President Daniel Acheampong

Everyone I know who has met Daniel Acheampong shares the same opinion: Daniel is a really nice guy.  He always has a smile and a handshake whenever you run into him, and he’ll always stop to chat no matter how busy he is.  Basically, to know the guy is to love him, and that alone means that we can trust him to run an effective, conflict-free Student Union.

But I’d be doing Daniel (and the Brandeis student body) a disservice to attribute his victory simply to his personality.  I’d also be wrong, particularly in light of how commanding his vote total was.  I’ve never seen anything like the most recent Union election; getting over 50% turnout for the presidential race was far more than I ever thought would be possible, and it speaks to the strength of all four candidates that they were able to motivate so many students to support them.  Daniel’s total, however, was particularly impressive.  Jason Gray and Andy Hogan each won with around 600 votes, but Daniel was able to get over 900.  That has to be some kind of Union record, and you don’t get that kind of campus-wide respect simply because people think you’re nice.

You get it because you took on the most difficult and important job in the Union, the position of Treasurer, and you successfully managed the finances for the entire campus.  You get it because you helped to start Live Campus 2009, a nationwide series of concerts with the proceeds going to eliminating poverty.  You get it because you somehow managed to find the time to serve as a Roosevelt Fellow as well, going through a difficult application process to serve as a peer academic adviser.  Daniel has proven himself a leader in many different areas of the campus community, and his stunning electoral victory is a testament to his diverse, impressive resume.

While I voted and worked for Sahar Massachi in the election, I always had a strong respect for Daniel, and I look forward to working with him to accomplish our shared goals for the campus.  The student body provided him with a strong mandate to work for his agenda, and I’m sure he’s eager to jump into action.  Congratulations again to Daniel on his swearing in, and good luck on guiding the Union to a successful year.

A Tribute to President Andy Hogan

How many of you have eaten in Sherman since Passover break?  I am right now.  I’ve been eating at Sherman a lot more since the latest round of improvements, and it’s become more crowed than it used to be since word has spread about the changes.  There are more options, more food cooked to order, and everything seems fresher and more appetizing.  All of a sudden, Sherman seems like less of a joke and more of a decent place to enjoy a meal.  And while credit should go to the Brandeis administration and Dining Services for their responsiveness to the community’s complaints, we should also remember what helped get the ball rolling on the path to large-scale dining reform: the advocacy and hard work of former Union President Andy Hogan.

I’m living in the Charles River apartments next year, as I’m sure many of you are.  If someone had told me before this semester that I’d wind up in Grad, I’d have been sorely disappointed; visions of leaky buildings and broken appliances would have crossed my mind.  However, I’m now excited for next year.  Grad is receiving a thorough renovation, and I’ll be one of the first to inhabit the fresh new living space.  Once again, I, along with the rest of the student body, owe a thank you to Andy Hogan for making this happen.

I feel that Andy often received an undeserved bad rap during his time in office.  He was censured by the Union Senate over the insignificant midyear senator amendment, and though he avoided the impeachment that Diana Aronin suffered, she at least got a public validation through her decisive reelection.  Despite the fact that he did everything he could to minimize the issue and keep it from becoming a distraction, he bore the brunt of the bad press the Union received in the wake of the impeachment fiasco.  The nadir came in the February 5th Hoot, which featured an editorial cartoon cruelly depicting the Student Union as a beheaded chicken.  The symbolism was tacky and completely uncalled for, particularly as the “head” of the Union continued succeeding in his advocacy projects and improving campus life.

Adding additional BranVan service during high traffic times?  Thanks, Andy.  Working to eliminate wasted energy by shutting off after-hours lights?  Thanks, Andy.  Expanding the awesome Clubs in Service project?  Thanks, Andy.  Getting a student voice on the powerful Presidential Search Committee?  Thanks, Andy.  The Union’s focus on student surveys this year allowed it to keep a finger on the pulse of the Brandeis community, and it used that knowledge for tangible results in many small but tangible ways, improving everything from our dining to our bathrooms.

