Lies, Damn Lies, and Cultural Productions

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.

The Provost’s Report: Do Student Voices Matter?

Bump! — sahar

In her response to the the Brandeis 2020 Committee proposals, Provost Marty Krauss lists the five groups tasked to work towards healing Brandeis’s long-term financial deficit.  They are:

  • The 23 member Brandeis 2020 Committee, which identified reductions in Arts and Sciences.
  • The professional school revenue committee, composed of 4 administrators and the Office of Budget and Planning.
  • The 18 member Bold Ideas Group, which identifies new revenue streams.
  • The 9 member Administrative Resource Review Committee, which identifies administrative efficiencies.
  • The 7 member ad hoc committee on increasing revenue from the Centers and Institutes.

The most striking thing to me is that of these 61 committee members, exactly one is an undergraduate student (Jason Gray of the Brandeis 2020 Committee).  That means undergraduate students, the university’s primary reason for existing, make up 1.64% of the voices currently working to solve our biggest problems.  We are just as invested in the future of our university as anyone else, and we have unique perspectives that will otherwise go completely unheeded.  Why are we being so thoroughly excluded from these processes?

Marty Krauss has two important questions to answer.  First, do the students deserve a substantial voice in the university’s future?, and second, how will our voices be incorporated as the committees move forward?  However, I’m not confident that she will actually address these questions, and I’m even less confident that her answers will be satisfactory in establishing the student voice as a vital part of the process.  Therefore, the student body is left with a significant question of its own: How do we overcome our lack of direct involvement to make sure we too can help Brandeis succeed?

It’s a tough question, and we should start considering answers now.

Thoughts on the Provost’s Decisions

Earlier today, Provost Marty Krauss released her decisions regarding the 18 proposals that the Brandeis 2020 Committe submitted to narrow Brandeis’s projected operating deficit.  With one minor alteration, she chose to accept them all, meaning that they all will go to the Board of Trustees for approval later this month.

I imagine that there are a lot of disappointed students and faculty members at Brandeis today, and I can completely understand why.  If you’ve devoted your life to a specific program, or if your job security is incumbent on a program’s existence, the last thing you want to hear is that the program has been deemed unworthy of the money that Brandeis has put into it.  Each of these 18 cuts will affect some future students or current faculty members in serious ways, and the ramifications could be felt sooner than we might expect.  Can we really trust the administration to properly prioritize departments they’ve already singled out for termination?

Still, I have to say that I support the decision that Provost Krauss released today.  The Committee recommendations are the result of a exhaustively researched and debated process that incorporated a wide range of Brandeis community members.  The Committee took every effort to understand completely the ramifications of each of its proposals.  Yes, all of these cuts hurt, but Brandeis has already cut all of the easy stuff, and we’re truly out of options.  I find it stunning that Brandeis 2020 was able to reach its financial goals while leaving almost the entire undergraduate experience intact and preserving so much that is central to the Brandeis mission.  Faced with a bunch of bad options, I feel that the Committee members did the best job they could possibly do.

The strongest reaction against the Brandeis 2020 recommendations came from the Theater community in protest against the proposed phasing out of the Graduate School Theater Design program.  Their organization was quick and effective, and their Facebook group currently has over 2,000 members.  This decision was much closer to me than most others; I’ve worked on a Department show before, and I had an opportunity to interview two students from the Design program for a Brandeis Hoot podcast.  I think they have some very strong arguments for preserving their program, and it’s sad to think that the resources that led to the amazing design of the recent Funnyhouse of a Negro production will no longer be available.  But I also think that the Committee knew what it was doing when it recommended scaling back on this very expensive program.  One of the signatories of the Brandeis 2020 report is Theater Arts Department Chair Susan Dibble; do you really think she would have put her name on a report that unfairly and irreparably weakened her department?

The members of the Brandeis 2020 Committee should be recognized for work they put in over the past two months.  Every one of them had to bite the bullet on a very personal sacrifice, and they know they face condemnation for the cuts they made but no commendation for the programs they saved.  In the upcoming years, Brandeis will have to tighten its belt to the point of discomfort, but we will be left with a university finally able to see beyond its darkest hour to a future with its core principles firmly intact.