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Hoot Interview: Jaffe defends curriculum changes

Published: January 21, 2005
Section: News

THE HOOT: How did the suggestions for changes that have been circulating come about?

ADAM JAFFE: I started last spring by asking every department and program to do a self-assessment about what they really needed to do their jobs right, and also specific questions about their links to other programs and the ways in which they saw themselves as contributing to the multiple missions of the institution.

JAFFE: I reviewed those over the summer, talking with my staff, the Provost, and the President, and tried to cull out of that what seemed like the most important things that we need to be doing that were not doing. Since thats going to cost additional resources that we may or may not be able to find, some proposals at least are up for consideration for commitments from which we might be willing to pull back over time to free up the resources to do the additional things that it seems like we need to be doing.

THE HOOT: In terms of researching the issue, how did you come to conclusions about what you thought was more important? For example by looking at other institutions, etc?

JAFFE: I did a little bit of looking at other institutions, although mostly what I did was just to try to look at what was being said about how we were or were not contributing to the missions we laid out in terms of undergraduate education, graduate education, research, and social justice. Also, by really trying to look at and it is a matter of judgment where there are programs and areas that, while valuable in their own right, are not as vital in terms of their multiple contributions to the multiple missions we have as an institution.

THE HOOT: So a lot of it was just looking at what individual programs said about themselves?

JAFFE: Pretty much, yeah.

THE HOOT: So the conclusions you came to about programs that you thought needed to be strengthened or downsized were based on what these individual assessments said about their own programs, or were there other factors?

JAFFE: Well I think its a little different for the strengthening and downsizing. I think virtually every suggestion Ive made for adding resources to programs, and I think theres one exception to that, are things that the programs themselves said that they needed. Now I didnt accept every such request, I had to make some judgments about which were the most compelling.

JAFFE: Now it may not surprise you that no program volunteered to be cut. So in terms of trying to identify programs that we could narrow or cut back, I did not directly get that out of the self-assessments in the sense of them having suggested it. But it was still based on them in the sense that I asked the programs to describe to me their contributions to the missions. It was in evaluating the information that I tried to make judgments about where those contributions were not quite as crucial.

THE HOOT: I dont mean to pester you, but I dont quite understand to what extent any type of quantitative analysis came into the mix which you used to choose the programs to improve

JAFFE: Well there were quantitative aspects that came into it. I think I did look at things like how many faculty we have in different programs and departments relative to student demand for those different departments. That was certainly required.

THE HOOT: We were told that this process that you started was part of the larger Integrated Planning. At the time that you were getting the self-assessment, was the Integrated Planning process public knowledge?

JAFFE: I think it was publicly known that there was an Integrated Planning process. There had not been much discussion of it, and there certainly had been no specific discussion about how that would connect to more detailed planning within the Arts and Sciences.

THE HOOT: So at that time this was an independent inquiry?

JAFFE: No, this was part of the Integrated Planning process but as I said, up to that point there had not been any explicit discussion with the faculty about how those would be linked together. But we certainly told the Board of Trustees last spring that those things were connected, and the faculty representatives on the Board of Trustees report to the Faculty Meetings about those meetings. So there was nothing being done secretly but there hadnt been any active efforts to involve the faculty.

THE HOOT: If you could do it over again, do you believe that that was a correct level of communication at that point?

JAFFE: Personally, I should think it was, because we didnt yet have much to communicate. If we had just said, were sort of working on this and we dont quite know yet what its going to produce, I dont think the faculty wouldve paid much attention to any additional communication of that sort.

THE HOOT: You mentioned resources and money earlier. I believe we were told that, in the scheme of things, Brandeis budget and available resources are increasing. Is that true?

JAFFE: Available resources for the Arts and Sciences? Well those are two different questions. The current planning indicates that over the five to seven-year planning period weve been looking at there will be, in terms of the aggregate budget of Brandeis, some resources available to fund incremental initiatives be they new programs or new buildings or other changes in the way the university operates. This is because of a complex interaction of estimates of what will happen to tuition and various expenses.

JAFFE: So its not a simple statement of there will be more money, its a result of a planning model which suggests that if we just kept doing what were doing now, at the end of this period we would have additional resources that couldve been spent on other programs or activities.

THE HOOT: The reason I ask is if we arent spending the resources, why cut the programs?

JAFFE: Well that may be where we end up. The reason that I think its important to at least consider cutting programs is that there are many competing needs for what will be fairly limited increased resources. A number of our buildings are in pretty bad shape and need significant renovation. We believe we have a need for some new buildings in the arts and sciences. Construction of these will be financed by gifts or possibly by debt but the cost of operating the new larger buildings will be greater than that of existing buildings.

JAFFE: So on the academic side, there are the new buildings and the renovation of existing buildings. On the non-academic side, there are a number of non-academic buildings that need attention. The dorms need work, and wed like to increase financial aid.

JAFFE: So there are many competing priorities for what will be limited incremental resources. I dont think its appropriate to say all the additional money should go to the academic programs necessarily. Once weve established these things, that may be the conclusion that we come to, but I dont think its appropriate to decide that without looking hard at some of these things.

JAFFE: But I dont think I answered your initial question about the overall process. The Provost has established a process for reviewing the proposals that Ive made and that process is underway, theres a faculty committee thats looking at that and is meeting with various faculty members. They will produce a report which will be public next month.