Brandeis Students Could Serve a Semester to Society

The latest idea to emerge from the CARS committees is a proposal for a required semester of Service to Society (STS). The proposal originates from the problem that Brandeis will face over the next five years as it increases enrollment from 3,200 to 3,700. Brandeis will have to figure where these students will live and where they will eat, on a campus that already has overcrowded dorms and long lines at dining halls.

This proposed solution would require every Brandeis student to spend one of his or her eight semesters off-campus engaging in some sort of public service. For many students this will mean an internship at a non-profit somewhere, for others it could mean intensive scientific research. During this semester students would earn the course credit equivalent to taking two or three courses, and pay tuition at a reduced rate (perhaps to the tune of 60%). The STS semester could be completed during summer vacation, enabling students to graduate in three and a half years. Or it could be taken during the regular academic school year, ensuring a normal four-year graduation time.

There are a number of ‘pros’ to this plan. Namely, it reduces the effects of overcrowding, as there will be fewer students on campus at any given point. The plan is innovative, and it may appeal to high school students interested in social justice. Furthermore, it reduces the cost of tuition to Brandeis because all students will now only pay 7.6 semesters of tuition, rather than eight.

There are also some ‘cons’ to the plan. Brandeis may face a slight backlash from creating a required service program; some people might feel like service should be a voluntary experience, not a mandatory program. Students will also be required to take five classes in one or two semesters to graduate on time. Furthermore the STS semester could interfere with study abroad. Though people will be encouraged to do their semesters of service internationally, should anyone also want to study at a university abroad, they would have to be off-campus for two semesters, rather than just one. This could disrupt clubs, student union, and may even make it harder for students to take the classes they need.

Ultimately, I think this is a really solid idea. The plan definitely has some issues that need to be sorted through before it can be put into action, but I think it works. I think this will make Brandeis a significantly more appealing school while simultaneously reaffirming our commitment to social justice.

If anyone would like more information, Professor Timothy Hickey has set up another wiki ( with most of the relevant information regarding a semester of service and/or a summer semester.


11 thoughts on “Brandeis Students Could Serve a Semester to Society”

  1. The idea of requiring service is repulsive. Community service should be given, not mandatory. Making it required eliminates any meaning such action could have. Also, a freshman, were this instituted, I would absolutely transfer.

  2. Lev is right – what qualifies is very broad. As it’s being discussed right now, the following things could qualify for the semester (STS/E-Term/Experiential Learning/whatever):

    -fall/spring study abroad semester
    -an intensive Brandeis summer program, including possibly:
    -a summer science research program
    -summer Study Abroad
    -an intensive Summer Language institute
    -an intensive Creative Arts summer program
    -and more (to be developed by departments)
    -an academic year internship semester enhanced with distance learning (via latte) and including a writing intensive component, including:
    -community-engaged learning projects
    -faculty-led semester-long national or international programs
    -environmental studies field semesters
    -departmental-based internships in the student’s field of study supplemented with online courses

    None are finalized, and that isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives an idea of what has been proposed. I hope that clarifies what some people are worried about.

  3. I agree with Justin (and Rachel and Dev), and I think so do most of the people involved with crafting this semester. My understanding is that really any sort of meaningful internship in any field could qualify.

  4. I agree with Rachel and Dev. When I said I supported the STS program, I did so with the consideration that virtually any work experience can be seen as improving society in some way. (Legal, educational, journalism, etc.) I support the STS because I think it can be marketed very well to prospectives. I can imagine a tour guide saying “Brandeis believes it must prepare its students to make meaningful change in the world, so we are the only University in the country with an innovative STS program where Brandeis will assist you in securing an outstanding hands-on opportunity and providing with the context to get the most out if it…”

  5. Is there a way to make it sound less mandatory-community-service-ish? The ability to work in a lab or do an internship with a class component to it, the ability to find something to do in that semester which is meaningful to both your studies and an organization of some sort, THAT could sound appealing–as could being assured that Brandeis will help you get that internship or lab position or whatever it is.

  6. While this is a very interesting idea for those that come to Brandeis because of its commitment to social justice, not everyone does that. I think while some people would choose Brandeis because of this program, many more would reject it for the same reason.

    Not everyone on campus is an activist, not everyone on campus is concerned with doing community service. Maybe they should be, but that’s not for us to judge. Some people just want a regular college experience at a good school, of a certain size, near a city, etc. I believe forcing people do to a semester of service, and pay for the pleasure would engender a significant amount of resentment against the school and administration.

  7. The thought of charging 60 percent of regular tuition so that a student can participate in a semester of mandatory community service is so disgusting that I can’t comment on the other details of this ludicrous proposal, other than to say that if Brandeis is seriously considering this cannibalization of its “commitment” to social justice, it is off the rails more than ever before.

  8. Justin has the right idea as to why there is tuition charged. It is different than just having an internship and enrolling in an internship class the next semester. The idea would be that you are doing online class stuff and generally doing a lot of things during the semester with Brandeis. They want you to have to earn the two or three course credits you will earn by doing an STS semester… and they want you to have to pay for it.

    The name STS is definitely not final. One name that has been coined that I like is the E-term (Experential).

    I’m not yet sure how big the study abroad problem is. I know a lot of people who rather their ‘study’ abroad experience be a volunteer/intership one rather than a studying one. I recognize not everyone wants that, which is why it is still a problem, but I don’t think this kills the abroad experience.

  9. I like the idea, but I’m not sure I like the name of it. “Service to Society” sounds too much like forced community service, which I don’t think is what it will or SHOULD be. It doesn’t sound particularly academic, I guess.

  10. I think this sounds like a really solid idea. I think that the required summer semester was too imposing and “weird” to sell to students, but STS has a nice ring to it and isn’t that awfully “out-of-the-mainstream.”

    In response to Alex, I think a 60% fee is reasonable assuming you:
    – Get at least 3 course credits (maybe 4) for the work you do during the STS.
    – Have a class that either meets on-line, in person in select locations where a lot of students are doing their STS(Boston, NY, DC, Jerusalem, etc.) or that meets before and/or after the STS to make the greatest use of the experience.
    – Have Brandeis use its connections (via Hiatt or academic departments) work to secure you innovative and meaningful STS placements.
    – Have certain Brandeis privileges during the STS. (Invitations to special exclusive events in different locations where many students are doing the STS.)

  11. maybe there’s something i’m missing, so in all honesty correct me if i’m not getting it….but i would have to pay 60% tuition to Brandeis for a semester for the privilege of getting my service project put on my transcript? meanwhile, I cost the university $0 for an entire semester.

    if i really wanted to do a service project or internship under the current system, i could take a semester off and pay nothing to Brandeis, right? and i could sign up for an internship class the next semester to get credit for the experience. and if I’m smart, I can plan the whole thing out so that I can still finish my requirements in 3.5 semesters. the new system would let me do the same thing, only it would charge me 60% tuition to do it and would force me into it whether I wanted to or not.

    i also think the conflict with study abroad is a much larger issue than it’s given credit for. but of course the university couldn’t count an abroad experience as an “STS” because sending students abroad is a net loss financially, if i understand correctly.

    so while the plan sounds good on its face, and it may be the best way possible to keep brandeis financially sound while putting a positive spin on academic changes, lets not call this something it’s not. you can put lipstick on a pig, as they say, but it’s still a pig.

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