Jason Gray definitely left some massive shoes to fill as Union President, and I can’t pretend I agree with every decision Andy has made over the past year.  But his term in office was punctuated with success on a number of levels, and I hope that the student body recognizes that.  Despite the manufactured controversy, a lot of us were looking only for results, and I think that Andy Hogan delivered.  I hope Andy knows that his hard work didn’t occur in a vacuum; I, at least, was watching, and I appreciate what he was able to do.

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.

Andy Hogan, Our New President

Today is Andy Hogan’s second full day on the job as Student Union President, and despite this high-profile position, I feel he’s still something of an unknown quantity to much of the student body, much more so than Jason Gray was last year.  There are several reasons for this: the Presidential race was much less competitive and low-profile than last year’s, Andy has only been a Union officer for one year, and his work has been much more organizational than Jason’s very public advocacy for the Student Bill of Rights.  However, in a very short period of time, Andy has quietly built up a stellar Union resume.  Last fall, he handily won the North Quad Senate seat despite running as a sophomore in a mostly freshman quad.  In just one semester of work, he impressed Jason Gray enough to be named Director of Community Advocacy.  And last month, he won the Union Presidency by over 350 votes.  His talents and character have already changed the Brandeis community for the better and are quickly gaining wide recognition; however, for those who still don’t really know Andy or who would like to know him better, I’d like to give a quick introduction to our new Union President.

I should start by saying that I’m far from an unbiased source.  Though I felt that being off campus made it appropriate for me to refrain from public comment on the spring elections, I was personally very happy to see Andy win.  But my relationship with him is much deeper than mere Union politics.  Andy has been one of my best friends since our first few weeks at Brandeis.  We joined (and subsequently left) TRON together, played together on countless intramural sports teams, served together on the Squash club E-Board, served together on the Union Senate, roomed next to one another, shared music, been repeatedly mistaken for brothers, and generally shared some of the best times I’ve had at Brandeis.  He was my campaign manager during my run for the Vice Presidency, and I still credit my victory more to him than to anyone else.  So yeah, I kinda like the guy.  But I also know him very well, and looking as objectively as possible, I can say that I think he’ll make an excellent leader for the Student Union.

Innermost Parts is an activist community, so it’s of particular importance to us that Andy has established himself as a leader on activist issues in the Student Union.  One of his first major projects was planning the Combating Hate Fundraiser, which broke all attendance expectations and raised over $2,000 for a black church that was burned in protest of Barack Obama’s victory.  He followed that with another successful fundraiser for rape victims in the Rwandan genocide.  On a more Brandeisian level, he played a huge role in launching and running the Clubs in Service program, and he helped dorm-storm with Student for Environment Action to raise awareness of water-bottle reduction.  He’s the only Union officer I’ve seen to devote a page of his campaign website just to explaining his views on the importance of social justice at Brandeis.  Clearly, he intends to make these issues a focal point of the Union’s work next year.

Andy is particularly dedicated to the Union government’s role as an advocacy body, and one of his primary focuses is on bringing the Union’s work to every student.  In this way, I see his mentality as a natural successor to Jason’s core value of increased student involvement, both within the Union and in the entire Brandeis community.  He was one of the first senators to join the new Senate Outreach Committee, and he was one of its most active members, drafting the Stall Street Journal and planning events targeted at spreading awareness of the Union’s work to freshmen.  Critically, he views outreach as a tool for generating student feedback, not as a self-promotion gimmick.  He gave us the cell phone amplifier in Usdan in response to numerous student complaints, working successfully with administrators to improve student life.

His plans for next year come naturally from these concerns, and I’m very excited to see some of them implemented.  I’m particularly impressed by his ideas in the long-overdue area of club collaboration reform, which will create an online system for booking spaces and discussing co-sponsorship, making event planning quicker and less expensive.  Andy also wants to improve methods for instantaneous student feedback on Union projects.  Discussion boards have been very effective at generating diverse ideas from the whole community for the CARS subcommittees, and there is no reason why they cannot be used on a Union level as well.  He remains committed to starting and expanding environmentally-friendly projects like Deis Bikes, and his planned social justice identity forums will inspire discussion on the many ways this pillar of Brandeis is interpreted in the community, ultimately creating connections for socially responsible programs where none currently exist.

This past year has been unprecedented in the scope and importance of the Union’s successes, largely because of Andy’s contributions.  I expect Andy Hogan’s leadership to make next year just as productive as this one has been.

