New Block Scheduling

Good Afternoon Brandeis!

When I opened my e-mail, on the top of the list was Marty W. Krauss’s e-mail about the new block scheduling program.

From the report here is a quick list of the changes (full outline at bottom).
– Less MWT classes
– More TF, MW classes
– Classes start on the hour! No more waking up late!
– No more classes after 2pm on Fridays.
– Using this block system will make it easier to schedule longer classes and labs.

I am personally in favor of the new changes. Next semester I have classes until 4pm on Fridays… such a drag! Under the new system, exceptions will have to be made for teachers to schedule a class — giving us more time to party study.

I am already a fan of less MWT classes, but moving the classes to start at 00 or 30 is a little sad… No more waking up at 10:00 and getting to class by 10:10 for me! However, it will be motivation to get out of bed and probably help with “Brandeis time”.

What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Think the administration is crazy? Comment and let me know!

Continue reading “New Block Scheduling”


To the Brandeis Community:

The Brandeis administration’s choice of Michael Oren as this year’s commencement speaker has brought division to what should be a unifying event.  If you are upset about this choice and would like an opportunity to voice your opinion, come to a demonstration against campus division tomorrow beginning at 4:45 p.m between Spingold and the Rose near Pollack.  The demonstration will coincide with the opening ceremony of the Festival of the Arts, but is not intended to disrupt the event.

The Source/ReSource project was created by artist in residence Michael Dowling in order to speak to “the continuing cycle of generations who come to Brandeis– the source– and return to the world as a resource for vision, justice, creativity, and social change.”  Dowling realizes the unity of the Brandeis community and its beauty.  Unfortunately, our administration has chosen to divide our community through its selection of Michael Oren as the speaker for our most sacred ceremony–commencement.

This demonstration is not against Michael Oren as a speaker or individual; it is against the administration’s choice to bring him to commencement and fuel the deep political divisions of the community.

In the event of rain, we will be meeting at the same time in the atrium of Shapiro Campus Center.

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.

What Bill Ayers Tells Us about Student Autonomy

Before my title deceives you, I unfortunately missed Bill Ayers’ lecture on Thursday, and I have no idea what he talked about.  He might have brought up the idea of student autonomy; chances are he didn’t.

The event itself, however, sure told us a lot about the freedom we enjoy as Brandeis students — and it showed us that our administrators are dedicated to keeping it that way.

Imagine you’re Jehuda Reinharz.  Your university has taken a series of PR hits in recent months, some of them undeserved, and is now fighting an image of financial insolvency and betrayal of key donors and the art community as a whole.  You are facing a decreased applicant pool while needing to accept more students than ever.  It is absolutely critical that you do as little as possible to alienate your recently accepted students while they decide if they want to spend the four most critical years of their lives paying your tuition.

In the middle of all this, a group of students wants to invite a controversial speaker to your campus.  Not just any controversial speaker.  This is a man who public opinion has labeled an unrepentant murderer and terrorist.  A man whose name was recently plastered over the national news in discussion of whether his acquaintance alone should disqualify someone from assuming the United States Presidency. You know that his speaking at your school will cause a minor uproar.  You’ve seen it happen at a nearby university of similar reputation, to the point where they canceled his appearance.

Predictably, the comment pages of the local newspapers soon fill with vitriol.  The worst stereotypes of your university are dragged up and rehashed over and over.  One website even publishes the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of you and your fellow high-level administrators, presumably causing your inbox to fill with angry, ignorant screeds.

Would you still allow the event to continue?

The administration really got in the students’ corner on this one and proved their commitment to allowing us autonomy and educational freedom.  Their public comments struck exactly the right tone — that Brandeis does not endorse Ayers’ actions, but that they believe in giving us access to a wide range of viewpoints, and, implicitly, that they will not interfere with our ability to plan our own events through established channels.  Even those who protested Ayers must realize the courage and respect for students that underlaid the administration’s singing off on the event.

It’s possible that Ayers’ appearance has already discouraged some prospective students from enrolling at Brandeis.  It’s also possible that those who take offfense to Ayers would never have considered a school like Brandeis in the first place, and that our defense of principle over petty criticism will impress the prospectives enough to work in our favor.  Either way, the administration deserves a round of applause for this one.

