Brandeis is at a vital crossroads in its short history. Despite seven decades of remarkable success and progress, our university has been in startup mode for far too long.
Stuck in a cycle of near-term planning, we have devoted a lot of energy to balancing the annual budget rather than envisioning how Brandeis might evolve and regain its founding energy, creativity, and pioneering spirit.
Now is the time for us — students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, parents, and friends — to reimagine the future of our institution.
In broad terms, my vision for Brandeis is simple: In order to revitalize our mission, make the most of our strengths and resources, and distinguish ourselves from our peers, we have to embrace what makes our university so special.
After spending the past two years listening to and learning from all of you, the Brandeis community, I believe that our unique strength as an institution lies in our small size on the one hand, and our major research achievements on the other. As a shorthand, I call this our value proposition.
Together, these unique characteristics create a truly distinctive and awe-inspiring teaching and learning environment because of what they enable: both horizontal and vertical connectivity across the university. To anyone familiar with Brandeis, both of these types of campus-spanning interconnection will be very familiar — even if the terminology is new.
Horizontal connectivity describes our community’s ability to transcend academic specialization and department boundaries, which enables dynamic collaboration across traditional disciplines. We can see this so clearly in the popular Health: Science, Society, and Policy program, which allows undergraduates to develop a multifaceted and interdisciplinary understanding of health while working with both Arts and Sciences and Heller School faculty.
Vertical connectivity, on the other hand, describes just how closely our students work with faculty, doctoral students, and postdocs on an everyday basis — especially in the sciences. This multilevel learning environment is rare and invaluable in higher education.
My vision for Brandeis is firmly rooted in our ability to expand on and reinvigorate our commitment to these unique strengths. But in order to achieve these goals, we must embark upon an exciting and difficult path ahead.
In order take the first steps toward achieving this value proposition, we will pursue three strategic objectives as a community in the coming months — each of which focuses our resources on the university’s existing strengths, as well as a few areas where we have the capacity to soon excel.
First, we will refine the student experience for both undergraduate and graduate students. Brandeis shines in the classroom; more than 80 percent of graduates surveyed from every decade since the first graduating class of 1952 reported that they were “extremely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the quality of their education. But these same surveys show that we have consistently fallen short of providing a comparable social experience on campus. In order to address this enduring problem, we will need to rethink our residential living environment to create genuine learning communities — all while deepening our commitment to enriching student life outside of the classroom.
Second, we will broaden and strengthen our research and scholarly capacity and impact beyond campus. My vision calls upon us to extend our excellent, cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary, engaged research beyond the sciences and into virtually every intellectual domain of the university. But this objective also requires us to connect our students and faculty more deeply to research and business ventures in our hometown of Waltham, the region, and in Israel, China, and elsewhere around the world.
Third, we will honor our founding values, including our connections to the American Jewish community. Our historic commitments to academic rigor, a commitment to justice and truth, and openness — which, at the start, meant the absence of quotas and an admissions process based on merit and inclusiveness regardless of race, religion, and gender — are as relevant today as they were in 1948. This requires us not only to rethink what these lofty principles mean, both today and for the future, but also to become the leading repository for wisdom, learning, research, and teaching about Judaism, Israel, and the Middle East, and about the future of the Jewish people.
In order to facilitate this pursuit of our value proposition, and to achieve these strategic objectives, we will need to rethink our campus infrastructure overall. Neither horizontal and vertical connectivity, nor revitalized student life, research, teaching, and engagement with our founding legacy will be possible without giving significant attention to our physical infrastructure.
To make this vision a reality, and to move beyond a framework and words toward actions and deliverables, I will soon appoint task forces — on student life, research, and our founding values, and another on our campus infrastructure, to be formed later — to lead the way, and to report back to me, the Board of Trustees, and the community on their plans and progress in the spring. This framework website will provide all of you with a way to share your thoughts and suggestions with the task forces, and for all of us to play a role in creating the Brandeis that we imagine for the future. I encourage each of you to get involved in this process.
All of this will not be achieved in a year, or perhaps even under my presidency. But I believe that this vision, this framework, and these guideposts are what we need to chart the next 70 years of our university — together, as a community.