A Summary of Today’s Forum

For those who didn’t get the memo, today President Jehuda Reinharz, Chief Financial Officer Peter French, and Provost Marty Krauss held an open forum with students in Sherman Function Hall. It wasn’t an ideal situation, the forum was only announced the evening before and it was held during a time when most students have classes. Furthermore, it was held in middle of an ugly storm (at least from the perspective of this California native). Yet despite the challenges in organizing the event, over two hundred students (according to the Student Union) turned out to ask the President some questions. I can say with confidence that this forum was the direct result of student activism, both on the part of the Student Union as well as the Brandeis Budget Cut Committee.

A full audio version of the forum is available on the website of the Brandeis Hoot.

Right away President Reinharz opened the meeting by announcing that this will not be the last forum, that more forums will be held for those unable to attend. He then passed the podium off to Peter French who presented a detailed slideshow (the same one presented to the Faculty and Board of Trustees in December) outlining Brandeis’s budget problems for the next five fiscal years.

The first problem he addressed was the problem of a structural deficit. That is to say,

the needs and aspirations [of the university] exceed assets and annual revenues.

As a result, for the last few decades Brandeis has been relying on large gifts to pay for its operations and it has been dipping into its endowment to pay its bills. This is only a serious problem if the University is pulling more than 5% out of its endowment annually – which for many years they were – because after this point, the endowment would cease to grow. President Reinharz built a reserve fund ( a sort of ‘savings account’ which could be dipped into and potentially fully exhausted in times of financial trouble) worth about $100 million during his tenure at Brandeis, and without it we’d be in even more trouble than we are right now. Despite this, French estimates the reserve fund will be depleted by FY 2010-2011, in order to pay for the deficits of the next two years.

In short, Brandeis has been in a fragile financial situation for quite some time, and the combination of the economy crash and the Madoff scandal put Brandeis into a state of financial crisis. (though Brandeis was not invested in Madoff’s funds directly, as was Tufts, many of our wealthy Jewish donors like Carl Shapiro were scammed out of hundreds of millions).

How bad is it? For starters, at the end of the last fiscal year, June 30th 2008, Brandeis’ endowment was worth $712 million dollars. As of December 31st, that number has dropped to just $549 million dollars. The drop in our endowment is only predicted to continue through FY 2009. In fact, the University doesn’t predict to be able to draw any money from the endowment until beyond FY 2012, leaving us with a pretty serious budget shortfall. French predicts that in FY 2014 we will face a shortfall of $23 million. For comparison, this year we face a shortfall of just $5 million.

All of this means that the University is tightening its belt – as all of us have already noticed. 10% of the faculty is being cut – which amounts to about 36 professors – and vacant positions in the administration are not being filled. The class of 2014 and classes afterwards will have to participate in a summer semester, estimated to provide revenue to the University upwards of $6 million each year. By 2013, the student to faculty ratio at Brandeis will have increased from a ratio of 8:1 to 10:1. Instead of having a student body of 3,200, we’ll have a student body of 3,750.

After giving this daunting presentation, French stepped aside to let President Reinharz answer student questions. Much of this conversation focused on the closing of the Rose Art Museum, which Liza covered in her recent post.

During the Q&A, Reinharz tried to quell fears that Brandeis is getting hit worse than other schools. Though he didn’t mention any by name, he said that all schools were struggling with the crisis and that some even had to resort to selling some of their on-campus buildings to raise money.

When asked if students could join the faculty steering committee, he deflected and said that wasn’t his decision, though I’m pretty sure the steering committee would consent if the President Reinharz asked the committee to have students on it. Provost Marty Krauss announced that the first meeting of the committee would be held tomorrow morning at 9 AM (in an undisclosed location), and that students will not be allowed to attend.

At one point in the meeting, Reinharz called on students to serve as ambassadors for Brandeis to help promote the University’s image so that we can continue to last a prestigious school. David Azer responded with a question that I think just about summed up the thoughts of most of the students in the room. He said (paraphrased), “I want to be an ambassador for Brandeis, I love this school – but I feel kept in the dark, I don’t have a voice. How can I be an ambassador when I don’t have a voice?” Applause erupted in the room, a true showing of student solidarity.

It was shortly after this moment that President Reinharz exited the room to let Provost Marty Krauss face the firing squad of student questions. As Jehuda left, so did most of the students, including myself. Most of my important questions were answered, perhaps not satisfactorily, but at least we finally got to see some real numbers and straight answers from the University. Getting to have the forum was a victory for student activism and proof that our protests are working. We understand – better today than we did yesterday – that the University is in a crisis and we want to be there to help it. That’s why we demand a voice, so that we can get out of this crisis together as a community.


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