Thank You, Jason Gray

If you’re a regular reader of Innermost Parts, you probably already know how I feel about Jason Gray.  Getting to know him over the past year has been a complete pleasure and an honor for me, and I cannot repay my debt of gratitude for all he has done for me.  As a newly elected Vice President with little formal Union experience, I relied on his leadership to become comfortable on the Executive Board.  During the fall semester, his guidance never failed to point me in the right direction to accomplish the goals I had in office.  And when I realized that I wouldn’t be able to remain at Brandeis in the spring, his compassion and friendship gave me the strength to choose the path that was best for me, even in the most difficult moments.  But his influence this year extended far beyond me;  it’s safe to say that every student at Brandeis has profited from his peerless talents and genuine concerns as President of the Student Union.  With yesterday’s spring inaugurations, Jason’s term leading the Union has come to an end, and I want to take a quick moment to summarize all he has meant to the Brandeis community.

Jason told me once that, more than anything else, he wanted his legacy to be as an advocate for student rights and a promoter for student involvement.  “It’s about you” was his campaign slogan, and he never forgot to represent every viewpoint in each project he took on.  When many students were complaining about the service they received at the health center, he convinced the administration to give the center a through review, one which led to a number of substantive improvements.  When the student body opted to use the SAF rollover money for the creation of a new weight room, Jason not only consulted student athletes to determine what how we could purchase the most effective equipment, he made sure to find space for the dance groups which were displaced, and he fought to ensure that all students had equal priority to use it.  When the budget crisis hit and students felt left out of the decision making process, Jason fought to put students on all the newly formed committees, and he successfully planned town hall forums and informational meetings to give every student a clear picture of our finances and a voice in our future.

But his influence was also felt in far more subtle ways.  As leader of the Union government, Jason created an environment where every officer felt capable of leading his or her own projects.  ‘Deis Bikes happened thanks to the incredibly hard work of the eight-member Special Task Force on Bicycle Sharing, but their job was made easier because Jason would solve any logistical problems that came up with the administration.  When both the Coalition for Food Services Reform and the University Dining Committee were working to solve problems in dining, Jason helped to iron out the groups’ differences and to coordinate their efforts to achieve meaningful changes.  It was not rare for him to spend over eleven hours a day in meetings and on other Union work while still attending classes and staying on top of his schoolwork.  And not only did he always serve his mandatory Union office hours, he would frequently serve them in Usdan or in the Shapiro atrium so he could open himself to as many students as possible.

These accomplishments only scratch the surface of everything he achieved as Union President.  Proof of his success can be seen in the universal acclaim he received.  His praises have been sung publicly by trustees and administrators, activists, campus publications, athletes, and his fellow Union officers.  He has, in many ways, changed the way we perceive the Union on campus and ushered in a new level of student involvement in every facet of the University.  And while he has left the formal power structure of the Union government, I’m sure that he will continue to serve as an active voice for the causes he believes in next year.  Thank you, Jason, for all you have done for me and for Brandeis, and I know that I’m just one among the many who recognize what you have meant to us.

An Update on the Clubs in Service Program

With all the press the Union government has received for its work in securing a student voice in budgetary committees, some of its other triumphs have flown below the radar.  The Clubs in Service program is one of my favorite Union initiatives this year, and its great intentions and success are unfortunately under-recognized.

Jason Gray first announced and described the program in November during last semester’s State of the Union:

The University’s Department of Community Service has the resources and connections for all clubs to be able to partner with Waltham and provide services to the community.

For example, the debate team could teach public speaking at a local school. An a capella group could sing at a local shelter. Your club can play chess or knit at a nursing home, shoot hoops at the Boys and Girls Club, cook a holiday meal for those in need, or organize a talent show at the YMCA. The opportunities are endless.

Every club could have a community-service component to it.

Today we challenge every club and organization to engage the community in service, and we commit ourselves to helping this challenge succeed.

The Hoot’s article on the speech included my very positive first impression of the idea.  And yes, I am about to blockquote myself:

Student Union Vice President Adam Hughes ’11 said after the address that while the Union’s executive board has yet to discuss how it will specifically aid clubs in adding a community service component, he hopes to make it as easy as possible for clubs to meet Gray’s “audacious call to action.”

