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.

Cut Athletics

By now, the administration has made it clear that it has to cut something. Several departments – classics and American studies, for example – have been warned that they are on a knife’s edge and may soon face termination. Barring budgetary “necessity” scare-tactics, i.e. under normal financial circumstances, I think most students can agree that it would be nothing short of tragic to lose any single one of these crucial academic programs. How can one convincingly claim to provide a thorough and well-rounded liberal arts education, yet lack a Classics program? How can Brandeis, which once stood at the head of the pack in the field of American studies (“Olin-Sang Center for American Civilization” is a vestige of this past), rid itself of that distinction? 

Yes, this is a time of financial hardship, in which difficult – even desperate – budget decisions are essentially inevitable. Yes, other belt-tightening strategies are being pursued in order to reduce the likelihood that these academic treasures be tossed into the garbage as if they were nothing.

But has everything really been considered?

Let me throw an idea out there that some might consider impractical, perhaps even batshit insane. GET RID OF ATHLETICS.

Although it would be nice to hold onto them, what do our sports teams really bring to the table that makes them absolutely essential even in times of dire finances – so much so that academic programs have to be cut in order to sustain them? When explaining the benefit of athletics, defenders often couch their arguments in terms of community-building and school spirit. This is an empty tautology that lacks a shred of evidence. I don’t think any serious person would argue that our sports teams inspire the kind of pride that a real community demands. How many people even follow Brandeis athletics? How well-attended are our basketball games? Far from building a common identity on campus, the athletics program creates its own sealed-off social group within the university, mostly cut off from the rest of the student body. (To be sure, athletes themselves cannot be blamed for this; rather, it’s in the very nature of the athletics program, in that a massive time commitment to their sports draws them away from the campus, thrusts an outside identity upon them, and in every sense puts them at a remove from their fellow students).

Whatever sense of identity and pride Brandeis has is irrelevant to how well the Judges perform. Instead, the bedrock on which any university of quality ought to rest is academic excellence, and I, for one, take immense pride in the knowledge that Brandeis succeeds in this regard. Surely some would argue that Brandeis will attract fewer applicants without an athletics program. I answer that when Brandeis trims its academics, it will necessarily become far  less attractive – in fact, quite repellent – to serious students who value inquiry, knowledge, and culture. These core elements constitute the critical purpose and raison d’etre of a liberal arts institution, especially in an economized, efficiency-obsessed society.

By all means, preserve a weight room, have exercise machines, keep the P.E. program. Fitness is not something that should be ignored! Furthermore, intramural sports are a good idea – in fact, I think they can often contribute to a sense of community on campus. But it’s the teams that we should be focusing on.

With academics on the chopping block, questioning our athletics budget should not be taboo. We should inquire: How much money goes into paying for transportation, hotel rooms, coaches, equipment, athletic scholarships? The answer is: a hell of a lot!

And that’s a hell of a lot of money that isn’t going to the features that make a liberal arts institution what it’s supposed to be. What sane administrator could honestly make the study of Plato an endeavor entirely contingent on financial necessity – in order to save the athletics program?

Hard times call for bold decisions. It seems that rather than accept this fact, Brandeis is resigning itself to a rapid and unmistakable decline into a bleak future in which its academic status will match a well-established reputation for athletic mediocrity.

Reinharz Response to Harper’s Article

Below is the text of Jehuda Reinharz’s response to the Brandeis article in the November issue of Harper’s magazine.

Dear Colleagues,

In their November 2009 issue, Harper’s Magazine published a story entitled Voodoo Academics: Brandeis University’s hard lesson in the real economy. In addition to being factually inaccurate, the article is insulting to all members of the Brandeis community as its assumptions about Brandeis and the higher education sector involve gross mischaracterizations.  There is a story behind their story and I want to share that with you firsthand.

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Infamous Harper’s Article About Brandeis Finances

The latest issue of Harper’s magazine (November 2009) has a two-page article on Brandeis’s finances written by Christopher Beha, which is highly critical of the University. It’s sparked a great deal of controversy among the faculty and administrators, and Pres. Reinharz has personally responded to it. Below is the article in its entirety. I’m not that impressed with it, not because I don’t agree that the University mishandled its finances, but because it is poorly-written and views Brandeis as unique among private universities when it is not. He seems to think it is unusual for a non-Ivy League school to charge a fortune for tuition, when this is the norm nationwide. But I’ll let you form your own reactions to it.

