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Editorial: In framework, questions for community to answer

Published: October 12, 2012
Section: Editorials


The preliminary framework for the strategic plan released this week presents a wealth of generalities and a dearth of specifics. As expected in any outline, it focuses on ideas and goals concerning policies and initiatives. Faculty stressed their desire to review specifics of the plan on Thursday, and we hope that the upcoming breakout sessions will help produce a version of the plan that explains not only where we want to go as a university, but how we expect to get there.

The framework does, however, outline two essential questions to answer in the coming months.

“Brandeis will build national and international recognition and a compelling case for the University as a first choice for students, faculty and staff committed to making a difference in the world. To do this we will: Share the Brandeis story widely, making a compelling case for distinctiveness through a comprehensive communications, marketing and recruitment plan,” according to the framework.

We could not agree more with the need for Brandeis to aim high and set expectations that distinguish it from other schools. But telling our story is not only about communications and marketing strategy. It is about our values and university identity. In order to tell our story, this community needs to spend more time answering questions about the role we seek regarding Jewish roots and Jewish sponsorship, and the message of which we seek to convey publicly.

The framework makes an honest effort to address this question, citing the Strategic Planning committee’s principle that “Brandeis will honor its Jewish roots and commitment to pluralism, access and diversity.” Facilitating more student, faculty and alumni feedback on this question will be crucial in the coming months.

Establishing Brandeis as a school committed to social justice is a wonderful core value. But it is not, on its own, a distinguishing factor. It is a start, but needs to become more specific over the coming months.

In addition, Provost Steve Goldstein recognized another pivotal goal for the plan in his cover letter this week—universtiy financial stability.

“It provides mechanisms to help us make hard choices about investment, consolidation and redirection of resources over the coming years—choices necessary to advance our premier standing while establishing a sustainable financial structure for the university,” he wrote.

Listed under the university’s commitment to financial stability on page nine of the framework is the principle to “maintain our historic commitment to affordability and access, while making certain that are commitments are supported in a financially sustainable manner.”

Contrary to what some administrators may think, last year’s tuition increase has not been forgotten by students and families struggling to pay tuition bills.

This editorial board remembers vividly when Fred Lawrence articulated clearly during his first interview that access to higher education through student financial aid and scholarship was his top priority as president. We expect, that whatever surveys, workshops, consultants or frameworks may find, it should remain his top priority.

There is much to be excited about in the framework—new ideas for online programs, global connections with Israel and India and academic focus areas, ranging from biomedicine and global health to engineering to legal and ethical studies. But many of these new ideas put into practice will be costly. We hope that financial stability, and specifically tuition costs will be addressed seriously in the final version of the plan.

What this community expects, surrounding questions of Jewish identity and financial accessibility is not only ideas, but also concrete proposals for ways to answer the most difficult of questions. This week’s framework is a step, but we eagerly anticipate the details to be released later this year.