Looking Beyond the Pandemic

President Ronald D. Liebowitz
Mike Lovett
President Ronald D. Liebowitz

What a past 18 months it has been. The COVID-19 pandemic brought — and continues to bring — chaos to us all. Here on campus, two graduating classes missed out on celebrating Senior Week, Commencement, and many of the joys senior spring typically promises. Last year, first-years — both undergraduates and graduate students — became acquainted with Brandeis through the lens of pandemic-related constraints. Our rising juniors and seniors, too, had to overcome their share of challenges that came with the pandemic.

Faculty had to adapt to teaching online via Zoom with very little warning or preparation — and did so in exemplary fashion. Kudos to the 500-plus professors who made this pedagogical shift with extraordinary professionalism and effectiveness. While some found teaching via Zoom to have great potential for their particular subject matter — and will likely continue to take advantage of the medium — virtually all faculty affirmed the centrality of in-person teaching and learning at Brandeis.

Our staff, the backbone of the university during the past 18 months, were remarkable in making it possible for the university to remain open and serve the 1,900 or so students who lived on campus last year — all without the benefit of vaccines until last spring. They also supported the more than 3,000 students who were enrolled but not on campus. We all owe an enormous amount of gratitude to our staff for their contribution to the university’s successful response to the pandemic.

And to you — our alumni and friends — we also owe a great “thank you” for your support of the university. You helped sustain the success of our teaching and research mission through your contributions to the Emergency Fund and the Brandeis Fund. Your donations were used to help students access adequate infrastructure for learning online — whether that was a computer to log on to class from afar, or a quiet place to listen to and participate in class — or receive the mental health support they needed. Your support also helped defray the additional financial aid needed by students whose families’ financial resources were diminished as a result of the pandemic, allowing many students to remain enrolled and engaged in their academic pursuits.

As I write this column, we just welcomed to campus members of the incoming Class of 2025. Although their arrival was interrupted by Hurricane Henri, we eagerly greet this class, along with all returning students, with a special exuberance. We are guardedly optimistic about the coming year, with in-person classes returning in full force and a loosening of some pandemic-related health and safety constraints. At the same time, we are mindful of the Delta variant and the current surge in cases. We will continue to follow expert guidance from the medical community, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The health and safety of our community remains our greatest concern.

We hope things return, as close as possible, to pre-pandemic life. A liberal arts education, and particularly a Brandeis education, is far richer when our students engage in face-to-face debate and discussion, when they volunteer in the community, and when they simply socialize and have fun.

In the meantime, we have a big institutional agenda to tackle. This includes advancing our work on becoming a more equitable and inclusive learning community — e.g., agreeing on concrete action items from our anti-racism plans, and pursuing recommendations from Brandeis’ Framework for the Future — and advancing our planning for new science facilities, for new academic programs in engineering and data science, for integrating the arts at Brandeis, for a new residence and dining hall, for a Jewish studies consortium, and for a center for community and civic engagement. Additionally, we continue our efforts to recruit and retain the best faculty and students, to strengthen the university’s ties with its alumni, and to engage external audiences more deliberately to highlight Brandeis’ excellence.

This list is ambitious and reflects our namesake Louis Brandeis’ wisdom when it comes to attaining greatness. He said that for a university to achieve such status, “the aim must be high and the vision broad; the goal seemingly attainable but beyond the immediate reach.” If we are to make progress on a good number of the initiatives, and achieve greatness, we must follow the example of teamwork and collaboration so beautifully exhibited over the past 18 months in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to partnering with our on-campus constituencies, the Board of Trustees, and our alumni and friends to “aim high” and set goals that will energize the community and lead to a stronger Brandeis.

Best regards,

Ronald D. Liebowitz