Lawrence issues university report card at staff meeting
At his third annual meeting with all staff Wednesday, President Fred Lawrence assessed Brandeis’ progress in reaching academic and financial goals since the Board of Trustees formally endorsed the Strategic Plan last May.
In the one-hour gathering in Levin Ballroom — which opened with a moment of silence, to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — Lawrence was true to form, speaking largely without notes and interweaving flashes of humor into straight talk about the “real challenges” Brandeis faces.
Lawrence noted that Brandeis has an endowment that does not match its aspirations. Not only do we face the same challenges as most first-tier colleges and universities, we face them with a lower endowment per student than many of our peers. “No question, we are in better shape today than we were a year ago,” he said. But he cautioned that Brandeis needed to continue to grow the endowment and improve operational efficiencies. “While the endowment is performing better, we still need to ensure that we are stewarding our resources in the best manner possible,” he said.
“Our ambition is to be a tier-one research university with an international, global reach across a whole range of disciplines, graduate and professional schools,” Lawrence explained, urging his audience to measure progress toward this goal in years rather than “quarter by quarter.”
Brandeis will continue to “leverage the model we have — a small liberal arts college built into a research university,” Lawrence noted. “I remain quite confident in where we are, how we are educating our students, in the research we will be able to do, in the faculty we will be able to attract, and in the quality of staff we have to keep this place going,” Lawrence said.
He described a higher education climate in which change is constant, citing the growth of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs, as one example. “But massive online courses will never replace the one-on-one experience that students have at Brandeis, the engaged focus we have in our classrooms, laboratories, in informal interactions around campus, on the playing fields, in studios and on stages.”
In academics, Lawrence identified several improvements, starting with an unprecedented number of applicants — 9,496 for the Class of 2017. The number of students transferring out of Brandeis has also dropped. In March, the Board of Trustees approved a budget that shifts $1.5 million to the academic enterprise.
Campus improvements include major renovations to residence halls, new landscaping and better use of space on campus including outdoor seating areas. As a result of a competitive bidding process, Brandeis is saving substantial resources with Sodexo, the university’s new food vendor. The contractor has added more dining options and is making capital improvements to the cafeterias in Usdan and Sherman, Lawrence noted.
“If we can improve the quality of our students’ food, that is a piece of their education, too,” he asserted, adding that Russo’s produce is being sold in Usdan and that providing more opportunities to develop healthy habits also serves students well over the course of their lives.
Touching on town-gown relations with obvious pride, Lawrence noted that 320 staff and faculty live in Waltham; students racked up more than 56,000 community service hours in Waltham last year; and Brandeis gave $975,000 in scholarship aid to Waltham residents in 2012.
Toward the end of the meeting, and to robust applause, Lawrence approved four President’s Discretionary Days during the December holiday as well as another one for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.