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Recent Brandeis faculty meeting centers on ‘healing process’ after November’s protest

On Friday, Jan. 19, The Hoot attended Brandeis’ most recent faculty meeting. This meeting centered around several amendments that are being considered by the faculty, as well as the healing process that is to follow the Nov. 10 protest, among other topics.

The meeting was attended by approximately 20 faculty members in person, and over 100 more via Zoom. University President Ron Liebowitz was present on Zoom, as he was reportedly not feeling well.

After memorials for Bob Meyer and Robert Evans, Jr., the meeting began in earnest with a discussion about several different motions moving through review of motions that were already passed, starting with motion four (Transparent Communication to Faculty). The text of this motion can be found in a seperate Hoot article. The initial discussion about this motion went quickly, as faculty members agreed that there were no deep disagreements about how to best implement the motion.

The focus then shifted to motion one (Task Force on Free Expression), the text of which can be found in a separate Hoot article. It was noted that the scope of the motion is open for question, and then discussion on the motion was opened. One faculty member asked if there was a timeline for the implementation of the motion, and Professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and Faculty Senate Chair Jody Hoffer Gittell responded by saying that the current plan is to have it completed by the end of the academic year. Another faculty member spoke, asking that a meeting be arranged to discuss the charge of the task force. This faculty member mentioned that there are complicated discussions to be had, and acknowledged that these discussions may continue beyond the current academic year. Liebowitz noted that in the current status of the draft, the goal is to have this done before the end of the semester. But, he reminded faculty, the last task force took a long time to complete their work.

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Fierke spoke too, noting that this task force will include members of the Board of Trustees, which prompted one faculty member to say “I don’t think this is a place for trustees. They have their job and we have ours.” Liebowitz responded by clarifying that the last task force included trustees because the Board of Trustees will have to approve any changes in the university’s principles. He added that including trustees in the task force avoids the need to “fight” them on the changes later down the line, and makes it easier for the task force’s results to be approved by the board. Another faculty member said that it was great that the Senate is going to make nominations for the task force, but noted that the faculty wanted to work together with the task force in a higher capacity than simple nominations. Fierke responded by saying that she’d talked to the Faculty Senate Council about how faculty members will be included, and added that she wanted this to be a community-wide discussion that helps us all. “It’s imperative that this is a joint process,” she said.

After this discussion, the faculty meeting focused on motion two (Investigation of Protest Response and Events Leading Up to It), and the text of this motion can be found in a separate Hoot article. Beginning the discussion on this motion, Gittell noted that some of the confidential decision-making was based on security and privacy concerns. She added that this review team had been tasked to judge whether Brandeis policies were followed at the time of the protest, and hoped this listening session gave the team the ability to hear more about what led up to the protest so Brandeis could improve going forward. One faculty member from the library asked if Brandeis police officers would be included in this listening session and recommended that officers be included. Fierke responded, noting that independent investigators would have the ability to speak to whomever they want, and she wanted to “limit the number of people who we tell the investigators they should talk to.”

As focus shifted to motions five and six, Sociology Department Chair and Associate Professor of Sociology Sarah Mayorga said that these motions were not about legalistic arguments, but instead part of moving towards healing. She added that these motions help Brandeis recognize that protests are a part of its DNA and that they should not be punished.

Discussion first moved to motion five (Dropping Charges/Refusing to Cooperate), and the text of this motion can be found in a separate Hoot article. During that discussion, Professor of Computer Science Jordan Pollack mentioned that there are other people who were charged that day, and wondered whether the faculty could move that Brandeis not cooperate in investigations related to them, too. Another professor mentioned that at the last faculty meeting, several professors only wanted this to focus on Brandeis students, so she was concerned that it would be harder to pass a motion with that revision. Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professor of Classical Studies Joel Christensen, who was the interim parliamentarian for this faculty meeting, noted that to debate an amendment, a formal proposal was needed first. Pollack then moved to amend the text of the motion to say “Brandeis students and others,” in place of just saying “Brandeis Students”. Charles (Corky) Goodman Chair in Middle East History Naghmeh Sohrabi noted that this is obviously a contentious issue, but these motions are focused on implementing a healing process. She said that by focusing on just students, and keeping the motion as is “allows us faculty to be in step with what the administration rightly framed as our next steps as a university.” Professor of German and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Sabine von Mering seconded Pollack’s motion, and added that she was not convinced that these people wouldn’t have been arrested if they hadn’t been on Brandeis’ campus. She added that one of them was a legal observer here to protect the students, and that we would be sending a clear signal that this was not OK. Professor of Anthropology Charles Golden echoed an idea that others had said, noting that a second motion could be introduced later with that stipulation, and that the original motion be left alone. A vote was held on this amendment to motion five, which failed. Then, a vote was held to send the motion without the amendment out to the broader faculty for another round of voting, and that vote passed.

Discussion briefly moved to motion six (No Disicplinary Action Against Protestors), but there was no discussion or debate. A vote was held to send the motion to the faculty, which passed.

The focus then shifted to Fierke and Liebowitz, who spoke briefly. He mentioned that the Faculty Senate is actively working on ideas on sharing information earlier with a broader segment of the faculty. He also noted that his office is extremely busy in preparations for the meeting with the Board of Trustees on Jan. 29. He also spoke on a deficit in graduate school revenue, a deficit of $12 million on a $400 million budget specifically, the majority of which is discretionary. He said that the deficit will have a huge impact on planning for the next fiscal year, but expressed hope that this is a one- or two-year blip. He added that Brandeis has had deeper declines than other institutions.

