President to staff: Brandeis is solid, ready to dream

Planning focus has been on coping, but now can be on thinking big

Photos/Charles A. Radin
More than 400 members of the Brandeis staff packed Levin Ballroom this morning to hear President Fred Lawrence give a confident, reassuring assessment of the university’s current status and future prospects.

In a relaxed, often jocular manner, Lawrence thanked staff members for their efforts during a period of financial stress and reduced payrolls, announced six presidential discretionary days-off around the Thanksgiving and year-end holidays and called for all to dream big.

From the start, he spoke to the common concerns of all members of the Brandeis community.

“The things I wake up thinking about at 3 ‘o clock in the morning are probably the things you’re thinking about when you wake up at 3 ‘o clock in the morning,” Lawrence said. But, he told them, after the buffeting of recent years, Brandeis now is “stable, solid, able to plan in a pro-active rather than a reactive way.”

Evidence of this stability and strong outlook abounded in the last fiscal year, he said, citing better-than-anticipated earnings on the endowment, performance on budget targets and giving to the annual fund drive.

Now is the time for the community to set “goals that are ambitious, goals that are robust, goals that if you do this right will be hard to meet,” Lawrence said, declaring that this will be the result of the strategic planning process that he has set in motion. If you meet all your goals, you didn’t dream enough…. We’ll set our sights on big things, and we won’t hit them all. That’s OK.”

The idea of the planning process, which is to last through 2012, is to have the whole community contribute to determining “what are the areas where we can be much better than we are now, what do we  want to look like in 10 years.”

A balanced budget is good, he said, but “balancing the budget is not a strategic vision.”

Brandeis will build on its strengths and “one of the strengths we will always have is the fabric of this community,” the president said. Noting that this is the smallest of the major research universities, he cited Albert Einstein, saying that “Not everything can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Brandeis is able to maintain an exceptional environment for students “because of our scale and our human interactions,” he said. “Do we have to be more efficient? Absolutely. But not at the cost of not being Brandeis.”

Lawrence said both general economic realities and the relatively good position the university is in are driving it toward new partnerships and collaborations. Referencing the high tech power concentrated around Route 128, he noted the tremendous synergies MIT has realized from the development of Kendall Square. He talked about raising the profile of Brandeis as “an enormous center for the arts in the western suburbs” of Boston.

As is often his wont, Lawrence told stories to reinforce his positions. Regarding the university as a regional arts center, he recalled being with his wife, Kathy, and members of the Board of Trustees on  a tour of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. When the group approached the modern art collection, he said, the MFA curator giving the tour told them:   “The quality of our contemporary collection is not what you are used to at the Rose.”

Similarly, talking about the initiatives of his first months in office, he recalled what he and Kathy were told, years ago, when their young son was struggling with a persistent ear infection. “Is this one going to work?” Kathy Lawrence asked the pediatrician after several remedies had failed. “We don’t know,” the doctor answered. “But we’ll keep trying ‘til we find something that does.”

  Lawrence expressed his thanks to the staff several times, telling them: “You are the entry point to this university. Not a day goes by I’m not aware of that and that this university is not grateful…. Let me assure you it makes a difference. Let me assure you it does not go unrecognized.”


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