Winter 2022 Heller Magazine: Letter from the Dean

February 01, 2022

Dear Heller community,

The marking of a new year is always a moment for self-reflection. At the time of this writing, I await confirmation by the U.S. Senate to serve as administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division in the Biden administration. Though the date of my departure from Heller remains unknown, this new year — more than most — prompts me to reflect on my time as Heller’s dean.

When I interviewed to be dean, several people told me (sometimes with a hint of caution) that Heller is a “complicated” place. Though it took me at least a year to appreciate the depths of that complexity, I can confirm they were correct. We have a diverse, talented and at times demanding student body, and an equally passionate, accomplished and entrepreneurial group of faculty, researchers and staff. Our Heller footprint includes a prestigious PhD program, six master’s programs (and endless combinations among them), and 10 research institutes and centers managing over 175 research projects.

Yes, Heller is way complicated — and that’s a good thing. That complexity and energy drove the school to evolve and innovate many times over its more than 60-year history, and our community’s commitment to Louis Brandeis’ legacy of social justice is the glue that keeps the parts together. Heller is composed of people who are unafraid of messy problems and are willing to do cutting-edge research and search for creative solutions. The result is a school culture where both scholarly rigor and real-world impact are the metrics of success, and arbitrary academic boundaries are seen as permeable.

Across the board, Heller people impress me with their passion for their work, their academic and interpersonal integrity, and their capacity to make this complicated organization run. We navigated some very turbulent waters together over my four and a half years as dean — including some incredible challenges even before the pandemic. The fact that Heller continues to prosper is a testament to the ideals that led Abe Sachar and Florence Heller to establish this school, and to this community’s ever-evolving dedication to the most pressing social policy issues of the day.

My parents had a lithograph in their house by artist Ben Shahn with the biblical admonition, “Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By.” They imprinted that call to action on my sisters and me, and it’s something we strive to follow in our work and lives. At Brandeis and at the Heller School, I am privileged to work with people who are committed to that same idea in all they do. I will be forever grateful to have been a part of its ongoing mission and for the opportunity to serve as its dean.


David Weil

Dean and Professor