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III.       Moving Tufts Forward

    A.        Themes
        1.         Climate
        2.         Community
        3.         Coherence
    B.        Goals
        1.         Academic Excellence
        2.         Community Building
        3.         A Continuing Commitment to Diversity

 

A.        Themes

 

            A number of themes have emerged as a result of our discussions and meetings with faculty, students, staff, trustees, and alumni.  Our outreach efforts have helped us to identify problems to address as well as opportunities to enhance our existing strengths. We have grouped these various issues into the three themes of Climate, Community, and Coherence.

 

1.         Climate

 

In the course of our interviews with various groups, we heard many positive statements about the unique benefits Tufts can derive from its location near the center of Boston while enjoying the relative tranquility of a suburban campus.  There is a sense that we can do more to take advantage of our location in a way that contributes to the intellectual life of our students.  We also heard a sentiment from many faculty and students that Tufts somehow does not construct an intellectual environment that matches the quality of our students or the reputation of the institution.  Despite the excellence of students and faculty alike and the impressive work that goes on the classroom, the institution itself, or the atmosphere that pervades it, seems to separate intellectual exploration and enthusiasm from the shared experiences of students in their campus life beyond the classroom.

 

            A number of reasons have been proposed to explain this separation; we list below those that do not pertain specifically to curricular issues, but that reflect instead a concern about the intellectual atmosphere on the campus more generally:

 

1)         An unusually heavy emphasis at Tufts on co-curricular experiences that often do not include intellectual engagement.

 

2)         The lack of a sense of coherent purpose on the part of students or of an intellectual mission being promulgated by the university.

 

3)         The paucity of opportunities and resources for collective engagement with ideas outside the classroom.

 

4)         A campus environment in which politicization impedes rather than encourages discussion and dialogue.

 

5)         An insufficiently articulated statement of the value of the liberal arts mission to produce well-rounded citizens with a commitment to the liberal arts, sciences, and engineering.

 

6)         The lack of on-going and campus-wide recognition for intellectual achievement of students and faculty.

 

7)         An undergraduate student body that is often fractured by divisions of politics, religion, race, gender, sexuality, socio-economic position, etc., to the detriment of any shared sense of participation in an ongoing university-wide intellectual experience.

 

8)         A sense that foundation and distribution requirements will, by themselves, produce well-rounded students, even though the effect may be the opposite: producing students who, having taken so many courses to “get rid of” requirements, have no investment in wide-ranging intellectual pursuits for their own sake.

 

9)         A thriving cultural and intellectual metropolitan area that pulls some faculty away from campus.

           

            This list, which is not meant to be exhaustive, suggests that while Tufts faces some problems that are common to universities of our size and standing, it also faces distinctive challenges.  Tufts has made enormous strides in moving from a regional university to one of international prominence.  We feel that further progress can best occur if the experience of students in a community primarily dedicated to nurturing the values of curiosity, free inquiry, and scholarly research contributes to an atmosphere of shared intellectual commitment.  Though the annual student surveys identifying influential courses and professors make clear that Tufts has many professors who imbue their students with their own passionate investment in the subjects that they teach, that passion all too rarely informs the life of the Tufts community– to the point where many from whom we have heard wondered whether there was such a thing as a “Tufts community” at all.

 

            The solution to this problem cannot be considered in isolation from other issues: the organization of the curriculum, the number and type of required courses, and the quantity and quality of classrooms.  But we wish to direct attention to how the co-curricular life at Tufts might be enhanced to produce a culture more focused on the importance of ideas.

