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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Profitable program at risk

Published: March 5, 2010
Section: Front Page

Despite its charge to alleviate the university’s budget crisis, the Brandeis 2020 Committee has proposed to indefinitely suspend the revenue-positive Cultural Productions Masters’ program.

The program, which was created in 2006 for the purpose of providing the university with additional revenue, has a gross profit of $100,000 per year for the university’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS), Professor Mark Auslander (ANTH), the program’s director said.

While the Brandeis 2020 Committee’s chair Dean of Arts and Sciences Adam Jaffe did not dispute that “the program generates revenue that exceeds its direct costs,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that “the overall costs of the program exceed the revenues.”

When asked what the overall costs were, Jaffe wrote, “I prefer not to share those numbers.”

This secrecy is “dumbfounding” to Auslander, who said, “I’m baffled at what these ‘hidden costs’ could be.” Auslander also said that his knowledge of the program’s revenue comes from conversations with Jaffe himself.

“Up until they wanted to cut our program, the Dean has said we are revenue positive,” Auslander said. “To cut us would be foolhardy.”

While Jaffe wrote in his e-mail that “the ‘direct costs’ do not include the time of any faculty other than the director,” Auslander said the Cultural Productions Program does not employ any faculty other than him.

While other professors teach classes cross-registered with cultural productions, the professors themselves belong to other departments and are not on Cultural Productions’ payroll, Auslander said, adding he only teaches one class per semester that is registered as Cultural Productions.

The proposal to suspend the Cultural Productions program is just one of a list of 18 potential academic cuts announced by the Brandeis 2020 Committee on Feb. 22 to help close the university’s $25 million yearly budget shortfall.

While most proposals suggest the termination of a major or the restructuring of departments, Cultural Productions is one of the few affected programs whose monetary impact on the university is easily calculated because it is an independent entity.

Auslander said the program’s faculty is willing to work with the committee to restructure the department to bring in more revenue, which could easily be done by admitting more students.

Tuition for the cultural production program is $35,000 per year, and Auslander estimated each student brings in $10,000 in yearly net profit for GSAS.

Auslander said he is willing to accept five to eight additional students per year, which would increase the two-year Masters’ program’s net profits by up to $80,000 over the course of one year.

Increasing the number of admitted students to the program would be in step with goals set for the university by the Curriculum and Academic Restructuring Committee last spring which recommended the university cut Ph.D. admissions and increase Masters admissions.

As a result of that recommendation, Fiscal Year 2009 was the first year GSAS contributed positively to the university’s finances, with a combined revenue for graduate schools of $6.6 million.

Jaffe wrote to The Hoot that accepting additional students to the program is unrealistic because “we already accept everyone who is qualified. There is no way to increase the number of students in the program without lowering the standards.”

Second year Cultural Productions student Rebecca Lennon said she was dissapointed students were not consulted in the decision.

“We would be willing to do whatever it takes to keep our program,” she said. “They just won’t tell us what that is.”

First year Cultural Productions student Celeste Radosevich agreed, saying the committee’s secrecy made the program’s suspension especially difficult to take.

“This process was fairly opaque,” she said. “It’s difficult not to see this decision as a value judgment if you don’t know the reasons behind it.”