Hughes said he imagines that the Union would “spend a significant amount of time next semester” helping to connect clubs with Waltham organizations.

“We don’t want this to be a huge ordeal for any club,” Hughes said. “This is a great actualization of Brandeis goals, and we want to make it as easy as possible for clubs to achieve.”

Here on Innermost Parts, Loki was more to the point:

Ideologically, I was most struck by  the point near the end of the speech when Jason challenged every single club to get involved in the surrounding community. This. is. a. fucking. great. idea.

I was involved in some of the early planning discussions when the program itself began to take shape.  The Union government would do the publicity, reaching out to clubs by e-mail and in person to get them on board.  They would send the clubs to the Waltham Group, who already had a great list of contacts and potential programs for clubs to be involved in.  The Waltham Group would work with the club leaders to plan a service event that would incorporate each club’s unique focus and to work out all the logistics.  In the end, we would be left with the perfect synergy of student resources to take advantage of our ability and desire to improve the Waltham community.

The program was launched in early February.  Class of 2012 Senator Akash Vadalia led the Union side of the program, and his great outreach laid the groundwork for success.  His goal was to get 15 clubs to participate in this, the program’s first semester, which would lay the groundwork for expanding it in the future.

Did we get there?  Just ask Jason:

This semester, some 31 clubs have signed up to participate and involve their clubs in community service.

Jason and Akash deserve tons of credit for leading the program to success beyond anyone’s expectations, and the Waltham Group worked tirelessly to accommodate every club sent their way.  And though Clubs in Service has already done amazing work in the community, its future is even brighter.  The program has a friend in a very high place: Union President-Elect Andy Hogan.  Andy made the expansion and institutionalization of Clubs in Service one of his foremost campaign platforms, and with his strong track record of planning successful community service projects (the Combating Hate fundraiser, the Rwandan rape victim fundraiser, past involvement in Clubs in Service), I’m confident that he’ll make the program even stronger.

If you’re involved with a club that hasn’t participated in Clubs in Service yet, you should definitely try to get it involved.  I’m not sure if the program is still active this semester, but it’s worth finding out.  At the very least, it’s never too early to start planning for next year.  Contact Jason (, Akash (, or Andy ( for more information (I’m not sure who would be best right now, but I’m sure any of them could point you in the right direction).  Community service is such a great way to make a difference in so many people’s lives, and I’m proud that Brandeis has proven itself a leader yet again.

The Arts at Brandeis

It’s been two weeks since Jason Gray made this call to the Brandeis community:

[T]oday, I challenge the University administration to engage the arts community in order to find tangible ways to invest in the long-term future of the arts at Brandeis. I call for a series of meetings between administrators and members of our artistic community to discuss ways to ensure that Brandeis remains a fertile ground for artistic creativity even amidst the financial situation.

I haven’t heard about any progress being made on this issue since the State of the Union, but I hope the Union (or some other party) is following up on it.  This is a tough time for everyone at Brandeis, but the art community has been particularly hard hit.  The closing of the Rose Art Museum is the most obvious reason, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Just as important is the way in which the decision was made and announced, the current uncertainty about the Rose’s exact status, and the various other cuts that the art department has faced.  Jason made the historical importance of the arts to the university very clear in his speech, and I know that there are many professors and students who need reassurance from the administration that they remain a priority.

The cuts outside of the Rose have not gotten nearly as much general publicity, but they have contributed to the sense that the arts just aren’t as important anymore.  One of Brandeis’s true jewels, the Lydian String Quartet, has been reduced to part-time status for next year, a move that violinist Daniel Stepner says may force a decreased concert schedule for next year.  The Hoot has more on the importance of the group and the effect of the reduction:

The quartet, founded in 1980, is an internationally acclaimed chamber ensemble dedicated to reinvigorating works from the classical canon while exploring contemporary pieces. The group has won ensemble prizes at important festivals in France, England, Canada and the United States, given performances in prestigious American and European concert halls, and released more than twenty musical recordings. Yet despite their worldly ambitions, the quartet feels most at home at Brandeis University, where all the members are part of the teaching faculty and regularly give performances.

