At today’s meeting, the Board of Trustees will make the final vote on the Brandeis 2020 Committee proposals that Provost Marty Krauss approved earlier this month.  So far, I think the process has gone as well as we could hope for, and I generally approve of the decisions that the Committee made.  However, one program in particular has suffered from particularly unfair treatment at the hands of the administration, and regardless of what happens at today’s meeting, I think its participants deserves a better explanation and an apology.

If you haven’t read Ariel Wittenberg’s piece on the Cultural Productions Masters’ program from the March 5th Hoot, check it out right now.  It’s a great piece of campus journalism, thoroughly researched and well-constructed, and the narrative is very important in understanding the administration’s relationship with the rest of the university.  Basically, Adam Jaffe, the Dean of Arts and Sciences and the chair of the Brandeis 2020 Committee, justified the decision to cut the program by saying “the overall costs of the program exceed the revenues” despite the fact that “the program generates revenue that exceeds its direct costs”.

The problem is that someone forgot to tell the program’s head, Professor Mark Auslander:

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.

So Jaffe misled Auslander about his program’s cost, basically lied to the Hoot about the program’s faculty, and made absolutely no effort to justify cutting the whole program to its director, let alone to the Brandeis community.  Three days later, Marty Krauss released her report, and Jaffe was contradicted again:

I have heard the argument that this program produces net revenue for GSAS, and while that is true, I am convinced that the University would have to make additional fiscal commitments in the long run to ensure that this program  achieves and maintains a level of excellence that we would expect for any master’s program.

Is the program currently revenue-positive?  Everyone seems to think so but Adam Jaffe, and he doesn’t seem willing to share whatever facts he has.

Making these academic cuts is a very difficult process, and I appreciate the fact that the motivations for cutting the Cultural Productions Program might be more complex than a straightforward cost-benefit analysis.  However, any cuts that are made will be painful to a portion of the Brandeis community, and the faculty and students within the programs deserve an explanation.  Withholding information and offering lies and half-truths only increases their pain.  We need complete faith in our administration as Brandeis makes these tough decisions, and Dean Jaffe has harmed that trust.

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