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Academic expenditure cuts focus on faculty costs

Published: December 5, 2008
Section: Front Page


University seminars will no longer be mandatory and fewer sections of foreign language classes will be offered next academic year in response to a predicted $5.8 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2010.

The Special Faculty Advisory Committee, formed by Provost Marty Krauss and chaired by Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe, has been charged with considering possible academic expenditure reductions for fiscal year 2010.

Jaffe explained that options for reducing academic expenditures are constrained because “we don’t have the ability to reduce tenured positions.”

“The vast majority of courses are taught by tenured faculty,” Jaffe said, “we can’t reduce that cost.”

As such, offering fewer sections of large introductory courses taught by tenured faculty would have little effect. “[the Committee was] really unable to identify…changes of that sort that would save enough money,” he commented.

For that reason, efforts to reduce expenditures in academics have focused on direct and indirect ways of saving faculty costs in required course areas.

“We were looking everywhere we could,” particularly at universal requirements, Jaffe said. “Non-Western doesn’t cost us anything,” he explained. Courses fulfilling university distribution requirements are not offered specifically for that purpose, differentiating them from USEMs, which are currently required, and foreign language, which some students take only to fulfill their requirement.

In foreign language, an area that often hires part-time faculty, fewer sections of foreign language classes will be offered, Director of Language Programs Prof. Hollie Harder (FREN) said.

The university will reduce “the number of total sections that would be budgeted,” Jaffe explained. Each language department will decide how to reduce the number of overall classes they offer in a given semester. Fewer sections will reduce the number of non-tenured faculty required to teach language courses.

Foreign language faculty had been presented with the option to reduce the language requirement from three semesters to two or to offer fewer language sections, Harder explained.

The faculty chose to offer few sections because “a reduced requirement would be something that wouldn’t be reversible,” she said.

In the romance languages, the enrollment cap will rise from 18 students to 25. Changing the enrollment cap “can change from semester to semester,” Harder added. Thus, there is a “way to respond again when [the economic situation] gets better.”

Additionally, Harder commented, “with two semesters [of foreign language instruction], students really don’t have a basis to make progress…it doesn’t make sense for Brandeis to do that given its emphasis on global education.”

Unlike reducing the number of foreign language sections offered, eliminating the USEM requirement offers indirect savings “because USEMs are taught by faculty,” Jaffe said.

“The main purpose of this change is to then deploy those teachers who are no longer teaching USEMs to other courses and save Brandeis some money so that we can help balance the budget in these hard economic times,” Prof. Malcolm Watson (PSYC), chair of the USEM committee wrote in an e-mail.

Jaffe explained that reducing the number of USEMs offered will limit the number of adjunct faculty the university would need to hire.

The university writing seminar, taught by graduate students, will remain a requirement because of writing’s important in a liberal arts education, Jaffe said.

According to Jaffe, the faculty committee and the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, which he also chairs, believed it worthwhile to continue to offer USEMs as an option for first-years.

Also, “in some cases, there isn’t another course we need a professor to teach, and secondly some faculty like teaching USEMs,” he said.

While Jaffe felt “we are losing something,” by eliminating the USEM requirement, he believed that the university seminar experience might be “more universally positive” if students and faculty both want to be involved.

In meetings with the faculty, President Jehuda Reinharz emphasized that the administration would focus on reversal expenditure reducing changes. “The [USEM] degree requirement will be eliminated,” but in keeping with Reinharz’s promise, “we will continue this and see how it goes.”