The New Academic Year

Aug. 26, 2021

Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,

As we mark the beginning of the academic year today, I am delighted to have this opportunity to welcome you back to campus. Each year, I look forward to recognizing our newest members of the community and commemorating the start of a new semester, but this year — to say the least — is different. In a situation that nobody might have predicted, our lives — on campus and beyond — have been shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic for 17 months now. As a result, I, and I know most of you, have a deep appreciation for the opportunity to welcome the return of our community to an in-person living and learning experience this year.

We will continue to follow public health guidelines, as we did last year to great success. This commitment requires that all of us — students, faculty, and staff — remain vigilant in our compliance with public health requirements. By getting vaccinated, testing regularly, and wearing a mask, when necessary, you are contributing to the health and safety of our community, for which I am grateful.

I would also like to recognize especially the staff who were on the front lines on campus during the most challenging period of the pandemic, as well as our faculty, who amended their teaching methods without much notice, and spent extra time with students who faced serious and personal challenges related to the pandemic. Both the faculty’s and staff’s dedication and resiliency enabled our community to pursue our mission over the past year and a half in the best possible environment, despite being faced with highly unusual and unfamiliar circumstances. I thank you for your extraordinary efforts. And, through many in-person and Zoom meetings with parents and alumni, I know the feeling of gratitude extends well beyond our campus.

Unusual situations like the pandemic tend to come with some silver linings. One of those is how our response to the pandemic has honed our institutional flexibility, which proved already to be apparent during last weekend’s First-Year Move-In Day and Convocation. Faced with the prospect of a hurricane or tropical storm, staff and student volunteers quickly mobilized to adapt and turn a potentially disappointing arrival to campus into a positive experience for our first-year students and their families. While we were fortunate to be spared the brunt of the storm, we should take pride in the creativity and resiliency of our community, and I look forward to celebrating a rescheduled Convocation this Sunday.

The Class of 2025 is, much like its recent predecessors, a highly talented and diverse group of students. Its 953 members, who come from 39 states and 29 countries, speak 49 languages. Roughly 20% of the class come from abroad; nearly 15% are first-generation students; and about 30% identify as students of color. Members of this class represent a diverse set of backgrounds and experiences, and I know they will contribute great things to the classroom and more generally to our community.

I also wanted to share news about two recent administrative appointments. In June, Wendy Cadge, the Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanistic Social Sciences, was appointed as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and David Fryson joined us in July as the interim chief diversity officer and vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion. David will provide transitional leadership for our DEI efforts while we conduct a nationwide search to appoint a new vice president.

Looking to the year ahead, the agenda is filled with a number of important and exciting initiatives. Creating a more equitable and inclusive university remains an immediate priority and ongoing process. Vice president Fryson will help us formalize our anti-racism plans, which were the focus of so many students, faculty, and staff over the past year. We will also devote significant time to pursuing some major recommendations in the Framework for the Future, our planning document approved by the Board in January, 2020.

For example, we have recommenced planning for the Science Phase 2A building project, halted during the 2008-09 recession; a center for civic and community engagement; a new facility to integrate the arts on campus; and a unifying organizational structure that will bring closer together our academic and research programs related to Jewish studies. We will also begin a feasibility study on a new residence hall and dining facility to enhance student life; initiate planning for greater faculty and staff support and renewal; and pursue external support for a university-wide data science program and the recently approved program in engineering science. These initiatives are critical to the university’s future, and I look forward to updating you on their progress as they continue to take shape.

The prospect of a new year spent together living and learning is exciting, all the more so following the relative isolation of the past 17 months. In addition to all else, the past year teaches us we cannot take anything for granted, least of all, the value of this community. In the coming weeks and months, we will have opportunities to gather, in person and virtually, to share updates and engage issues of interest and concern to students, faculty, and staff. I look forward to seeing you around campus and I wish you all the best for a happy and productive start to the year.

Best regards,

Ron Liebowitz