“Voodoo Academics: Brandeis University’s hard lesson in the real economy”

by Christopher R. Beha
Harper’s Magazine
November 2009

In January, Brandeis University, in Waltham,
Massachusetts, announced plans to close its on-campus
Rose Art Museum and sell much of the $350 million
permanent collection. Brandeis’s financial situation
was grim: its $85 million reserve fund could be spent
by 2011; there were $80 million in projected operating
deficits over the next five years; and the sixty-one-
year-old institution was $250 million in debt. How
could a school with an endowment that had in June 2008
been worth $712 million be forced to liquidate such a
prized resource? Over the past decade, Brandeis, like
many of its peer institutions, adopted the American
corporate principles of fiscal shortsightedness and
growth for- growth’s sake that provoked the current
economic fiasco. This map of Brandeis’s campus-
expansion projects since 1999 demonstrates what happens
when unbridled capitalism turns the marketplace of
ideas into a higher-educational superstore.

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Welcome Back!

Welcome home to the nest, where we shall learn to fly on the wings of knowledge and eat the worms of… knowledge. Now that I have my yearly metaphor out of the way, some light, semi-interesting reading worth taking a look at…

Financial Status Report

This latest document shows that our budget gap-closing measures, spearheaded by a $7.4 million suspension of payments to faculty retirement accounts, are going pretty much according to plan. Actually, slightly better – French writes,

At the conclusion of FY 2009, the University’s financial status can be characterized as slightly stronger than the middle-case.

Our endowment, rather than suffering a 30% loss, has dropped only 17.3% in FY 2009, much better than the ~25% drop at most peer institutions. However, we still need to recruit 400 more students and retire 35 faculty members over the next few years if we are to remain on schedule.

In other news, the new Shapiro Science Center has been declared “fully operational,” just like the second Death Star.

University Learning Goals

are here. Essentially, after Brandeis, you should have a mastery of all kinds of communication, intellectual, and critical thinking skillz. You should be creative and flexible, like a good porn star. You should understand everything and everyone, and  be able to maintain six pack abs in only 2 minutes a day. And most importantly, you should read Innermost Parts every single day of your life.

Expect regular posting from here on out. Tell your friends.

Faculty and staff to suffer cuts to retirement funds

Though I generally try to avoid posting during the summer , this is rather important.

Brandeis has decided, after considering some apparently rather unpleasant options, to suspend payments to its faculty and staff retirement accounts for FY 2010, a move it expects to save $7.4 million in an effort to make up a projected budget deficit of $8.9 million. Generally, the University matches individual donations (up to a certain percentage) to private retirement accounts, much as all employers are required to do with Social Security. Such benefits are standard at universities and in most of the nonprofit sector. Alas, no more. Read the detailed Justice article about it.

The NY Times has also picked up the story, and both esteemed publications are ambivalent to the merits of such a move.

From the Justice’s characterization, the faculty seem to be reluctantly accepting the decision, seeing it as a progressively fair way to deal with the problem, as the lowest paid staff members are generally not members of the retirement fund. From a human psychology point of view, losing theoretical future money is probably easier to cope with than losing money due to a pay cut, say, next year. The timing of the announcement – right after the onset of summer, when students and faculty are no longer naturally organized in one place – is also quite fortuitous. Probably, this one will slide by without major incident. Good thing for Peter French and his merry band of budgeteers those aren’t union contracts!

Statement from Dr. Ronald Walters, 1st Chair of the Brandeis African-American Studies Department

After finding out about the CARS proposal to transform the AAAS department into an interdisciplinary program, I emailed Dr. Ronald Walters, who was hired as the first chair of the department after the Ford Hall protests in 1969.  He sent me a lengthy response, which appears below. It’s a powerful statement, and everyone should read it. He carefully responds to the CARS argument that an interdisciplinary program will be more effective than a department, and gives a bit of historical perspective on the study of AAAS at Brandeis.

