Looking back and forwards on Liebowitz’s presidency

After succeeding interim president Lisa M. Lynch as the ninth president of the university in 2016, the Board of Trustees has approved President Ron Liebowitz for another five year contract. The period of negotiation was tumultuous, with the Board of Trustees originally offering Liebowitz a single year extension, which he rejected, according to a previous Hoot article. During the course of the drama, The Boston Globe revealed that the president’s base salary was nearly $800,000 per year. It is good that this figure has come to light, as it provides a concrete, layman’s value by which to judge the president’s feats and failures in our eyes. Liebowitz will continue to be here after everyone on the current editorial board graduates, so we, the editorial of The Brandeis Hoot, have opted to dedicate this last editorial to examine what he’s done during this first term and lay out our hopes for his next.

Liebowitz has accomplished several feats since his succession. His largest accomplishment was detailing and developing the “Framework for the Future,” which was announced in 2018, to help set a goal and direction for the university in the coming years, according to a previous Hoot article. He also increased fundraising efforts by 15 percent in the fiscal year 2019 (FY19) and secured the largest endowment professorship. In a similar vein, he secured the largest single gift to the endowment in an effort to support and bolster student financial aid. Second, he pioneered diversity efforts on campus by hiring the university’s first Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Mark Brimhall-Vargas.

With Liebowitz at the helm, the university has also met and even surpassed its goals for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, beating the 2020 baseline with a 14 percent reduction in carbon emissions. There are many students and advocates, however, that argue that the university is barely performing above the bare minimum necessary to placate international standards for combating the climate crisis. In 2016, prior to Liebowitz’s arrival, a Climate Action Plan was developed that outlined the steps and goals that the university would take to address climate change on campus. Under Liebowitz’s leadership, the university has begun to implement recommendations provided in this plan. The recent President’s Task Force on Campus Sustainability has officially set an updated 2020 Climate Action Plan for approval to the Board of Trustees. We hope that Liebowitz recognizes and implements the recommendations provided in this updated plan so the university can do their part in slowing the effects of climate change. 

This spring, students created a petition demanding financial transparency from Liebowitz and from the rest of the administration. The petition garnered almost 300 signatures from students, plus some additional responses from staff, alumni and “all else concerned.” The organizers of this petition went as far as writing out the 10 plagues, in Hebrew, in chalk outside of Liebowitz’s office during the week of Passover this year.

Not everyone has been a fan of Liebowitz, so he will have to work hard in his next five years to regain the favor and trust of the students. 

So where do we go from here? The president of our university should be advocating for the changes that students have been demanding. He should be listening to these demands and taking them seriously because these are the members of our community. In an effort to address the ongoing movement for racial justice occurring in the United States, Liebowitz should also push the administration to hire more instructional faculty of color to better meet students’ needs and diversify the university’s pedagogy. 

There is more to being the public face of this institution than securing large donations and announcing future plans for the university. Going forward, it is our sincere hope that Liebowitz will make an effort to make himself more accountable to the undergraduate and graduate student body and work harder towards making his plans a reality.

Editor’s Note: Sabrina Chow and Victoria Morrongiello did not contribute to the writing or editing of this editorial.