 

            At the end of the day, the atmosphere on campus will respond to the values promulgated by the administration through the allocation of resources and its engagement with the community.  We are encouraged by the statements and actions of our current leadership.  We feel that more can be done.  We repeatedly heard that students feel disconnected and atomized in their relation to other groups and to the university as a whole.  In order to change the intellectual climate, it will be necessary to establish a stronger sense of community and shared experience.  To some extent, this means thinking about large-scale programs involving significant numbers of students; changing the nature of residential life to involve more opportunities for exchanges of ideas; encouraging more visibility outside of the classroom for the sorts of projects and ideas being generated within it; redefining campus space so that students, faculty, and staff can congregate at a central location symbolically associated with the intellectual heart of the university in order to meet, talk, and debate.

 

Central to each of these proposals is the need to bring students together through a common intellectual purpose, not to the exclusion of involvement with sports or performance groups or campus publications, nor to the exclusion of involvement with religious organizations or centers that support racial, ethnic, sexual, or gender identities. Tufts students are well-served by the numerous organizations that support the expression of such interests and identities.  What they lack, however, is any overarching structure within which to have, outside their heterogeneous collections of classes, a shared experience of Tufts as a crucible for intellectual transformation.  Our proposals in Section V provide vehicles for creating these shared experiences.           

 

2.         Community

 

How is a common identity forged for an institution that declares it has no typical student; has no core curriculum and no uniform requirement for capstones, internships or seminars; where housing assignments change from year to year according to availability; and where athletics is primarily a participatory rather than a spectator activity? How would individuals focused on individual goals, individual identity, and individual perspective and whose associations are with those who share their interests -- too few to be considered a community and too distinct from other small groups to feel connected -- come to think and act as a community? What perspective could be inclusive enough for all to share and non-restricting enough to allow everyone to pursue individual goals unimpeded?

HEI Report: Recommendations About Communication

and Community, May 17, 1999

 

            The quotation above poses the challenge for creating and sustaining a sense of community at Tufts.  We have encouraged students to take initiative in student-run organizations and we send many of our students (the majority of juniors and seniors) to find housing off-campus in the private real estate market.  While the HEI report focused on community from the perspective of students, the same challenge applies to faculty.  Faculty increasingly affiliate by field rather than by institution.  Thus, a social scientist may have closer ties to social scientists in his or her field at other Boston area schools than with Tufts faculty in the humanities.  Moreover, individual faculty likely have closer ties to their local communities than to the Tufts campus community.

 

The HEI report provides some historical context to help understand how we got to the present day state of affairs.  Prior to the 1970s, Tufts had a well developed sense of community: "... nearly half our students commut[ed] from homes in surrounding neighborhoods that also housed many of the faculty... Faculty and administrators sometimes lived in the residence halls, sang in the chorale, advised student organizations, attended student performances, and invited students home for dinner."  Some of this cohesion was facilitated by the socioeconomic and racial homogeneity of the faculty and student body. 

 

Beginning in the 1970s, several changes occurred.  First, Tufts, like many colleges and universities, took steps to increase the diversity of its faculty and student bodies.  The increased diversity, while bringing major benefits to the process of education, brought with it the dual tensions of affiliation (developing interests of one’s own mind and self-identity) and integration (developing collaborations and connections with others on the basis of shared interests).  Given the sizeable increases in diversity (intellectual, socio-economic, geographic), both students and faculty are uneasy about centrifugal forces of affiliation that threaten to pull us apart. The trend towards increased desire for affiliation based on shared interests or background is not unique to Tufts or to “minority” groups.  The energy and enthusiasm focused on extracurricular activities may be one expression of a desire for affiliation.  Over and over, students comment on how meaningful these activities are for them, perhaps because they combine personal relationships with meaningful collaborative activities, a point emphasized in a recent book by Harvard Professor Richard Light.[1]

 

Our job as educators is to help students navigate this diversity of intellectual and social interests.  Individual students need to find intellectual and social  “homes” within which to explore affiliation and from which to explore integration.  For many students, college is the first place where they have an opportunity to pursue their interests with sizeable numbers of peers who share their backgrounds— hence the pull towards affiliation.  And it is also the hope of most of our students to gain perspectives outside those they grew up with— hence the pull towards integration.  Our proposals below attempt to create opportunities to engage in both affiliation and integration in ways that benefit the entire Tufts community.