Before the program began, the quartet announced that the university would be cutting back its position to half time for the following year, but that the ensemble would figure out a way to continue offering concerts to the Brandeis community and broader listening public. At a time when cutting back on the arts appears to define the university’s modus operandi, the announcement came as more troubling than shocking.*

It’s sad to see another world-renowned art institution handicapped by the budget crisis.  In addition, the Music Department has lost and not replaced three full professors in the past few years, and the graduate program suffered cuts even before the budget crisis hit.

Of course, the Rose has been the focal point for controversy this semester.  The official statement released by the Fine Arts Faculty shows how deep their surprise and disappointment at the initial announcement was:

In addition to despairing at the Trustees’ action, we wish to make clear that at no point in the decision making process was the Department of Fine Arts faculty consulted. Neither was there any communication regarding the decision with the Rose Board of Overseers on which a member of the faculty sits. Nor was any reference made to the museum at the university-wide faculty meeting last Thursday (January 22) when strategies to confront the current fiscal crisis were discussed.

The department faculty wishes to express our profound sadness at the consequences of this abrupt action for the liberal arts mission, cultural life, and intellectual legacy of the university…

As to the proposed future of the museum building, at no time before or after notification of the decision, have members of the Fine Arts Department expressed a desire to change the function of the Rose or reuse the building. There is no academic advantage to be salvaged from closing the museum and selling our art. It is a sad response to the current fiscal crisis that treasures left in trust for current and future students are now being sacrificed. The department remains committed to continuing the legacy of the intellectual and artistic practice here. We are losing an irreplaceable tool to fulfill that goal.

Since then, we’ve had a series of backtracking and vague, contradictory statements about what exactly will happen to the Rose, and its future remains very uncertain.  What we do know is that the Rose contains one of the best collections of modern art in the world, and it now appears very likely that we’re going to lose at least some of its masterpieces.

I know that many of these cuts may be necessary due to the state of our budget, and I think the administration has done a much better job of handling these situations in the past few months.  However, we cannot allow the arts community to feel marginalized and irrelevant in the decision-making process or in campus life.  Jason was absolutely right to call for meetings to remove these feelings and to plan a solid future for the arts at Brandeis, and I hope we can see his goal realized soon.

*The article I quoted was written by Max Price, the Diverse City editor and a great writer and good friend of mine.  His piece “Arts resources at Brandeis: Use them or lose them” is the best statement I’ve read on the importance of the arts in general and at Brandeis.  I highly recommend you check it out.


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.

A History Lesson from J-Gray

For a speech with a theme of “Looking Forward”, Jason Gray’s State of the Union went pretty far back to the past — all the way to 1946, in fact, to the University’s founding.  Of course, this isn’t a criticism; the past is our best (and maybe our only) tool for predicting the future, and Jason effectively used several anecdotes to guide our approach to the next few years, both in attitude and in deed.  They were among my favorite parts of the speech, and they put some of our current struggles into context.  I’d like to quickly examine these passages, but first I want to encourage anyone who has a story about Brandeis’s past that they find particularly revealing or just plain interesting to share it through the comments or by e-mail to  I’d like to explore more of Brandeis history, and anything we receive will be researched and incorporated into a post at some point.

I’ve heard several times in relation to the financial crisis that Brandeis has gone through worse struggles before.  However, overall I think the campus discussion has been surprisingly sparse on any actual details of historical parallels.  I think it would be a great relief to many people if we could point to specific situations where Brandeis has handled difficult finances before and come out fundamentally intact.

Can we find guidance in the University’s founding?  Jason think so:

In 1946, even before Brandeis became Brandeis, a group surveyed the campus.  They found it badly run down.  Walks were eroded.  A Castle had been built, yet built without an architect.

When Abe Sachar was approached to be the first University President, he was warned by a friend that the Brandeis project would be “a great disaster” and “nothing but pain.”

But the promise of what Brandeis could be was so much greater than any of the potential challenges.

The castle was improved, cafeterias built, faculty recruited, and students matriculated.  By early 1949, the same friend who had warned Sachar against accepting the job, visited the campus.  Standing under the arch of the Castle, he said “I thought it could not be done, but…  it had been.”

