To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Board of Trustees discuss important issues affecting Brandeis

On Feb. 21st, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz sent an email to Brandeis students, faculty and staff to report on the events of the most recent Board of Trustees meetings. These meetings took place virtually on Jan. 29 and 30, although some board committees had been meeting earlier throughout the month of Janurary.

In the email, Liebowitz wrote “our trustees continued to show unflinching support for our university, and a strong sense of what we need to do to ensure our future success. I’m grateful for their time, and for the time of our faculty, students, and staff who share their institutional knowledge with trustees at their committee meetings.” 

Liebowitz wrote that the plenary sessions of the meetings focused on a large number of important topics, including “how the current Hamas-Israel conflict is affecting higher education and our campus.” Liebowitz “stressed Brandeis’ unique history as the singular secular American university founded by the American Jewish community, and the importance that community, and its millennia-old values, has played in the institution’s success over the past seventy-five years.” The board further discussed “how those values stand for academic excellence, an openness to all qualified students, faculty, and staff no matter their sex, religion, race, ethnic origin, or political views, and the imperative to help repair the world.

Liebowitz followed up by noting that, unlike the other Board Committees, “[t]he Resources Committee met with the entire Board rather than in a separate session.” The committee “discussed in detail the multiple threats to higher education, most notably the cost of a four-year degree, the loss of public trust in the academy, and the coming ‘demographic cliff,’ all of which are likely to translate into fewer candidates pursuing college degrees.” 

Liebowitz wrote that “the significant decline in graduate school enrollments for a second straight year, which, though not uncommon throughout higher education, has had a far greater impact on Brandeis than its peers.” He continued, “This decline in graduate enrollment revenue will require reductions in expenses university-wide, the plans for which senior administrators will share with the community in the coming weeks. The most recent decline in graduate school enrollments and revenue add to the decades-long structural and financial imbalances that have prevented the kinds of investment in the university that are critical to its future, most visibly to our physical plant.”

During this meeting, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jennifer Walker gave a presentation in which she explained how “‘demographic cliff’—or the decline in the number of eighteen years to apply to college… will require us to focus more of our attention on issues related to student recruitment than in the past.”  In addition, the committee “also spent significant time discussing the specific challenges that Brandeis faces and ways to address them for the long-term health of the institution,” including ”the university’s current budgetary challenges.”

In addition, Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement Hannah Peters also gave a presentation “providing information about the upcoming capital campaign, the staffing of the development (fundraising) and alumni relations offices at Brandeis, and recent trends in and projections for fundraising.” Peters noted how our recent fundraising success over the past two years boded well for the upcoming campaign, but that we will need to focus our solicitations on our highest priorities and for ‘unrestricted’ support—which means steering our donors’ generosity toward existing core expenditures (e.g., financial aid, faculty support, academic program support).”

Liebowitz continued with a listing of several faculty promotions that were approved by the Board. Aparna Baskaran was promoted to Professor with tenure in the Department of Physics, Thomas Fai was promoted to Assistant Professor with tenure in the Department of Math, Grace Han was promoted to Assistant Professor with tenure in the Department of Chemistry and Maria-Eirini Pandelia was promoted to Assistant Professor with tenure in the Department of Biochemistry. Liebowitz congratulated the four professors and expressed his gratitude for their services towards the Brandeis community.

Liebowitz then gave a summary of the individual Board Committee meetings. At the Academy Committees meeting, there was “a presentation and discussion about Brandeis Online, the university’s initiative to offer a robust portfolio of high-quality online programs, certificates, and course offerings. Data on declining Master’s enrollments were also shared, followed by an overview and discussion about the review of Brandeis Master’s programs that is underway to identify opportunities for enrollment growth in programs for which there is national demand.”

At the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee meeting, which took place on Jan. 12, the committee discussed their “mandate and possible changes to it in the future, pending further discussion within the committee.  The group also discussed various aspects of DEI work and heard from student and faculty representatives about their perspectives of issues on campus.” Trustee and Board Vice Chair Cindy Shapira gave a presentation about “an approach to decision-making for boards that include considerations related to DEI principles”, and Dr. Chip McNeal, Director, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Education and Learning Initiatives gave a presentation called “Embracing Difference: Recognizing Jewish Identity at the Margins in the Effort to Address Racism and Antisemitism.” In addition, McNeal and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Dr. Lee Bitsóí “also discussed the ongoing work of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the upcoming DEIS Impact event.“

At the Instutitional Advancement committee meeting, Liebowitz wrote that “SVP Hannah Peters and VP Stephen Rodriguez reviewed the positive FY24 year-to-date fundraising results, including new gifts and pledges (NGP), cash, unrestricted cash for operations, and trustee giving.” Liebowitz noted that “NGP is pacing ahead of previous years since the university’s last major capital campaign (2001 to 2011).” In addition, Liebowitz wrote that “Hannah and Stephen also updated the trustees on the first year of the quiet phase of the university’s upcoming campaign, which began on July 1, 2023”, and “VP Patsy Fisher updated the committee on the regional 75th anniversary events taking place in major cities around the world, hosted by key supporters.” Liebowitz concluded that “Brandeis alumni have exceeded expectations in attending these events. We can happily report that alumni feel connected to and proud of Brandeis.”

At the Nominating and Governance Committee meeting, which had taken place on Jan. 25th, “[t]he committee discussed ongoing work to cultivate interest in service to Brandeis and identifying good candidates for positions on the Board of Trustees. Relatedly, the committee reviewed the process for interviewing prospective and evaluating sitting trustees, including several trustees who are up for renewal.” The committee also “reviewed issues pertaining to board service and potential conflicts, as well as managing the multiple roles that trustees may play within the campus community; it voted on recommendations for the Board of Fellows as recommendations to the full Board; and discussed the role of emeritus trustees against the backdrop of best practices and the university’s governance structure.”

Liebowitz wrote that at the Risk Management and Audit Comittee, the committee “reviewed the university’s insurance program and discussed high-level risks facing the higher education sector, including student enrollment, cybersecurity, talent management, student wellness, and deferred maintenance.” It “also received an update on cybersecurity measures, which include minimizing threats from phishing scams and improving backup procedures.” Lastly, the committee “heard reports from Public Safety and the Office of Student Affairs regarding protocols and guidelines pertaining to campus protests.”

Finally, Liebowitz reported on the Student Life committee meeting. This meeting began with “a discussion about campus climate as it relates to the Hamas-Israel war and free expression, and the learning opportunities that Brandeis has offered in response, including teach-ins and dialogues to address student concerns.” Additionally, the committee discussed “plans for a potential new residence hall”. Liebowitz promised that “[a]s the process moves forward, the university will aim to develop student-informed specifications for a new building, with a focus on meeting modern housing needs, flexibility, and cost-efficient design.” And finally, “student representatives to the committee shared their own thoughts on topics such as the discomfort caused by the Hamas-Israel war, class size, housing challenges, and graduate students’ food insecurity concerns.”

Liebowitz concluded, “Again, I extend my gratitude to the Board for their time, their expertise, and their commitment to Brandeis’ mission, and my sincere thanks to the staff, faculty, and student representatives to the Board for their contributions to our critical conversations about our university’s future.”

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