 

A second change beginning in the 1970s is that students desired an end to the in loco parentis role played by faculty and staff.  While colleges and universities largely accommodated this increased desire for independence, there is a re-examination taking place nationally about the appropriate role and responsibility of faculty and staff in the lives of students.  Educational administrators can no longer turn a blind eye to the social and extracurricular activities of students for moral, ethical, and – alas – for legal reasons.

 

Third, rising housing prices forced faculty to move farther from campus to find communities with the high quality housing and school systems that they demanded.  This complicates any efforts to build community on campus that includes faculty. 

 

Fourth, an increased emphasis on research led many faculty to reduce their involvement in student life and activities.  Tufts has made an explicit commitment to academic excellence that forces us to be creative in our efforts to build community in a way that supports our academic aspirations.

 

We heard many comments (both positive and negative) about community in the meetings we held last semester as well as in the faculty survey.  Some comments have been direct and very pointed.  Other comments about community are both indirect and of long-standing duration.  For example, the HEI working group on The Student Experience (final report, March 4, 1998) noted that students "were happy with the quality of the educational experience, the strong friendships they had formed, opportunities for personal and individual growth and development, and their prospects for a successful future."  Yet they tended not to attribute any of these outcomes to the institution.  While this failure to give Tufts any credit for these positive outcomes is a larger problem than one of community, we believe that the failure to develop a sense of a Tufts Community is central to this problem.

 

It is striking that issues of community arise in many forms.  We grouped the perceived problems of community by the following clusters: faculty, student, academic, residential, cultural and social, living-learning, and cohort.  Not surprisingly, there is a great deal of overlap in these groupings.

 

faculty community:  A number of faculty bemoaned the lack of community among faculty (beyond any community within academic departments or programs).  Some of the trends above contribute to a "9 to 5" approach to their campus lives among many faculty.  In addition to the lives of faculty in communities away from Tufts as well as greater research expectations, the absence of appropriate facilities contributes to this lack of community.  We have no faculty club nor other gathering place for faculty other than a faculty dining room far from the center of the AS&E campus.  The one "social" event regularly bringing faculty together is the coffee and cookies prior to faculty meetings –   meetings, it should be noted, that are viewed by many as an onerous duty rather than a stimulating or uplifting activity.

 

student community:  The co-curricular and academic spheres of student life are separate, which causes students to feel more connected to specific groups and organizations than to Tufts itself.  The many student organizations do a superb job of teaching students leadership skills while creating community among students with common interests.  But the lack of a structure that encourages students to be part of a community beyond these individual groups and to connect their activities to their academic interests poses the challenge identified in the above quotation from the HEI Report on Communication and Community.

 

academic community:  Many students do not feel part of an academic community.  They do not identify with their major ("I'm a biologist.") nor do they typically identify themselves more generally as intellectuals or as part of a community of scholars.  Faculty see themselves as part of a narrow academic community, one more typically discipline-based than institution-based.  Conscious efforts to bring together the intellectual work of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students are rare and Tufts faculty and students tend not to think of themselves as members of a common community of scholars.  The observation that students do not typically think of themselves in academic terms relates to the issue of climate discussed above.  The impediments to the development of intellectual communities extend beyond our culture to include such things as, for example, our facilities.  Some departments lack the physical space where students and faculty can informally gather to discuss issues related to the discipline.  Finally, it should be noted that the faculty survey suggests that we have many faculty involved in activities that contribute to the development of an academic community.  Many others expressed a willingness to engage in activities that foster a greater sense of community under the right circumstances.  Thus, the problem cannot be attributed to a lack of interest on the part of faculty to engage with students outside of the classroom.

