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Liebowitz refuses one-year extension on current contract

President Ron Liebowitz will not be accepting a one-year “dead-end” contract proposed by the Board of Trustees six months before the end of his current contract, which is set to expire June 30, according to a statement obtained by The Brandeis Hoot. The statement, released by a public relations firm representing Liebowitz independent of the university on Tuesday, March 17, states that the contract “would not allow [Liebowitz] to complete the ongoing donor solicitations, particularly those greater than $1 million, that the board has claimed are so critical to the university’s future.” 

In a leaked email obtained by The Boston Globe on March 15, Liebowitz accused the Board of forcing him from his position as president due to their disapproval of his fundraising efforts. The one-year contract extension was presented as an opportunity to see if Liebowitz would be successful in reaching the fundraising goals expected by the Board. “Trustees have said the president must achieve fund-raising ‘success’ during the next nine months in order to qualify for a longer-term contract,” according to the letter.

Liebowitz claimed that he could not secure large donations from donors if he could not also assure them that he will be in the position to oversee that the money is allocated to meet the donor’s intent, according to The Boston Globe article. He claims that a multi-million dollar donation fell through when the donor was notified that the Board was pushing him out of his presidency.

In the statement, Liebowitz claims that the university saw “the best ‘cash in’ year at Brandeis since 2010, excluding an unusual year of 2017 when Brandeis received a $50 million bequest,” according to the statement obtained by The Hoot. He also added that through February 2021, “new pledges in the first eight months of the fiscal year have nearly doubled what they were for each of the past two full fiscal years—despite the [COVID-19] pandemic.”

Compared to other higher education institutions, fundraising revenue makes up a large part of the university’s operating budget, Larry Ladd, a senior consultant at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, told Inside Higher Ed, which is the why the Board is so focused on Liebowitz’s fundraising efforts. Frederick Lawrence, Liebowitz’s predecessor, resigned in January 2015 after fundraising declines during his presidency, according to an article by The Boston Globe. The university was averaging $90 million in fundraising the four years prior to Lawrence’s arrival; however, statements obtained by The Globe showed that contributions averaged $37 million during his tenure. 

The Board had initially set a deadline for him to accept the contract extension by the evening of March 15, according to the email; however, Liebowitz called for a “conversation about my contract,” according to The Boston Globe article. Both parties are currently discussing the length of Liebowitz’s contract with the university, according to an email sent out to the Brandeis community on March 16. Meyer Koplow, chair of the Board of Trustees, wrote in an email to the Globe that negotiations were extending longer than the Board had hoped. 

Liebowitz was denied a meeting with the full Board of Trustees to negotiate his contract, according to an article by Inside Higher Ed. “Staring down a deadline on the one-year offer, he felt he had no choice but to alert the Brandeis community—including alumni and friends—of the situation,” Judy Rakowsky, Liebowitz’s spokesperson, wrote. 

According to Koplow, the Board offered Liebowitz approximately the same pay that he receives currently, but he countered with additional financial requests that the Board could not agree to. Liebowitz did not request tenure when he accepted the position as president in 2016, according to the statement, which is something common for individuals in his position “to avoid burdening the university with a long-term financial commitment.” The university is still paying Jehuda Reinharz, the seventh president of Brandeis who stepped down in 2010, an $8 million compensation package, which includes a salary as a part-time president emeritus and professor. The package is expected to be paid out in an annual salary of over six figures until 2024.

Liebowitz claimed that he took a 20 percent decrease in salary, rather than asking for an increase in salary, according to the statement, but did request a retiree health benefit like other senior administrators had previously received. Rakowsky told Inside Higher Ed that he earned $618,014 during fiscal year 2021, which is a 20 percent decrease from his base salary of $772,518.

It was announced in a March 30, 2020 statement that Liebowitz, and other members of the senior administration, took a 10 percent salary decrease in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reduction in salary happened as a response to deferral of the July 1 salary increase program for non-unionized faculty and staff until Jan. 1, 2021. 

“I believe that the more pressing issue at Brandeis has to do with the governance and the roles of the president and board,” Liebowitz wrote in the statement. “I appreciate the board’s authority to dismiss a president at will. But I also recognize that, when greater than 20 percent of a governing board has served an average of 29 years, it is difficult for that board to shift gears and allow the president to address challenges that have emerged under their time on the board, and to allow the president to manage the process without undue interference.”

Liebowitz is the ninth president of the university and has held the position since July 1, 2016, when he took over for Interim President Lisa Lynch, according to a previous Hoot article. He previously served as the president of Middlebury College, where he led a successful $500 million fundraising campaign, according to a statement obtained by The Hoot. 

Liebowitz declined to comment about the ongoing conversations with the Board of Trustees. Professor Joel Christensen (CLAS), chair of the faculty senate, speaking on behalf of the group, also declined to comment on the continuing negotiations but added that “They are still in conversation and we hope all parties are working to keep Brandeis safe for students, staff and faculty and to ensure our institution’s future,” he wrote in an email to The Hoot. Koplow could not be reached as of press time.

Editor’s Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is released.

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