Mr. Robinson: I am exceedingly sorry to hear of the new recommendation of a faculty committee to turn the existing Department of African and Afro-American Studies into an interdisciplinary program. As the founding chair of that Department, it strikes me as somewhat incongruous that the University want to enhance the marketing of its academic program as one related to Social Justice, while dismantling its Department related directly to that pursuit. Moreover, the argument is headlined with the thought that “whatever the historical situation, it is clear today that an interdepartmental program is not an inferior status.” The “historical situation” that brought me to Brandeis from Syracuse University in 1969 is relevant to the modern culture of the Department because it is a foundational case where African American students overcame institutional racism to force an unwilling University to create the space for the development of an entity that could voice and teach their history and culture. Thus, the dismantlement of the Department will also dismantle much of the significance of Ford Hall as that historical beginning to students in that setting today.

Of course, institutional reorganization, on its face, is often an opportunity for administrators and their supporters to do something they have wanted to do for some time and new circumstances present them with an unique economic rationale for doing it. So, I would be wary of the view that because other interdepartmental programs have flourished, African and Afro-American Studies will also do well. In short, while I understand the economic urgencies that all of our institutions face at this moment in history, I do not believe that the elimination of a few small academic units will save the University real financial resources.

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CARS Commitee Proposes Eliminating African-American Studies Department


Black students at the occupation of Ford Hall in 1969 lobbying for, among other things, the creation of an African-American Studies Department

As if black students didn’t have enough to be pissed off about at the moment (what with an all-white Union Judiciary deciding the fate of the racial minority senator position), the Cirruculum and Academic Restructuring Steering (CARS) Commitee recommended today that the African and Afro-American Studies department be eliminated and transformed into an “interdisciplinary program” instead. Current AAAS professors would be reassigned to other departments, although they could still focus in AAAS.

CARS cites the small number of AAAS majors (“just 7 in AY 2007-2008”), and the small size of the faculty (five) as justification for its recommendation. They point out that “This year… when three AAAS faculty members had the opportunity to go on research leave, there were only two department faculty members remaining at Brandeis.” Of course, neither of these reasons actually make a case for shutting down the department. CARS concedes that “although AAAS graduates relatively few majors… average enrollment in its courses is strong.” So the lack of faculty speaks more to a lack of commitment by the university to the department than to any weakness of the department itself. I’ve mentioned this problem before, the most obvious example being the University’s letting go of Prof. Wayne Marshall (you can still sign the petition at!).

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Save Wayne Campaign in the Boston Phoenix

The Boston Phoenix has a short piece on the Save Wayne campaign. Perhaps administrators will start to listen now!

Check it out:

“Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz unleashed a torrent of negative publicity for his university when, with zero transparency, he announced that the school would shut down its vaunted campus-based Rose Art Museum… Condemnation from all corners of the art world was swift. Now, ethnomusicologically invigorated Brandeis students and alumni are hoping for a similar outburst of criticism for the probable downsizing of Wayne Marshall, who, since 2007, has taught urban music and African-American studies as the school’s Florence Levy Kay fellow.”

I’d like to quickly mention one important point about Wayne Marshall’s leaving which I do not believe has been stressed enough: how much of a loss his departure will be to the African and Afro-American Studies department. With Professor Mapps away in the fall, and Professors Smith, Joseph, and Sundiata away currently, an already small department will have to continue offering limited class selections. Although the faculty and classes we do have are excellent, AAAS majors like myself have few choices in which classes to take to satisfy our major requirements. Wayne Marshall’s loss is therefore extremely frustrating, because he added a greater diversity of subjects for AAAS students to pursue.

So, yes, Marshall’s departure is terrible in so many ways. Remember to sign the petition at, and to join the Facebook group!

Rose Protest in Globe


The Boston Globe has a decent, if short, article covering today’s protest. You can read it here. It’s not too enlightening on any Rose issues, but it’s nice to see that the student efforts are being properly documented in national media.

Remember, you can visit the Innermost Parts article archive to see all of the major articles about the Rose closure. Let us know if there’s anything we’re missing, or any investigation or coverage of the issue you’d like to see.

If anyone has photos or video of the event that we should post, let us know.