressed the importance of celebrating on campus, saying he was working to host two Seders.
The lack of breaks, along with Zoom fatigue, a disconnection from the campus community and heavy student workloads were brought up in connection with student mental health.
Mental health and other resources
Ou said he was looking into mental health resources for students after the election, including how to better support students seeking professional help who are not originally from Massachusetts. Students can reach out to the Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC) and religious organizations such as Hillel and the Intercultural Center (ICC), according to the panelists. He also said he is talking to coaches about physical activities in the spring. Lynch also encouraged students struggling socially or academically to reach out to Brandeis resources such as the Roosevelt Fellows, Undergraduate Department Representatives (UDRs) and academic advisors.
Academic workload this semester has not translated into heavy use of the library according to Lynch. She said that use of the library is extremely lower than in past years. The library typically has 40 occupants in the evening, she continued, opposed to the hundreds of students who used the library in previous semesters.
The library is open for reduced hours this year, opening at 7:30 a.m. and closing at 8 p.m. on weekdays, with Saturday hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday hours of 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Lynch said she is looking into increasing these hours, as she expects a higher demand for the library as finals grow nearer. She also reminded students that neither food nor drink is permitted in the library as consuming them would require students to remove masks, an action not allowed under current guidelines.
Uretsky broke down Brandeis’s financial health following the shutdown in the middle of the spring 2019 semester. Revenues were down by about $22 million, he said. Current undergraduate enrollment is just slightly less than average—around 3600 students—but graduate revenue is down between 20 and 40 percent, he added.
The university has also faced increased costs through the university coronavirus testing program, said Uretsky. Each coronavirus test costs about $30, according to WGBH, meaning the entire program costs around three million. While a higher volume of tests will result in a lower cost for the university, said Lynch to WGBH, the program is still a significant investment.
To save money, Brandeis has put a freeze on salary increases, a “frost” on hiring, reductions in senior management salaries and a suspension of matching on retirement health plans. Uretsky says he expected an about $35 to $38 million revenue shortfall, but that the university is acting to reduce its expenses to compensate for that. Uretsky said the university has not yet laid off staff.
Uretsky also mentioned that the usual Thanksgiving shuttle busses to and from the airport will likely not be up and running this semester, but Brandeis is looking into other ways to help support students getting home—mostly likely in the form of a travel stipend. However, the panelists reminded students that this should be the only form of major travel the students undergo this semester. Multiple emails have been sent out in recent weeks encouraging students to remain in the Greater Boston Area. At this time, there are no additional travel restrictions, but Ou urged all students to “please remain on campus.”
Before Thanksgiving, of course, comes a presidential election. Uretsky said that the university was in contact with the local police, FBI and other community partners to prepare for any post-election unrest, and that there will be increased security personnel on the Brandeis campus on election day and in the days after.
Looking forward to the end of spring, Liebowitz said he hopes to have a commencement for both the class of 2021 and the class of 2020. He has yet to cancel an in-person commencement ceremony, as he believes it is “worth the uncertainty to wait and see” if the coronavirus regulations will allow for the possibility.
This was the second community check-in of the semester, the first taking place on Aug. 25. A recording of the full event can be found on the Brandeis website.