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V.         Proposals For Community Discussion

 

        2.         Promoting Intellectual Engagement

 

Overview:  Our goal is to enhance the intellectual climate on campus, and as such, we propose below several initiatives intended to foster and maintain a greater sense of intellectual engagement among our students.  We have separated our discussion into two categories: co-curricular and residential life on the one hand, and the curriculum on the other.  Though the committee has reached consensus on a number of specific proposals regarding the former, we have not yet reached sufficient agreement on the latter to bring forward proposals.  We, therefore, position our discussion about the curriculum more broadly as a series of questions for the community to consider along with the committee.  Once we have processed the community's feedback on these matters, we will follow up with a separate report with our proposals for the curriculum.  While we have separated these for discussion, we wish to emphasize the value of connecting the curricular and co-curricular/residential spheres.

 

A.   Intellectual Engagement in Co-curricular and Residential Life:  We propose a number of initiatives to promote intellectual engagement in co-curricular and residential life.  These range from an expanded cultural ticket to Boston to an annual campus-wide intellectual competition that can engage students in creative and rigorous modes of thought.  In addition, we note that space can shape the sense and purpose of a community.  It is a resource that we should consciously use to achieve our goals of attaining academic excellence.  We have focused primarily on the library as a locus for intellectual engagement in keeping with the Master Plan for the Medford/Somerville campus which envisions the adjacent library and campus center as centers of intellectual and social life, respectively, on campus.  In particular, we propose that resources be made available for creating group study space in the library along with a library cafe.  Serving as an intellectual meeting house for students and faculty, the cafe could encourage discussion, debate, and the free exchange of ideas.  Properly designed, it could also be a campus "gem" and architectural symbol of intellectual engagement at Tufts.  A fuller list of ideas include the following:

 

        Create a systematic plan to develop a variety of spaces around campuses both indoors and outdoors where students and faculty can gather for informal discussion.  Possibilities include small cafe style tables with chairs dotted around campus and lounges for students and faculty in buildings where faculty offices are housed as well as in dorms.

        Create group-study space in the library.

        Create a cafe-like entity associated with the library that is a centerpiece on the campus, architecturally, socially, and intellectually.

        Carry out much needed renovations to classrooms.  As part of that renovation process, replace tablet desks in small classrooms with modular tables that can be arranged to create a true seminar atmosphere. 

        As part of those renovations, where possible create more seminar-appropriate rooms.  Some could be located in the colleges which would relieve some of the space problems on the hill and make possible more intellectual engagement in the residence halls.

        Establish an annual campus-wide competition, modeled perhaps on intramural sports that could take the form of a series of debates, presentations of research, or performances, responding to a given topic announced at the beginning of the year.  This might be organized through colleges once they are established.

        Provide a cultural ticket to Boston for our students.  Our proximity to Boston is a major asset for the university.  We currently provide free access to the Museum of Fine Arts.   We would encourage expanding free museum access wherever possible as well as subsidized tickets to symphony, theater, and dance events in Boston and Cambridge.

        Institute a Presidential Lecture and Dinner Series to invite renowned public figures to campus three or four times a year.  Dinners could be rotated among the colleges, or among groups of seniors to bring students and faculty together though a major event.

        Support an initiative to encourage healthier lifestyles among students.  There is presently a series of projects underway to encourage better nutrition, fitness, and sleep habits among students.  These projects are not only intended to improve student health, but to create an opportunity to study the actual outcomes of various strategies.  Students would continue to be involved in both the experiential learning and research aspects of these projects.

 

B.   Curriculum:  The Task Force, as it continues to examine the Undergraduate Experience, is currently considering the organization of the curriculum and how best to assure the successful development of all our students' talents.  We give serious importance to faculty governance and the determining role that faculty committees must play in any question of curricular transformation.  Our goal in these discussions is neither to supplant those various committees nor to preempt them.  Rather, we hope to present some large-scale suggestions for ways in which the Tufts community can think about a number of pressing questions, including:

 

1)    How to extend the academic focus on expository skills over all four years of the undergraduate curriculum. Because one hallmark of the well-educated student is the ability to write and speak effectively, we are focusing attention on ideas that will enable Tufts to become a leader among universities in training its students in the arts and skills of successful communication.

 

2)    How to keep students from losing touch with the academic community in their junior year.  With so large a percentage of students making use of our excellent study abroad options, we see a need for mechanisms that will keep our juniors connected to the Tufts community while helping to prepare them for whatever projects they might undertake in their senior year.

 

3)    How to redefine senior theses or capstone projects and allocate resources for the students who do them and the faculty who sponsor them.  We are thinking about the place of senior research projects in the academic curriculum and trying to imagine ways in which they can be made more useful for the students pursuing them and less burdensome for the departments and programs that encourage or require them.  For example two ideas the Task Force has considered are 1) to require candidates for graduation summa cum laude to write a senior thesis (or its programmatic equivalent) and 2) to remove the "honors" designation from senior theses to remove the incentive for students who would not otherwise graduate with honors to pursue a thesis in order to have the thesis honors designation on their transcript.  We are also thinking about possible connections between senior projects and the various honors awarded at graduation.

 

4)    How to improve the connection between academic work and the co-curricular life of the university.  This includes creating greater consistency across disciplines in developing mechanisms to ensure close connections between internships and the curriculum.  We are considering a series of proposals that will attempt to integrate intellectual achievement into the social life of the campus. These include a wide range of possibilities, from a pre-matriculation program in which each first-year student, upon admission, would receive one or two books as a gift from the Tufts Alumni Association, to a "World Day" event in which juniors who have been away from campus share their experiences with sophomores considering their options for the junior year, to a redesigned Commencement ceremony in which smaller clusters of departments or programs would have separate events to award diplomas.

 

5)    How to address the issue of requirements and their effect on the undergraduate experience. Many of our students feel that the number of courses needed to fulfill the foundation and distribution requirements is excessive.  We are still in conversation about how best to maximize occasions for students to discover and explore their intellectual passions with rigor and depth while producing scholars whose exposure to the various disciplines and fields of inquiry assures their ability to think broadly and assume the responsibilities of citizenship in national, global, and academic communities.

 

6)   How to engage all quarters of the university in educating our undergraduates for participation and leadership in a world where historical legacies are increasingly challenged and reinterpreted.

 

7)   How to assemble the appropriate faculty and staff resources to carry out the various curricular initiatives that emerge from community discussions.

 

The work of the Task Force continues, and this interim report, though it offers our central ideas for careful consideration and response, will be supplemented by our ongoing attention to these questions and by the invaluable feedback we enthusiastically invite from all members of the Tufts community.

 

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