Why not send Jehuda an e-mail telling him how you recognize and appreciate the university’s stance towards student autonomy?  I’m sure it’ll be a nice break from the “OMG OMG HES A TERRERIST U PINKO COMMIE SCUM!!!!!!11″ spam that’s sure to be clogging his B-mail.


I just got around to reading the Justice’s article about the State of the Union today, and one thing in particular really jumped out at me:

“I think his speech was one of the most outstanding you can imagine from a student leader,” said Rena Olshansky ’56, a member of the Board of Trustees’ Students and Enrollment Committee, who said that it was her first State of the Union address. Commenting on the Union Rena said, “I think the [students] set their agenda, and that’s important.”

University Provost Marty Krauss, who attended the speech, said in an interview with the Justice, “[Gray] has a tremendous amount of respect among the members of the administration because he’s a mature person; he’s diplomatic; he thinks about the perspectives of many constituencies; he’s smart; and he makes really good recommendations, and he gets things done.”

Senior Vice President of Communications Lorna Miles, who also attended, added that Gray “has been incredibly vital; his legacy is having created a consciousness in the University among the administration and the faculty that students are part of the day-to-day governance of this community.”

That’s an incredible amount of respect for Jason Gray coming from the administrators and trustees who attended the speech.  We’ve already heard the great praise that Jason gets from the student body, and it’s really satisfying to know that the other members of the Brandeis community feel the same way.

This kind of universal acclaim is impressive enough on its own, but I find it even more impressive when viewed in the context of the content of Jason’s address.  The speech was not tailor-made to draw praise from the administrators.  Several times, Jason challenged the University to meet goals that he set, and he wasn’t afraid to call the administration out on several mistakes.  Most notably, he directly stated, “[T]here is no doubt that the Rose Art Museum has become a case study in what not to do procedurally.”  Isn’t that hard-hitting?

So what does all this mean?  First, it says something very positive about our administrators.  By praising the speech so effusively, they’re letting us know that student participation is not incumbent on our complete deference to their decisions.  They are willing to have a dialogue with us, allow our disagreement, and even to admit mistakes and work towards changing them.

But it also says so much about Jason himself.  He has the rare ability to say exactly what needs to be said while striking the right chord for every party involved.  This didn’t just happen overnight; it is the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work, determined advocacy, and appreciation for everyone’s point of view, and it shows what big shoes our next Union leaders will have to fill.  Ultimately, Jason’s greatest success might be that he was able to treat every single Brandeisian with respect, and it should be no suprise that he has received so much respect in return.

Money, and Why Your Club Isn’t Getting Any

In the wake of the Finance Board’s marathon decisions, a lot of clubs have been wondering why they got so little money compared to previous semesters.  It’s not the budget situation — the Union Activities Fee is fixed and thus divorced from the budget cuts.  So why is everyone getting less than usual?  Here’s the situation to the best of my understanding (all info courtesy of the Student Union Constitution.  If I’m wrong at any point, feel free to call me out in the comments).

The Union Activities Fee is divided into three separate funds:

  • The Union Government Fund goes to the government, providing the E-Board discretionary, the Senate discretionary, and several other small projects.  From here, we get the newspapers, the bikes, the Midnight Buffet, and a bunch of other government projects.
  • The Justice Printing Expenses Fund goes to the Justice.  To maintain separation between the press and the government, the Justice doesn’t have to go through the F-Board for money.
  • The Finance Board Allocations Fund is by far the largest fund, and it’s the one we’re interested in here.  This is the money that goes to Chartered Union Organizations, which are all chartered clubs.

In the past, the Union Activities Fee has been fixed at 1% of the total tuition.  This meant that inflation wouldn’t affect the Fee, because it would increase along with tuition.  However, that changed as of this year.  The substantial roll-over money that the F-Board had accrued convinced the administration that the Union was getting too much money, and part of the requirements they set for allowing us to keep the roll-over and build the new weight room was that a cap was to be placed on the UAF.  Thus, when tuition increased over last summer, the UAF stayed where it was last year.

