Prof. Saxe’s statement

In our quest to promote productive campus dialogue, Innermost Parts is inviting all faculty to send us their plans and proposals for
a. dealing with the budget crisis
b. innovative ideas that make Brandeis SEXY

Here’s the first:

Statement from Prof. Leonard Saxe (Heller/Hornstein)


To those who have argued that we should not rush to make academic changes, recall President-elect Obama’s post-election comment that it was necessary to move with “deliberate haste”– with equal emphasis on “deliberate” and “haste.” These are not ordinary times. In only nine weeks this Fall, the stock market lost 40% of its value. The implications for Brandeis are profound: Our endowment is down by nearly 25% and many of our current and prospective students can no longer afford tuition. As faculty, there’s not much we can do to alter macro-economic forces, but we do have the capacity to improve our educational programs and make them more attractive, as well as effective. If the current situation forces us to agree on the outlines of a strategy in a mere six weeks, so be it. The alternative is worse.We need, first, to agree on broad principles. I’d like to see us explicitly support the administration’s statements that Brandeis’ fundamental character is to be preserved: That we should continue to be a small research university with a residential undergraduate program and selected graduate programs. If the faculty concur, the question is how to build on our strengths to attract new students and resources. Would that we could have an entirely theoretical argument and detach finances from programmatic decisions. Unlike the U.S. government, however, Brandeis is able to print money and we need to align our academic appetites with available resources.

Beyond principles, below are some specific suggestions about how we might broaden the student base and garner resources. They involve leveraging our unique academic strengths, but do so in a way that addresses students’ financial concerns.

1. Three-year BA. As a way to help make a Brandeis education affordable, I’d propose creating an accelerated degree track – for top students to enable them to complete a BA in 3 academic years and three 6 week summer programs (NB: A shorter degree program reduces the opportunity cost of the degree). In my vision of the program, during the first summer, students would do a UWS and USEM; in the second summer, an internship/field placement; in the third summer, a capstone project.

2. BA/MA. Expanded five year BA/MA programs would help to make graduate education affordable (NB: parallel to a 3 year BA, it gets students into the workplace more quickly). The expanded programs would be distinctive in that we would admit students to BA/MA earlier in their careers (perhaps, at initial admission). They would be marketed, as well, to transfer students who would be admitted directly to the combined programs.

3. Brandeis Work-Study. Another way to make Brandeis more affordable is to guarantee students (both undergraduate and graduate) meaningful on-campus jobs. The Brandeis Work-study program would leverage resources from Institutes, Centers, research projects and, perhaps, administrative offices to provide additional stipends that could be awarded on admission.

4. Non-matriculant programs. Even if we do not want to alter our fundamental character, we could expand programs for non-matriculants in areas of our unique strengths and in ways that promote our core educational programs. Thus, for example, current summer programs such as Genesis and the Hebrew language ulpan are models of how to expand the reach of our teaching and give Brandeis increased visibility among prospective applicants (NB: nearly 2/3s of the high students who participate in Genesis apply as undergraduates). There is a world of possible programs that might be launched – for mid-year and gap year students, study abroad opportunities and internships.

In terms of the proposal for meta-majors: Although I share some of the reservations, simply doing nothing seems untenable. If reducing the size of the faculty is necessary because of financial exigency, current programs/departmental configurations risk atrophy as colleagues retire or otherwise leave. That’s the worst outcome and reorganization (in some ways, harkening back to Brandeis’ first decade) represents a planful way to strengthen the academic enterprise. I’d like to see us focus on options for making it work, rather than a discussion of whether it should be attempted.

Thanks to Billy and others on the Senate who organized this forum.

Len Saxe
Hornstein Program/Heller School