In a specific sense, I don’t think they University’s founding has much to tell us about our current situation.  Yes, Brandeis’s founding was not without significant challenges, but they seem to be more infrastructural and administrative than financial (I’m basing this mostly on Jason’s speech and Wikipedia.  Any corrections would be greatly appreciated).  Regardless, the methods for funding a fledgling university in 1946 and for rescuing an established university in 2009 are quite different.  Jason’s point is more general: Brandeis has shown the ability to overcome the odds in the past, and the ideas that helped us then still exist today.  If nothing else, the passion of the entire community to come together and help the University shows that we all still believe that the promise of Brandeis remains so much greater than the challenges.  If that philosophy was enough to set Brandeis in motion, it will be our greatest ally in keeping it strong.

The other key passage is much more specific:

At our founding, our curriculum was informed by a Harvard general education report from 1946. It recommended studies in a core curriculum, humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences.

Brandeis, however, was not satisfied. We added another area to our curriculum: the study of music, theater, and the fine arts.  This commitment is one from our founding, and one we must continue.

Jason’s comments on the arts deserve broader discussion and action than this post allows, so I’ll hold most of my thoughts for later.  For now, I’ll just say that this provides the perfect framing for discussing the arts at Brandeis.  Art was deliberately included as one of the building blocks of our curriculum, and it must remain there, or we will be betraying the ideas this university was founded upon.

Our history is indeed very interesting and bears much more attention than it often gets.  If you’re interested in exploring it further, I recommend the very comprehensive “Brandeis University: A People’s History” hosted off the official Brandeis homepage and Phil LaCombe’s excellent series of posts from last year: Blunders of Brandeis (here, here, and here) and The Castles of Brandeis (here, here, and here).  Again, we’d love to hear your own stories, so post and send away!

Complete State of the Union Text

If you couldn’t make Jason Gray’s final State of the Union on Tuesday, then you missed out on a very good speech.  Thankfully, Innermost Parts is here for you again (Have we ever let you down before?  Don’t answer that…).  Below the fold is the complete text of the speech, titled “Looking Forward: Student Involvement, Student Rights, and Student Advocacy”.  I’ll have more thoughts on the speech itself and several key points from it in the next few days, but for now, I encourage even those who already saw it to peruse it again and get an idea of what the Union has done this semester and what is still ahead.

Continue reading “Complete State of the Union Text”

Two Important Forums Tomorrow

At last week’s open forum, President Reinharz promised that the dialogue between the administration and the students was just beginning, and tomorrow at 5 in the Levin Ballroom, he will keep his word.  The main complaint that most students had with the first forum was the inconvenient timing; 11 o’clock on a Wednesday is impossible for many students to make.  Thankfully, it looks like that was just a necessity of the schedule rather than an attempt to minimize turnout.  In fact, by holding a similar forum shortly afterwards, President Reinharz is proving that he wants to engage as many of us as possible.

The forum will be structured the same way as the last one, with the same presentation being shown for those who haven’t had a chance to see it yet.  However, the forum should still be productive for those who have, since this will be the first opportunity to ask the administration about the sustained bad press from the Rose Art Museum and about the reexamining of the study abroad decisions.  Provost Marty Krauss will probably have a lot to say about the new Committee on Academic Restructuring (CARS).

The follow-up forum, to be held at 6:30 in the Shaprio Campus Center, should prove to be just as interesting.  Jason Gray has put it together explicitly for the students, and it should help pull in students beyond those currently involved in BBCC, whose core is still weighted towards the established campus activists.  The entire student body faces the threat of deep cuts, and now is a great time to involve underrepresented members of the campus community.  In the e-mail announcing these forums, Jason made it clear that he hopes to encourage activism on the community level, saying “Our greatness lies in a Student Body that speaks up to be heard in the process of determining the future of our University… As Union President, it gives me great joy to speak for you, but even greater joy to speak with you.”  I expect many new ideas for action moving forward to come out of this meeting,

One other interesting statement from the e-mail promises that the forum “will be the predecessor to a series of academic forums that will be held for the entire Brandeis community to discuss proposed curriculum changes.”  From what I hear, these forums will actually be held by the subcommittees of CARS.  That means they will be far more than just Q&A sessions.  Instead, they represent a real opportunity to influence the decision-making bodies that will determine Brandeis’s academic future.  We have moved beyond merely asking for transparency.  Instead of just listening, we will be listened to.

