Task Forces Make Progress on Framework for Our Future

Louis D. Brandeis statue on a sunny day
Mike Lovett
Louis D. Brandeis statue on a sunny day

Last fall, Brandeis launched A Framework for Our Future, President Ron Liebowitz’s plan to reimagine and revitalize the university. In the executive summary that prefaces the Framework document, Liebowitz explains his aim to faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors: “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.”

The Framework capitalizes on what Liebowitz calls the university’s “value proposition”: Brandeis’ distinction as a small institution with major research achievements. The president has outlined the Framework’s three strategic objectives: strengthening the student learning/living experience; supporting research, creativity and collaborative innovation; and honoring our founding values.

A steering committee, including Liebowitz and Provost Lisa M. Lynch, appointed three task forces, each
co-chaired by two faculty members, to make recommendations for achieving the Framework’s goals. A fourth task force will be formed later to make recommendations for improving campus infrastructure.

Liebowitz chairs the Task Force on Honoring Our Founding Values. Jon Levisohn, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Associate Professor of Jewish Educational Thought, and Chad Williams, the Samuel J. and Augusta Spector Chair in History and associate professor of African and African American studies, are vice chairs.

Connie Horgan, professor and director of the Institute for Behavioral Health, and Sacha Nelson, the Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Life Science, co-chair the Task Force on Supporting Research, Creativity and Collaborative Innovation.

Kim Godsoe, associate provost for academic affairs, and Sara Shostak, associate professor of sociology, co-chair the Task Force on the Student Learning/Living Experience.

Each task force includes working groups that take on specific issues, such as undergraduate advising and community engagement. More than 90 faculty, staff, students and alumni are involved in making recommendations to the steering committee toward meeting the Framework’s strategic objectives.

In addition, faculty, staff, students and alumni are invited to submit their comments and ideas, and learn more about the Framework, at www.brandeis.edu/framework.

In late March, the task force chairs discussed their groups’ progress, in advance of making their preliminary recommendations to the steering committee and the Board of Trustees in mid-April.

Where are you finding consensus?

Chad Williams: Consensus exists around the idea that Brandeis and its founding values are special, and that, because of this, Brandeis has an important role to play in the world. The name “Brandeis” carries with it responsibilities. There is also consensus that Brandeis must think about its “story” in different ways, to acknowledge the diversity of experiences of Brandeis in the past and the present.

Jon Levisohn: I would agree with that. We have also discovered a great deal of consensus around, and pride in, the depth and breadth of scholarship on questions of contemporary Jewish life, which is unequaled anywhere in the world. This is an aspect of Brandeis’ Jewish character that has been a hallmark of the university since its founding and, while it has evolved, remains a cornerstone. At the same time, we’ve been thinking about how to communicate and coordinate this work more effectively and more strategically, both in research and in teaching.

Kim Godsoe: Faculty, staff and students have all been incredibly open about what they love about Brandeis and how they would like to see it change in the future. For example, we know that our residence halls are aging and they lack common spaces for students to study in as well as to socialize in. In spite of an improving labor market, both undergraduate and graduate students want more career counseling support to help them navigate the rapidly changing world of work. Other themes have come as more of a surprise. For example, many of our students feel isolated. We knew this was true for some students, but we did not know how prevalent these feelings are. This is one of the many reasons the task force work is so important.


Sacha Nelson: We found tremendous consensus around the need to free up additional time for faculty and other researchers to pursue their work and to help mentor others’ research. Brandeis has been doing “more with less” for a long time. We also found consensus around a need to renew spaces around the campus that serve as focal points for promoting research and creative work. Finally, we found consensus around the need to promote and support undergraduate research and creative work, since the ability of undergraduates to get directly involved with faculty and others in intensive hands-on experiences is one of the signature features of Brandeis’ unique mission as an undergraduate-focused research university.

What are the biggest challenges you face?

Levisohn: Time is certainly the biggest challenge. Brandeis has been wrestling with its identity and founding values since, well, its founding. The issues Brandeis faces now, especially in regard to the diversity of its student body, are much more complex than 70 years ago. And we have learned there are wide disparities in how various stakeholders perceive the institution.

Sara Shostak: We are doing this work on a very ambitious timeline. Thanks to the tremendous dedication of the members of our task force and working groups, we have done interviews with administrators at nearly 20 other institutions; have held listening sessions with close to 60 faculty, staff and student groups; and are collecting individual comments through the webpage. We launched an alumni survey and have had two focus groups with members of the Alumni Association Board.

Connie Horgan: It has been challenging to understand the similarities and differences faced by different groups across campus, especially given the accelerated time we have for this process. We met with diverse groups, including faculty and researchers at Heller, Brandeis International Business School, the centers and institutes, and the four divisions of the School of Arts and Sciences. We also met with administrators, undergraduates and the Board of Trustees. We sent out questionnaires to faculty, research staff and alumni, and also received input from other community members.

What opportunities are you most excited about?

Godsoe: It is such a rare opportunity to be able to look at the entirety of the student experience, both inside and outside the classroom. Students love their faculty and their friends, but there is a disconnect between their academic and social experiences. We want all Brandeis students to feel a sense of belonging and community on campus.

Nelson: We are enormously excited about identifying the challenges and opportunities faculty and other researchers face at Brandeis in bringing their research and creative work to the next level of excellence.

Williams: We are excited to find a great deal of consensus around Brandeis’ founding values — the values of inclusion, truth and critical inquiry, and social justice. These are not unique to Brandeis, but they are central to the story that we tell about the way the university was founded. At the same time, we are more aware than ever of the ways that these values, as ideals, have always existed in tension with the reality of how they have been experienced by different people. How can we live up to these values more deeply and fully?