Faculty urged to help trustees meet Brandeis’ financial challenges

Committee working to rebalance commitments with resources

Meyer Koplow ’72

Brandeis must resolve its long-term structural budget deficit if it is to remain a world-class university, the chairman of the Board of Trustees’ budget and finance committee said this week, and he urged faculty to help the board meet that challenge.

Meyer Koplow ’72 told faculty members gathered in Olin-Sang auditorium on Jan. 20 that, with their help, he and trustee chairman Malcolm Sherman would be able to propose a strategy at the board’s next meeting for putting the university in a stable and secure financial position for the long term.

The board will meet March 23 to approve the fiscal 2011 university budget. It is seeking to address Brandeis’ approximate $25 million annual structural deficit.

“To achieve that, we must rebalance our activities and commitments to be consistent with our resources,” Koplow said.

“We need to be able to assure everybody who is part of this community that the university is financially stable and that it is a secure place for people to pursue their scholarship, a secure place for people to work, a secure place to teach and to learn and that it’s an institution that will survive long into the future,” he told professors.

Following a similar address by Koplow at a faculty retreat a week earlier, faculty leaders organized a committee to respond to the trustee’s challenge. The group, known as the Brandeis 2020 Committee, will attempt to build on the work of last year’s Curriculum and Academic Restructuring Steering (CARS) committee. The new committee is chaired by arts and sciences dean Adam Jaffe.

President Jehuda Reinharz, who opened the special faculty meeting, pointed out that Brandeis’ difficulties mirror those at universities locally and across the country that are grappling with financial and educational restructuring issues.

Koplow acknowledged Reinharz’s 15-year tenure, citing the physical and educational expansion at Brandeis during that period. The president’s achievements include construction of a new campus center, science center and residence halls; the establishment of many new academic programs and research centers; and fundraising that exceeded $1 billion.

Koplow also thanked the faculty for succeeding in the face of chronic financial stress. “Brandeis has been living on the edge since 1948, and what’s been accomplished by faculty living on the edge can fairly be termed miraculous,” he said.

Putting the institution on a firm financial footing, added Koplow, who also serves as chairman of the presidential search committee, will assist Brandeis’ fundraising and admissions efforts and make it easier to recruit and hire the university’s eighth president.

Koplow is asking faculty to prepare a plan for presentation at the March board meeting to reduce academic commitments within the College of Arts and Sciences. Neither he nor Jaffe provided a target figure for the reductions. Koplow stressed that while significant immediate savings were not anticipated, trustees wanted assurance from faculty that they are committed to the restructuring process.

“Only the academy,” he added, “has the expertise, scholarship and ability to be able to take a serious look at things in the academy and decide where we’re really not at the top.”

He stressed that the faculty is not being asked to approve cuts in academic areas, but to make recommendations to Provost Marty Krauss, who has responsibility for the structure of the academy. “I am asking the faculty to look at every aspect (of the undergraduate curriculum) — majors, minors, interdisciplinary programs,” Koplow said.

If the faculty forges a “credible, reliable plan” that could be put before the trustees at their March meeting, Koplow said he would recommend that the board spend more of the limited unrestricted reserve to get the university through the fiscal 2011 and 2012 budgets without financial upheaval while giving the faculty’s restructuring plan and other cost-saving and revenue-generating efforts time to bear fruit. He stressed that all areas of university, not just the academy, are to be examined with a critical eye, and that staff have begun coming forward with cost-cutting and revenue-generating ideas.

“I am confident we can do this,” Koplow said. “It is a terrific goal to move Brandeis to a higher level of excellence over the next 10 years.”

Koplow said that if a credible plan is not developed cooperatively, the board, mindful of its fiduciary responsibilities, would feel compelled to make budget allocations based on current income, and that would result in deep, immediate cuts.

Koplow noted that identifying additional revenue streams would be even more critical to the university’s financial health than making cuts. He cited the possibility of expanding programs and/or increasing enrollments at the International Business School and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management and, eventually, realizing proceeds from the Rose Art Museum collection.

But perhaps most important, he said, is attracting more and larger unrestricted gifts. “There is nothing — no part of this $25 million [structural deficit] — that $500 million in unrestricted endowment wouldn’t solve overnight.”

Such efforts will not succeed if Brandeis is perceived to be a financially struggling institution, he cautioned.

He called suspension of the university’s contribution of employee retirement accounts in the current fiscal year an example of the kind of stopgap measures the university has used historically to resolve its budget shortfalls.

“It doesn’t solve anything on a permanent basis,” Koplow said.

He ruled out further suspension of retirement contributions and said the university would not again resort to the across-the-board layoffs that cost 76 employees their jobs last year. “Terminating members of the Brandeis family — and we are a family — is nothing we ought to be leaving ourselves in a position to have to do again,” Koplow said.

“Beyond that, just from a practical standpoint,” he added, “many of you have experienced the places where the underlying fabric of this university has worn thin because of the cuts, and we can’t do some of the basic things we need to do. We have gone a cut too far, and we simply cannot cut further.”

Student journalists asked after the meeting what would happen to students who are enrolled in programs that the new academic restructuring committee recommends be eliminated.

Jaffe told them that any academic programs that are eliminated would be phased out over time, and that currently enrolled students would be able to finish their degrees in the program.

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