Jason’s e-mail from Monday is below the fold.

Continue reading “Two Important Forums Tomorrow”

Thoughts on the Study Abroad Advisory Committee

The creation of the Study Abroad Advisory Committee was announced on Friday, and it represents a clear commitment on the part of the administration to rectify the mistakes they made in planning and announcing the changes to study abroad.  It is composed of three administrators, three faculty members, and three students, all chosen for their expertise and influence on the study abroad program.  True to the spirit of community involvement in which it was created, the committee has launched an open my Brandeis forum to allow everyone to share their thoughts (check it out if you haven’t yet).

It’s important to note that Brandeis is going to see significant changes to the study abroad program next year.  While taking away merit aid that was promised for study abroad was a bad way of cutting costs, the decision represents the fundamental truth that the current system is set up with luxuries that Brandeis can no longer afford.  Kim Godsoe, the Dean of Academic Services, warned the student body in the e-mail introducing the committee that

There will need to be significant changes to the current study abroad policies to ensure fiscal viability for the program and the university.  Possible changes could include limiting the number and type of study abroad programs in which students may participate, limiting student participation in the study abroad experience, and/or restricting the use of all financial aid for students who wish to study abroad.  None of these choices is the kind that we want to make, but potentially painful choices will be necessary to ensure the program remains within budget.

The necessity of restructuring the program makes it all the more important that students take advantage of the opportunity to share their views on the my Brandeis board.  There is no other way to ensure that another flawed policy does not go into effect.

It is not the adminstration’s fault that changes will occur, and they have shown their dedication to the study abroad program by running it at a loss to give students as many options as possible.  Indeed, they deserve great credit for creating this committee, a tacit admission that they made a mistake with the merit aid (a policy I’m almost certain will be overturned) and a sign that they intend to learn from it and that they have always kept the students’ best interests in mind.  Credit also goes to the students behind the creation of the committee.  Committee member Alex Melman took action on the merit aid issue as a Senator from the  beginning and has refused to let it go away, as shown by his constant updates on its progress on Innermost Parts.  Jason Gray, who always seems to come through for us, collected stories of students that the decision affected and lobbied directly for a policy change.  Many students e-mailed and talked directly to administrators, turning their dissatisfaction into positive action.

I believe the most important element of study abroad is to keep it open in some form to as many students as possible.  Consequently, it might be best to start by cutting down the number of available programs and preserving only the most popular and cost-effective.  However, I would be suprised if there were no new limitations on who can go abroad.  At the very least, I’m heartened to know that a collection of strong, committed minds is working on the problems with the voices of the whole Brandeis community involved.

State of the Student Union Address – with full text

While I’m not sure if it lived up to Adam’s promise of it being THE BEST SPEECH EVER, Jason Gray’s address really brought home to me all the accomplishment – with almost no infighting – that has been achieved this year. We’re in the process of setting up a committee on endowment ethics, we established OSRA, the Student Bill of Rights will soon be implemented into Rights & Responsibilities, the Weight Room was finalized and will be here next semester, free bikes are coming soon, Brandeis Votes was a success and we had tons of civic participation this election cycle… the list continues.

While there is still a long way to go on Dining Issues, and the newly established CEER, OSRA, and the various other committees established have their work cut out for them, I am very nearly satisfied with our progress thus far – and that’s something I’ll rarely say.

Ideologically, I was most struck by  the point near the end of the speech when Jason challenged every single club to get involved in the surrounding community. This. is. a. fucking. great. idea. Hear what he had to say:

The University’s Department of Community Service has the resources and connections for all clubs to be able to partner with Waltham and provide services to the community.

For example, the debate team could teach public speaking at a local school. An a capella group could sing at a local shelter. Your club can play chess or knit at a nursing home, shoot hoops at the Boys and Girls Club, cook a holiday meal for those in need, or organize a talent show at the YMCA. The opportunities are endless.

Every club could have a community-service component to it.

Today we challenge every club and organization to engage the community in service, and we commit ourselves to helping this challenge succeed.

Continue reading “State of the Student Union Address – with full text”