Office of the President

Update on COVID-19 Task Force / Financial Impact of COVID-19

May 1, 2020

Dear Brandeis Community,

I am writing to provide you with an update on Brandeis’ planning for the near future related to COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to challenge us daily in our personal and professional lives. During the past six weeks, the Brandeis community has responded to the unique set of circumstances brought on by the pandemic with compassion, thoughtfulness, and ingenuity. This is the spirit and character of Brandeis and reflects the strong sense of community that has characterized the university since its founding.

First, I would like to thank the faculty for their continued commitment to our academic mission while teaching more than 1,000 courses remotely and mentoring students. I would also like to thank the staff, many of whom are supporting our faculty and students and have themselves transitioned to working remotely. Thank you, as well, to the staff who remain on campus, ensuring that our community remains safe and our operations run smoothly. And finally, but hardly incidentally, to all of our students: we understand many of the challenges you are facing in a new learning environment. We admire the resilience you have shown in adapting and maintaining focus on your studies with a true sense of purpose.

All of you—students, faculty, and staff—have managed the great changes while assuming added burdens of caring for loved ones, finding adequate study spaces, and taking on new responsibilities. We are mindful of the toll the coronavirus is taking on members of our community. Some of our students, faculty, and staff—and their families—have been infected by COVID-19, and some have lost family members as a result. We are keeping these individuals and their families in our thoughts.

I cannot say enough how grateful I and my senior administrative colleagues are for the patience and support you have exhibited during these unprecedented times. Brandeis is most fortunate to have a strong and supportive culture, something that should give us great optimism as we look to the future and plan for the coming year.

The COVID-19 Task Force and the Future

There are many factors that will determine how we will reopen and begin our next semester. As we have been saying in our previous correspondences, the health and safety of the campus community must take priority over all else. In order to account for the many variables at play in determining when and how we will open, we will rely on the expertise on our campus as well as the incredible resources in the Greater Boston healthcare community.

In March, I appointed a COVID-19 Task Force led by Provost Lisa Lynch and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky. This task force was charged with advising the administration on the steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff as we transitioned to remote teaching, learning, and off-site work.

Now, the task force’s focus is on the future. It will help guide the administration in making decisions related to the opening of the new school year. 

The task force is made up of eight working groups:

  • Academic Working Group for Undergraduates – overseen by Provost Lisa Lynch and led by Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Dorothy Hodgson
  • Academic Working Group for Graduate Students – overseen by Provost Lisa Lynch and led by Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Eric Chasalow, Dean of the International Business School Kathryn Graddy, and Dean of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management David Weil
  • Research, Labs, and Studios – headed by Vice Provost for Research Edward Hackett and Professor Sacha Nelson
  • Hybrid Instruction and IT Support – headed by Chief Information Officer Jim La Creta and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Mary-Ann Winkelmes
  • Campus Living and Operations – headed by Vice Provost of Student Affairs Raymond Ou and Vice President of Operations Lois Stanley
  • Communications – headed by Senior Vice President of Communications, Marketing, and External Affairs Dan Kim
  • Finance and Human Resources – headed by Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer Sam Solomon and Vice President of Human Resources Robin Switzer
  • Public Health and Campus Re-Opening – headed by Diana Denning the Administrative Director and Nurse Practitioner at the Brandeis Health Center and Vice President of Human Resources Robin Switzer

In addition to the co-chairs of these eight working groups, the task force also includes Professor and Chair of the Faculty Senate Joel Christensen, Senior Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Kim Godsoe, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President William O’Reilly, and Interim Vice President of the Rabb School for Continuing Studies Lynn Rosansky. Staff support will be provided by Assistant Provost for Strategic Initiatives Morgen Bergman, Special Assistant to the President Zachary Kasdin, and Assistant Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Vincent Lim.

The task force and its working groups are developing strategies to address questions and multiple scenarios related to students returning to campus, the opening of our research facilities including the library, science labs, and art studios, the academic calendar, identifying ways to develop hybrid teaching options for different teaching scenarios, and the financial implications of each of our scenarios.

