Creating Change

Photo of Ron Liebowitz
Mike Lovett
President Ronald D. Liebowitz

Brandeis launched the fall semester against the backdrop of the global COVID-19 pandemic and issues of racism. With these challenges in mind, we planned for an academic year unlike any other.

In developing our fall 2020 plans, we examined a variety of options and best practices. A team of senior leaders from across the university established a comprehensive plan, including high-frequency, universal testing; a campus environment redesigned to enable physical distancing; rigorous infection-control protocols; and a data-driven approach (using a COVID-19 dashboard) to monitor public health status. On a parallel path, we offered faculty additional training and resources to support effective teaching and student engagement in a virtual environment. With these plans in place, we were confident in moving forward with a return to campus for undergraduate and some graduate students. We did so because we believe strongly in the value and advantages of a shared learning environment.

Students, faculty, and staff have been vigilant in their compliance with public health protocols. While we are prepared to change course at any time to respond to changing health conditions on campus, the collective effort to “stop the spread” has shown that masks, social distancing, limited public gatherings, timely testing, and isolation can be effective strategies. These health requirements are not easy to live with, and our community’s continued solidarity in the face of the pandemic is critical.

At the same time, our community has put equal resolve behind the far more complex challenge of addressing racism. To transform our campus, I requested concrete action plans from multiple areas of the university, including Public Safety, Human Resources, Community Living, Athletics, and Academics. Over the past several months, administrators, with the support of chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas, have developed a set of draft plans that identify and address racism and inequity on our campus.

These efforts have been shaped and improved by both a set of recommendations from faculty and a Black Action Plan developed by students. Senior administrators and I have had an opportunity to meet regularly with the student leaders who organized the Black Action Plan, which provides actionable items that will help us build a more equitable institution. Their continued insights on our draft plans have had a positive impact on our work to date.

Although the plans are likely to be finalized in early 2021, one major element is already clear. Our commitment to addressing systemic racism requires us to confront the everyday practices and structures that result in inequity. This will not be easy. To be successful, we will have to reimagine our approach to everything from teaching best practices to public safety, residential life, support services, and more.

As we engage in this difficult but essential work, our founding values of openness and justice, our problem-solving mentality, and our community spirit have never been more important. These initiatives will fundamentally reshape our campus for the better and equip our students with strategies to create change
in the world beyond our campus.

Best regards,

Ronald D. Liebowitz