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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Budget balancing strategy changed

Published: January 23, 2009
Section: Front Page

President Reinharz promised the faculty that he would avoid making permanent changes wherever possible at two separate faculty meetings; however, the latest proposal by administrators to increase revenue and reduce expenditures focuses on a restructuring of the academic program rather than trimming the already existing structure.

The new proposal, which includes reducing the faculty by 10% and increasing the student population by 12%, was made in light of the current financial crisis.

In an effort to meet the challenges posed by this fiscal year’s shortfall and the projected shortfalls for fiscal year 2010 and beyond, the university has already made university seminars optional for first-year students, reduced the number of foreign language sections taught, and halved the number doctoral student enrollment for the next two academic years.

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer PeterFrench and Vice President for Budget and Planning Frances Drolette gave two presentations on the university budget this week to the faculty. Students were not allowed to attend. Neither responded to requests for comment concerning the university budget.

Even so, at the faculty meeting, Reinharz promised to maintain 11 important principles of the university including dedication to a “superb undergraduate college,” the university’s character as a research university, and social justice, among others. The Hoot received a copy of the document from Class of 2011 Senator Alex Melman who received a copy of the document from Reinharz.

“When we first started looking at consequences of external forces,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe explained, “we looked at what could be called belt-tightening.”

“Once we finished tightening the belt for [fiscal year] 2010, we started looking for carefully at [fiscal year] 2011,” Jaffe said.

“Three more months have gone by and things have gotten worse,” he said. Further, “we have every reason to expect [the] Madoff [ponzi scheme] to reduce gifts.”

Prof. William Flesch, chair of the faculty senate, added via e-mail, “it’ll take a long time to recover from the current crisis. The short term damage has long term consequences.” Flesch added that the faculty will guard the “academic and intellectual mission of Brandeis.”

As such, the strategy for meeting the budgetary challenges has shifted. Jaffe explained, “we need to have a more comprehensive realignment of revenues and expenses.”

Part of that plan includes the introduction what has been termed ‘meta-majors’ and the addition of a summer term. “We would define 10 or 12 broad areas – something like life sciences or politics, law, and public affairs,” Jaffe said.

Each student would then have a disciplinary concentration within their broad interdisciplinary meta-major.

“Our hope is that this would improve education,” Jaffe said. “We want to tap into students’ interest in interdisciplinary [studies] and multiple majors.”

Also, Jaffe believed fewer meta-majors would allow the Hiatt Career Center to better “integrate the curriculum with what you do after Brandeis.”

Restructuring the academic program would allow the university to “have a curriculum that could be mounted with fewer faculty but in such a way that is still intellectually rigorous and robust,” Jaffe said.

Second, the proposed curriculum changes would “create an attractive and distinctive model of the undergraduate education that we would hope would allow us to increase the number of students who want to come to Brandeis.”

“Part of what we’re trying to accomplish is to be out ahead and to be distinctive,” Jaffe said. Increasing the attractiveness of the university is key in increasing the size of the student body without lowering academic standards of acceptance, he explained.

Introducing a summer term would allow the university to mitigate the space issues a larger student body would present. While no logistical details are final, “part of the idea [of a summer term] is to offer innovative and exciting things that are hard to do [during a regular semester].”

The proposed curriculum changes were discussed in a private meeting with the faculty and administration. Prof. Steven Burg (POL) characterized the meeting as a “vigorous faculty discussion of some ideas for change designed to…improve what we do as educators” while also becoming more efficient. “No direct action was taken today,” he said.

The faculty did vote to create a steering committee, which would have the power to create sub-committees, Burg said. Additionally, there was “explicit discussion and great support among the faculty that students should be involved in this process,” he added.