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I.          Background

 

In his first few months at Tufts, President Lawrence Bacow established the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience to engage in a comprehensive assessment of undergraduate life and education.  In the words of the president in his charge to the Task Force:

 

Now is an ideal time to explore how the Tufts undergraduate experience might be enhanced for the 21st century.  We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the college. We are preparing for our reaccredidation review by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.  In the not too distant future we will also begin a major new fundraising effort.  The work of the Task Force will help to shape the priorities for undergraduate education and life in this new capital campaign.

 

This ambitious review reflects Tufts' long-standing commitment to self-assessment and improvement.  During the course of Tufts' history, the institution has embarked upon a number of self-studies which have varied widely in scope and focus.  Since 1955, when Tufts College officially became Tufts University, there have been three major self-assessment initiatives as comprehensive and ambitious as the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience: the Tufts-Carnegie Self-Study (1956-1958), the University Steering Committee's self-study (1971-1973), and most recently, the Higher Education Initiative or HEI (1997-1999).  Additionally, there have been several, more specifically focused committees whose work has had a significant impact on this current effort, including the Ad Hoc Committee on Curriculum Review and the resulting "Maxwell Report" (1982-1983), the Task Force on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues (1992-1993), the Task Force on Race (1996-1997), and the Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Retention (2001).  We briefly discuss a few of the issues from these efforts that bear on our work. 

 

Shortly after Tufts officially became a University in 1955, the Tufts-Carnegie Self-Study was initiated by then President Wessell to determine the role and purpose of the University as well as the "most suitable philosophy" for Tufts' second century.  Supported by the Carnegie Corporation, the Self-Study Executive Committee spent over two years investigating the institution's curriculum, facilities, operations, quality of the faculty and student bodies, and optimal size.  According to one observer, "No significant corner of the house of Tufts escaped examination."[1]  The study resulted in a 4,422 page final report and over 130 recommendations.  The spirit of most of the recommendations included, according to the study's Director, "a general acceptance of the notion that better attention and performance could be rendered if we tried to improve in the areas of our present educational commitments rather than take on more students, functions and objectives."  In sum, the Self-Study Executive Committee chose to enhance Tufts' existing strengths in favor of aspiring toward additional, new goals; former President Wessell was quoted as telling the Alumni Council in 1958, "It is our intention to do a few carefully selected things well and not try to be all things to all men."  A decade later, a significant number of the recommendations, such as curricular revisions and operational modifications, had either been implemented or were in the process of implementation.

 

            In December of 1971, then President Hallowell initiated the second comprehensive self-study and charged the "University Steering Committee" with examining all aspects of the university, defining Tufts' goals for the next decade, and preparing a comprehensive set of recommendations and its projected budgetary impact.  Anticipating greater competition among universities for excellent students, the committee felt it was "the right moment" for the study as society had undergone significant changes since the last self-study to which Tufts would need to respond to remain competitive.  In January 1973, after a year of information-gathering through surveys and focus groups, the group published a 130-page report, Tufts: the Total University in Changing Times, which contained 55 recommendations concerning the University's curriculum, facilities, personnel, the student body, and organizational structure. 

 

In the nearly thirty years since the report's publication in 1973, the committee's thoughtful distillation and critical analysis of what it means to be educated that remains the committee's most useful contribution to the current work of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience.  With technological advances rapidly changing the face of the future their graduates would confront, the University Steering Committee concluded that Tufts should give its students the intellectual and personal tools that would enable them to navigate whatever situation they might find themselves in, either now or in the distant future.  They distilled the educational goals of the university into three categories:  rationality (a studentís capacity for collection, analysis and synthesis of data, construction of an argument, maintenance of an open and curious mind, and sufficient acquisition of the methodology of his field), moral sensitivity (self-knowledge, empathy, and the ability to consider the ethical implications of human actions), and creativity (developing the ability to communicate well both orally and in writing in several capacities: verbal, mathematical, or artistic).

 

Like the 1973 study, the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on Curriculum Review of 1982-1983 bears particular relevance to the Task Force with regard to its meticulous analysis of the education Tufts should impart to its students.  Specifically, in the 1983 "Report of the Tufts University Team," the committee outlined 11 educational goals for Tufts students which encompassed "broad intellectual and social abilities" and "values that cannot be limited by the narrowly-defined specialties of the professions and of the university."  In many ways, the goals echoed the sentiments of the University Steering Committee of 1973 and foreshadowed the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience's articulation of a Tufts education that we describe below.

 

Tufts' third comprehensive self-evaluation, the Higher Education Initiative (HEI), was initiated by former Vice President Mel Bernstein in 1997, when he asked each department to "reflect upon the threats and opportunities facing liberal education at Tufts and to translate this into department specific issues and concerns."[2]  The scope of the project was immense: to "address pressures of affordability, relevance of curricula, the impact of IT; examine our short-term goals and long-range directions; ask, analyze and answer in Tufts terms, pivotal academic and structural questions; reinforce planning activities of faculty committees and of departments and programs."  In its review of the HEI, the Executive Committee of the AS&E faculty, whose formation was a direct result of the project, noted the vast amount of information collected during that process and encouraged the Task Force to read the various reports carefully as part of its process of information gathering.  The Task Force found the Executive Committee's analysis of the HEI effort extremely helpful, and it has studied the HEI committee reports at length.  Many of the ideas developed as a part of the HEI planning effort have been incorporated into our work.

 

Over the last decade, there have been several other committees whose work in addressing issues of concern to various minority constituencies at Tufts has given us a solid foundation of understanding upon which to build our own work.  Though the Task Force on Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Issues (1992-1993), the Task Force on Race (1996-1997), and the Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Retention (2001) had distinct concerns and agendas, they have articulated a common set of persistent and pervasive concerns that have informed our efforts throughout the project.  Simply put, these committees have forcefully articulated how important it is that Tufts fosters a climate, both inside and outside the classroom, which is safe, welcoming, and encouraging for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability, or cultural or socio-economic background.  Moreover, Tufts profits from the tremendous and multi-faceted diversity of its population, and it would be to our benefit to enhance the education we receive from one another.

 

We have found these previous reports extremely helpful for providing an historical context for our work.  We note with pride the thoughtful analyses and imaginative ideas that previous members of the Tufts community have contributed to the institution and have drawn on this work wherever possible to complement the many ideas  and suggestions that we gathered in our outreach efforts over the past ten months. 


 

[1] All quotes about the 1955 Tufts-Carnegie Self-Study were taken from a retrospective essay which covered the project: "From College to University: Some Perspectives on Long-Range Planning," Russell E. Miller, Professor of History, Appendix J in Tufts: The Total University in Changing Times, 1973.

[2] The quotes in this paragraph are taken from the 2001-2002 Executive Committee's November 2001 memo to President Bacow assessing the HEI.

 

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