Unfortunately, the economy didn’t.  As the cost of living has gone up, exacerbated by the recession, the money that the F-Board has to allocate isn’t going as far as it used to.  It’s my understanding that the F-Board allocated money as they usually would during the fall semester, which is why no great changes were felt.  However, that has left them with a smaller pot than ever before for the spring.  Hence, across the board, activities that deserve to be funded have not gotten the money they deserve.

Solving the problem is as simple as convincing the administration to remove the cap on the UAF.  The budget crisis may complicate that, but the increase would be a relative drop in the bucket to the shortfall we’re facing.  More importantly, we need to assure them that the roll-over won’t happen again.  Responsibility for the roll-over is somewhat complex and is shared between past F-Boards and clubs that didn’t spend all their allocations.  However, last year’s treasurer Choon Woo Ha instituted several reforms to ensure that the problem wouldn’t repeat itself; I’m very hazy as to what exactly they are, but probably has more information if you’re interested.

In short, the problem isn’t with the current F-Board or the current Treasurer, Max Wallach (who I know from personal experience to be very thorough and good at his job).  Let’s hope that the UAF cap is removed, and clubs will once again be able to get the funding they deserve.

Our Financial Model — The Past and the Future

As details of our financial situation have come out, it has become apparent that Brandeis is in worse shape than many other universities.  There are several well-known reasons for this.  Our relative youth means our endowment is much smaller than most institutions of similar standing.  The Madoff scandal affected our donor base much more heavily than most schools.  However, some of the blame has to go to the financial model that Brandeis has been working under for the past few years.  For those unfamiliar with Brandeis’s spending patterns, this post is the most comprehensive explanation I’ve seen and is definitely a must-read.  Basically, even as we were receiving record fundraising totals, our spending was so aggressive that we took on an incredible amount of debt, and the market failure has left us with obligations we can no longer come close to meeting.

For what I gather, aggressive spending has been a common feature of Brandeis’s recent history, and though recent circumstances make it tempting to view this as a complete mistake, we must also recognize the good that has come of it.  Simply put, I doubt that there is another university in the nation that has done so much with so little.  Flawed as they are, the US News and World Report rankings provide good perspective on where our reputation stands.  Brandeis is number 31 among national universities, an amazingly high position considering we are only 61 years old.  Plus, we are much smaller than every other school in our league; the only smaller school above us is the much less diverse CalTech, and the next school with an enrollment below our 5,333 is WPI at number 71.  And while the numbers obviously don’t mean everything, I think every Brandeis student realizes that we are incredibly lucky to be attending this school.  Our faculty is excellent and very well respected, our facilities have been constantly improving, and we’ve enjoyed visits from the top names in almost every field of study.  This kind of success doesn’t come cheap, and it’s safe to say that without our aggressive spending patterns, our meteoric rise to the upper echelon of academia could not have happened.

Yet this success was also gamble, as we see now.  Yes, we had an emergency fund, but it was obviously too small for a crisis of this magnitude.  And while the combination of horrible recession and Madoff could not have been predicted, I’ve seen no evidence that there was any kind of emergency plan in place for disaster, something I imagine would be elementary.  Is it possible that selling the Rose was always going to be the backup plan?  I doubt it.  If so, it would have been carried out much better.  Even if it was, it’s obviously not a very appetizing one, even if you ignore the (very convincing) arguments against using art as an ATM.

So how are we to judge the university’s past financial model?  The answer will come in how Brandeis weathers the current crisis.  If we emerge bruised but largely intact, then the failure of emergency planning is a mistake that will not come close to eclipsing what should be recognized as one of the greatest feats of university management in history — the development of a leading national school in just over half a century.  If our reputation and standing are permanently damaged, then Brandeis has gambled away its future and made all of our degrees that much less valuable.  The stakes are incredibly high.

I consider myself very lucky to be connected with a school as great as Brandeis, and I’ll view a few years of relative stagnation as a small price to pay for all the great things that Brandeis has to offer.  However, if the Brandeis I leave is fundamentally weaker than the Brandeis I decided to attend, I’ll feel cheated and used.  In short, my recommendation for the financial model of the future is one that is still very aggressive; in fact, as aggressive as possible while still providing a plan to help us survive lean years.  However, I can also understand why some people will want to see much more caution in the future.

Let’s start this discussion in the comments.  What do you think Brandeis’s long-term financial model should look like?