Fierke then spoke, touching briefly on how her office’s town hall about academic priorities was rescheduled to February. Fierke also expressed the need to be clear about our priorities and have these discussions with input from the community about where we’re going. Barbara Mandel Professor of Humanistic Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Sarah Lamb asked what the timeline was for departments to receive Ph.D. decisions, given the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ (GSAS) financial situation. She noted that her department normally admits by the middle of February, and that they may want to return application fees if they won’t be admitted. Lamb acknowledged that returning application fees would be bad press, though. Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and Professor of English Jeffrey Shoulson told Professor Lamb that GSAS is trying its best to provide answers as best as they can using financial models, but noted that the School doesn’t want to overextend itself without knowing its position.

von Mering then changed the subject, asking Liebowitz if he had any updates on the hiring of a sustainability manager, which she mentioned that the university had not had since September 2023. Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Samuel Solomon noted that Vice President for Campus Planning and Operations Lois Stanley has a few finalists that she is interviewing.

Sylvia K. Hassenfeld Chair in Islamic Studies and Professor of History Amy Singer brought the topic of conversation back to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ financial situation, and said that while the final decisions on the budget flows of the university rests with the board of trustees, one of the things that has changed significantly since she got here had been that there used to be more open lines of communication between the faculty and the board of trustees. She asserted that this isn’t a problem of the Graduate School; it’s a problem that affects the entire university. Singer noted that everything that happens at Brandeis in the academic sphere ties into graduate education in one way or another, and wondered how that was being communicated to the board. She also said that if the faculty are no longer an active and dynamic interlocutor to the board, the sum total of that is worrying. She asked Liebowitz if it is possible to create opportunities for faculty that are involved with graduate students to have open and dynamic conversations with the board. Liebowitz responded by saying that he questions Singer’s analysis about how much engagement with the board there is. He noted that there may be fewer positions on the board, and that was a result of them taking the results of an outside governmental review. Liebowitz added that he would bring these concerns to the board and let them know that it’s a concern to have other ways to have these conversations. One Board of Trustees member who was present says that the Faculty Senate chair ex officio is one of the members of the board and provides agenda items.

Singer spoke to Liebowitz again, saying that she heard him mention an external governance review whose recommendations were taken. She said that this wasn’t the first time such an external review has been brought up, and noted that she was wondering if Brandeis always defers to them or if there is also space to give faculty and students a voice that should perhaps be heard more loudly than that of an external review committee. She said that it sounded like Brandeis was taking cover under what the review committee said. Liebowitz responded, saying “Amy come on, this is an issue of a board that has no term limits. This is a board that has six former chairs sitting as voting members.” He noted that Brandeis listened to this external review quite closely because Brandeis wanted to put their policies in line with best practices. Liebowitz added that “we are a fairly unique institution, we’re not Cornell, we’re not a huge R1 place, and that it takes a long time to implement these changes to governance policies that have been in place for a while.”

Changing the focus of the meeting again, Kraft-Hiatt Professor Emerita of Christian Studies and Professor Emerita of Women’s and Gender Studies Bernadette Borden noted that the disciplinary process against arrested students has already begun, and that Vice President of Student Affairs Andrea Dine had communicated that actual proceedings would not begin until criminal proceedings were finished. She asked the room for confirmation on the fact that those proceedings had not begun, as she had heard otherwise. Fierke responded by saying that she didn’t know, and asked that faculty be careful about what label is placed on the process, stating that student conduct is an educational process not a disciplinary process. Borden noted that if sanctions could include suspension, expulsion or degree withholding, she would call that “discipline.” Fierke noted that the student conduct policy does not report to her, but when she asked about serious disciplinary actions that are possible, she was told that those have only been used in cases of violent acts. She suggested that Dine attend the next faculty meeting to clarify this subject further. Borden invited faculty to read about the process in Section 18 in Brandeis’ Rights and Responsibilities to read about what may happen to these students, and Professor Gittel noted that the student conduct process would be a subject of discussion in the next faculty meeting. Harry S. Levitan Director Emerita of Teacher Education and Professor of the Practice Emerita of Education Marya Levenson noted that the motions that were passed earlier should have some bearing on Brandeis’ internal review process, and that the spirit of what the faculty has voted on is that there should not be disciplinary proceedings.

In one final change of focus, Professor Emerita Mary Campbell said that one thing that she hadn’t heard about at this meeting is the private security company that was present at the protest in November. She added that they weren’t mentioned in the motion about the invitation of Waltham police to campus. Campbell said that she would like to know why that private security company was also present. She asked Liebowitz why Brandeis needed a private security company, and under whose jurisdiction the decision to invite them to campus was made. Liebowitz responded by noting that Brandeis gets regular updates about security, whether or not people realize it. He added that “Brandeis is a target, more than any other institution, due to its Jewish identity,” citing bomb threats that were made to campus as an example. He also said that Chief of Public Safety Matt Rushton, Executive Vice President of Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky and his office each get updates from a host of outside sources. Liebowitz added that the security team was hired in anticipation of Brandeis’ 75th anniversary, noting that the celebration was “the reason we had that relationship.”

Notably, The Hoot has found that this private security organization, Provident Response, has been present on campus as early as this academic year’s commencement and as recently as the “Library Party” near the end of last semester. Liebowitz added that Rushton has the power to call upon additional resources when he feels necessary.

Brandeis’ next faculty meeting will be on Feb. 9.

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