While we have every hope to resume classes and research on campus for the fall semester, there are a number of criteria that the administration is using to guide our decisions on when we can have in-person learning and how that will be structured. These criteria include:

  • The guidelines and restrictions from the state and federal governments regarding physical distancing 
  • The existence of effective therapies for COVID-19 and when they will be available
  • The reliability and availability of testing, along with effective tracking and tracing
  • Ensuring we have the ability to de-densify our residence halls to recommended levels 
  • Reserving or securing residential spaces to accommodate students who will need to be quarantined
  • Our ability to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to our community to meet public health guidelines and ensure safety
  • The level of staffing we will need and building flexibility into our work schedules to serve the on-campus student population

The Financial Impact of COVID-19 on Brandeis

As we carry out our planning for next semester, it remains difficult to know precisely how, to what degree, and for how long the current economic downturn will affect colleges and universities. But over the past several weeks, we have begun to get a clearer picture of the financial challenges that this crisis will pose to our institution.

As I said in a previous message to the Brandeis community, my senior team and I are committed to addressing the uncertainty and challenges that lie ahead in a focused, principled, and transparent fashion. In that spirit, today I want to outline some of the significant financial losses that the university has already begun to incur as a result of the pandemic, and how we have addressed them.

For the current fiscal year (July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020), we are anticipating revenue losses of more than $12 million. More than half of the revenue loss is attributable to student reimbursement payments for room and board fees for services unused following the transition to remote learning. Additionally, we anticipate fundraising that directly affects the operating budget to miss its projected target by another $2 million. The balance of the anticipated loss is the result of reduced revenue from revenue-generating events with external groups and summer school, which includes our pre-college programs.

As we plan for the next fiscal year (July 1, 2020), we will need to manage our expenses with great discipline. There is a wide array of possible revenue scenarios that could result in significant revenue losses in the next fiscal year. These revenue losses will be driven by anticipated decreases in tuition, room and board, fundraising, sponsored research, and endowment income, as well as an increased need in financial aid. An exact dollar figure cannot be known at this time, but we are closely monitoring each of these areas and taking them into account in our scenario planning. 

We do know that it will be necessary to implement mitigating measures to offset reductions in revenue. We previously announced a number of measures to mitigate against this fiscal year’s anticipated revenue losses. They include: suspending the faculty and staff merit salary increase program and reducing the president’s salary by 20 percent – up from 10 percent as announced earlier – and his direct reports’ salaries by 10 percent through calendar year-end; reducing capital and operating expenditures; a significant slowing of hiring; and a freeze on faculty and staff salary adjustments unless approved by the provost or the executive vice president for finance & administration, respectively.  While we have implemented these budget-saving steps, we have also provided emergency paid time off through May 17 – now extended through June 30 – for Brandeis employees who are healthy and able to work, but for whom no alternative work assignments are available.

We must now anticipate the need for further reductions in expenditures and consider their consequences. I am directing our senior administrators, in consultation with the Committee on Strategy and Planning, to begin a full review of proposed FY21 non-salary operating budgets across the university to identify savings of up to 10 percent, and to be ready to seek additional savings up to 20 percent later in the fall semester. While I hope that the mitigating measures we’ve taken will be sufficient, it is possible we will need to do more.

Upcoming Opportunities to Connect

There are many unknowns that are understandably creating anxiety among us all. I pledge to keep communications open and provide information in a fully transparent manner. I invite you to join me, Provost Lisa Lynch, and EVP Stew Uretsky in one of several virtual “community check-ins” in the next few weeks. These check-ins will give you an opportunity to hear directly from the three of us, ask questions, and provide advice. They give the administration valuable input that will help us make the best decisions in what is a dynamic and still unpredictable environment.

In addition to the community check-ins, I will also be holding virtual “office hours” via Zoom for faculty, staff, and families after final exams are completed. I hope to “see” you at one of the following sessions:

  • Community check-in (with Ron, Lisa, and Stew) for on-campus students – May 5, 10-11 a.m. ET
  • Virtual office hours (with Ron) for all students – May 5, 2:15-3:15 p.m. ET
  • Community check-in (with Ron, Lisa, and Stew) for alumni – May 6, 1-2 p.m. ET
  • Community check-in for faculty and staff (with Ron, Lisa, and Stew) – May 7, 10-11 a.m. ET
  • Virtual office hours (with Ron) for families – May 14, 7-8 p.m. ET
  • Community check-in (with Ron, Lisa, and Stew) for the seniors of Class of 2020 – May 15, 2-3 p.m. ET
  • Virtual office hours (with Ron) for faculty and staff – May 20, 2-3 p.m. ET
  • Virtual office hours (with Ron) for families – May 22, 9-10 a.m. ET

We will send out more information on how you can participate in these events.

In closing, I thank all of you with enormous gratitude for your patience and understanding during this unprecedented situation. I know that together we will work our way through this pandemic and build a stronger Brandeis.


Ron Liebowitz