Brandeis University to cut 60 positions, restructure schools as its faces ‘financial challenges’

School leaders tell faculty that budget woes, unspecified 'structural issues' forcing them to lay off staff, restructure departments and curtail doctoral studies, while keeping money-making undergraduate programs strong

Brandeis University is laying off dozens of employees, restructuring its business and social policy schools and cutting back its doctoral programs, among other steps, as it contends with significant “financial challenges,” the university’s leadership told employees in an email this week.

The staffing cuts and restructuring come as Brandeis University is looking to position itself as a viable alternative for Jewish students concerned about antisemitism and antipathy toward Israel at other universities.

One area that the university did not plan to cut — or at least try to cut minimally — was its undergraduate programs, whose tuitions generate significant revenue for the school. To that end, Brandeis was pressing ahead with the construction of a new undergraduate residence hall, the university leadership noted. 

In the letter, Brandeis’ president, Ronald Liebowitz; its provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, Carol Fierke; and executive vice president for finance and administration, Stewart Uretsky, told staff that they would be eliminating approximately 60 full- or part-time staff positions across the university. As of fall 2023, Brandeis had approximately 1,450 staff members, according to the university.

Julie Jette, Brandeis’ interim senior vice president of communications told eJewishPhilanthropy that the layoffs would not affect faculty, but would likely include adjunct faculty. “The need for contract faculty will be reviewed as contracts come up for renewal,” she said.

In their letter, Liebowitz, Fierke and Uretsky clarified that these layoffs and reductions would not be made uniformly across all departments but would be based on what they contributed to the university, financially and in terms of mission. 

“These decisions have not been made lightly,” they wrote. “We have examined spending across the university to find savings. Unfortunately, it was not possible to identify sufficient savings without needing to reduce positions.”

Brandeis faculty members, who spoke to eJP anonymously after they received the email, described the atmosphere at the university as chaotic, confusing and frustrating.

Liebowitz, Fierke and Uretsky did not elaborate on the “financial challenges” that the university was facing, but they said that it included both issues that academic institutions across the United States are experiencing, as well as “structural issues that have been present at Brandeis for decades.”

Jette attributed the financial challenges to “declines in enrollment in our master’s degree programs and increases in expenses due to inflation and other changes in the economy.” She said other issues are “related to longstanding structural inefficiencies that the university must address.”

Alongside the “most difficult step” of laying off some 60 employees, Brandeis will also halt construction of a new Science Center expansion. It was also reviewing the future of its doctoral and masters’ programs and had already placed some of its doctoral programs on hiatus. 

“It is clear that we cannot sustain the breadth of doctoral programs we now support and maintain the level of excellence to which we aspire for all of our degree programs,” they wrote. “We believe that by focusing our institutional resources on selected programs, we will strengthen our graduate offerings and the university’s academic standing.”

The university was also merging the MBA program offered by its Heller School for Social Policy and Management and the one run by its Brandeis International Business School into one MBA program with multiple tracks that will be administered by the latter, beginning in fall 2024.

In addition to the cuts and restructuring, the university had also secured approval from the board of trustees to temporarily increase the amount of money they can withdraw from the university’s endowment, which as of June 2023 stood at $1.22 billion.

“We believe that the path we have outlined will put the institution on a more solid foundation,” Liebowitz, Fierke and Uretsky wrote. “We are optimistic that by making challenging but thoughtful decisions now, we will enable Brandeis to thrive and prosper as a center for academic excellence through the next 75 years, and beyond.”