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At faculty insistence, administration to make public more specific committee reports

Published: October 12, 2012
Section: News, Top Stories

After the new strategic plan’s preliminary framework was presented at the October faculty meeting Thursday, where several professors criticized its generality, President Fred Lawrence retook the floor and announced that a larger amount of information would be made public than originally intended.

At the beginning of the forum, Provost Steve Goldstein had stressed broad principles rather than specific tactics. But by the end of a meeting where faculty repeatedly asked for more information, Lawrence decided that there need be no reason to keep the individual reports of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee’s smaller task forces private, as the provost and task forces had planned.

“Transparency is the hallmark of our administration and so in fact, if it is going to be more of a problem not to make it available earlier, we’ll make them available earlier,” Lawrence said.

He added that the task force chairs will have to be consulted before their reports are released more widely, but he expects most to be released on the accelerated timetable.

But Lawrence said he expected that doing so would likely prompt a “relentless drive toward the tactical,” a stream of responses that would not be in the broad, strategic terms and principles on which the administration had intended to focus.

He relented, he said, because “when in doubt, transparency is always better … our namesake after all, said that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” quoting Justice Brandeis in a Supreme Court free speech case. “There are no secrets we are trying to hide from you.”

Biology professor James Haber was the first to speak at the planned discussion and immediately called the summarized outline of the plan, labeled the preliminary framework, too “generic.”

“It has so little detail that I have a difficult time understanding its assumptions and direction,” Haber said. “I can’t make very substantive comments” without such specifics.

“My suspicion is that every one of those task forces drew up a very detailed discussion, which we ought to see; that is to say, I think you ought to share with us those reports,” Haber said.

After other faculty members expressed similar frustration, these are the additional releases Lawrence said the administration would now make. The task forces include benchmarking, academic innovations, flexible education through technology, strategic planning finances, integrated arts, faculty, scholarship and research, learning communities and student experience, global, alumni and community building, facilities and campus evolution and strategic planning development.

Professor Joe Reimer (ED) said that the discussed framework possessed “such generality it eludes all sorts of questions of what we mean by social justice.” He added that “nothing in the document excites me, or gives me an illustrative example how discovery education would operate at Brandeis.” The framework had sought to illustrate that discovery at Brandeis was a product of the much-repeated fact that Brandeis has characteristics of both a liberal arts college and also a research university.

Other faculty had various concerns, ranging from little mention of “the arts” in the framework to the question of the university’s Jewish identity.

Reimer commented that, “The question of what this university’s relationship is with its roots in the Jewish community is not addressed at all.”

The strategic plan, on its first page, does mention a “mission—to honor our Jewish roots, which instruct us to repair the world.” In the three agreed-upon principles with which it concludes, the Steering Committee commits to “honor its Jewish roots and commitment to pluralism, access and diversity.”

Lawrence, when he concluded the meeting, tried to reinvigorate the faculty with higher expectations.

“I’ll give you,” he said, “not a prediction but a promise: what comes out in January will be inspiring. It will include within 10 years what we commit to do.”

The strategic plan, Lawrence said, was about finding things for Brandeis to value that would leave people to be “proud they are part of that school.”