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Brandeis facing ‘financial shortfall’ as administration announces steps to address fiscal deficit

On March 14, Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz, Provost Carol Fierke and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stewart Uretsky sent out an email to the Brandeis community titled “Planning for Brandeis’ Long-Term Sustainability.”’ In it, the administrators shared “some of the steps we are taking to proactively ensure that the university remains financially strong well into the future.

Liebowitz, Fierke and Uretsky began by nothing that “academia is experiencing a period of profound transformation, as changing demographics in college-age students, new options for education and career training, including online-only programs, and a significant decline in the public’s opinion on higher education all translate into decreasing enrollments nationwide.” Furthermore, they wrote that “institutions in Boston and throughout the country are facing financial challenges and making difficult choices: announcing initiatives to restructure, to adjust their academic offerings and programs, and to focus more intensely on their priorities.

The administrators wrote that “Brandeis must make important and forward-looking decisions to address current and anticipated budget deficits, brought on by declines in enrollment in our master’s degree programs, and rapidly-growing expenses due to inflation and other changes in the economy. This means that Brandeis is facing both a short and long-term financial shortfall.”

They continued, “In response, we are focusing our resources on building for the future and supporting the institution’s highest priorities: excellence in the liberal arts and sciences, enhancing the student experience, and elevating our founding values.” Additionally, they promised that “as does any responsible organization, we must be prudent financial stewards, and move forward with concrete steps to address the university’s deficits”, and that “we pledge to be as timely as possible in sharing information as it becomes available.” 

Firstly, the administrators “have asked Deans and Vice Presidents to develop plans for their departments and units, aimed at bolstering the university’s long-term academic standing, financial health, and student life.” In addition, they announced that “we will delay the annual staff performance review and merit increases and faculty merit increases until the fall, so that they become effective on October 1, 2024.” They clarified that “Faculty should still complete their Faculty Activity Reports (FAR) as communicated by their deans,” and that “unionized employee merit increases will be governed in accordance with applicable collective bargaining agreements.

Next, Liebowitz, Fierke and Uretsky promised to “seek approval from the Board of Trustees for a temporary increase in the spend rate from the University’s endowment,” to “apply even greater rigor when considering whether to fill open faculty and staff positions that are not externally funded through grants and contracts” and “pause the Science Center expansion process, called Science 2A, and instead make more modest upgrades in our science facilities in the near term.” The Science 2A project had been announced in 2022 and, according to BrandeisNow, was “expected to begin in late 2023, last about two-to-three years, and cost about $145 million.” During this pause, the administrators wrote that “fundraising for the building will continue apace as we look towards resuming active construction plans as soon as we can.

Lastly, the administrators announced, “We will expend funds on a new residence hall in order to upgrade our undergraduate students’ residential space, which we know is vital to student life and an area that we need to enhance as competition for students grows more intense.” No details on the new residence hall or its timetable were included. Previously, during the Board of Trustees meetings this past Janurary, board members had “discussed plans for a potential new residence hall”, and promised that “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.” 

Liebowitz, Fierke and Uretsky concluded by saying, “We are optimistic that these actions will help to reduce the university’s overall deficit and serve as an effective first step to help manage additional cuts that will need to be made in order to balance the budget. Senior leadership will continue to communicate with the community over the course of the semester as more definitive information becomes available. While the path ahead won’t be easy, we are confident that it will lead to a stronger Brandeis that will allow us to pursue our academic mission—teaching and learning, research, and community service—more effectively and from a position of financial strength.”

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