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.

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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.