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A Rebuke for Brandeis Administrators

February 21, 2005

Facing a faculty rebellion last year over controversial ideas floated to cut some programs and add to others, Brandeis University officials created a panel of professors to review the plans.

That panel has now reported -- and it has largely rejected the plans, and also criticized the approach the university has been taking to reviewing its academic priorities.

The theme administrators have been pushing is that Brandeis -- as a university smaller, younger and poorer than many of its competitors -- needs to eliminate some programs if it is to be able to make investments in areas that deserve more resources. But the faculty panel said that most of the areas discussed for possible cuts were in fact vital.

Of the proposals, the idea of phasing out the teaching of ancient Greek set off the most concern, at Brandeis and nationally. The faculty panel soundly rejected the idea.

"Phasing out Greek would be, and indeed has already been, taken by undergraduates, alumni, and outside writers as a sign, at the very least, that Brandeis is engaged in a radical shift away from the humanities," the panel said in its report, a copy of which was obtained by Inside Higher Ed. It added that eliminating the study of ancient Greek would have "profoundly negative consequences" on the classics program at the university, making it impossible for any undergraduates at the university to apply to graduate programs in the field.

Similarly, the faculty panel rejected proposals to phase out the linguistics major and a graduate program in musical composition, and to reduce the size of the physics department.

Beyond the specific proposals, the faculty panel criticized how administrators have gone about proposing the restructuring of academic programs. "A strong argument can be made that the university has already suffered as a result of the present strategic planning process," said the report. "Our colleagues have told us that the faculty feel demoralized, since they have been largely excluded from the planning process up to this point."

The report added that "a number of junior faculty and mid-career associate professors have indicated that they plan to seek employment elsewhere, given their perception that Brandeis is not committed to staffing certain areas of the curriculum," and called such potential losses "tragic." In addition, the faculty panel said that "ongoing job searches have been jeopardized in that top candidates are wondering what kind of scholarly future they might have" at a university considering such changes.

While the report noted that some of the opposition to the proposals -- especially from academics outside the university -- has been orchestrated, the panel said that the university's reputation has suffered an "incalculable" loss. The report said that areas that have been discussed for reductions are "widely considered to be at the heart of liberal arts education."

Lorna Miles Whalen, senior vice president for communications at Brandeis, said that officials wanted to study the report, and give faculty members time to do so, before arriving at conclusions. A faculty meeting, which has yet to be scheduled, will review the findings, she said. "This is a period for reflection and consideration."

Whalen stressed that officials had never made any final determinations about any of the programs. "Nothing has been decided," she said.

 

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