 

residential community:  Our residential system has the potential to create significant opportunities to build community across student groups and between students (both undergraduate and graduate) and faculty.  Some questions that the Task Force has grappled with and which we as a community should address include: how intentional a residential community should we strive for?  What role should faculty play in residential life?  How much should we try to integrate the academic and intellectual life into residential life?  What are the implications for our sense of community and continuing connection to Tufts, when most of our juniors and seniors live off-campus?  Should we extend the Tufts community to incorporate off-campus housing in some fashion? 

 

cultural and social community:  Cultural and social events are key ways to build community.  We are currently limited by space constraints in hosting cultural or social activities for the entire undergraduate population (though the Gantcher Cage is a facility that gives us greater flexibility for large-scale affairs).  In addition to large events that could attract faculty, students, and staff to engage in common activities, small events could significantly contribute to the intellectual, cultural, and social life of campus.  The campus center is a social hub to some degree, but the failure to complete Phase III limits its potential as a true social center.  Students have also identified lack of resources for the Programming Board as a problem for student-sponsored cultural and social programming.  A university-wide calendar would increase coordination of both academic and student-sponsored cultural programming.

 

living-learning community:  A fundamental question for a residential academic institution is how it can better integrate learning throughout the life of the institution.  The final report of the HEI Committee on the Student Experience put this very well: "The growth stimulating experience of a university student is not limited to the classroom and the library.  The entire environment of the institution, architectural, social, organizational, and cultural plays a part in the students' growth and development."  Focusing on this aspect of community also draws our attention to the idea of Tufts as a life-long learning community.  We would like to see alumni return to serve as mentors to current students, to participate in alumni educational programs, and to refresh their intellectual batteries.  Developing a concept of Tufts as a lifetime living-learning community is a key way to develop institutional loyalty.

 

cohort communities:  We feel there is value in each class-year viewing itself as a community.  This was made patently clear to us by the extremely positive evaluation students gave the first-year residential experience of Tilton Hall.  Shared common experiences for each class-year can both develop a sense of class identity and contribute to the "distinctive, coherent, and thoughtfully designed transformation of intellect and character" described in the President's charge to the Task Force.  We also feel that there is great potential in each class playing a role in the intentional construct of mixed-class communities that incorporate but are not limited to residential experiences, and discuss this further in our proposal for a college system.

 

            All the comments and concerns raised in the meetings underscore the following essential point about community:  the Tufts community can be a powerful instrument for achieving academic excellence at Tufts.  Communities provide opportunities for students and faculty to engage in intellectual discourse.  Communities also provide a foundation of safety and security from which students can explore new and difficult topics, especially in the area of diversity and cultural awareness.

 

3.         Coherence

 

            The President charged the Task Force to "[e]valuate how each year of the undergraduate experience contributes to a distinctive, coherent, and thoughtfully designed transformation of intellect and character..."  We began our evaluation by noting that the greatest strength of Tufts University is its combination of excellent teaching and superb research in a relatively small college environment that emphasizes the importance of liberal arts, even in our engineering program.  Our scholar-teacher model provides a particularly effective framework for providing a first-rate undergraduate education.  It is a framework that incorporates the traditional "breadth" and "depth" approach to education.

 

Despite this clear strength, there are several significant shortcomings in the undergraduate academic experience: for example a checklist mentality exists among many freshmen and sophomores towards distribution requirements that is antithetical to their intended purposes; there is much confusion surrounding finding a major and pursuing research within it; there is considerable disconnection felt by students returning from study-abroad; and there are too few systematic efforts at intellectual integration and application by seniors.

 

To address some of these problems, the Task Force has found it valuable to consider a third, catalytic element to our present emphasis on breadth and depth –  explicit attention to developmental coherence in the undergraduate experience.  We sought a clearly articulated vision of intellectual formation across the four years that is both dynamic in its flexibility across disciplines and clear in its expectations.  We eschew any prescriptive, lock-step path for students; rather, we wished to design a framework of intellectual milestones that are variously addressed and visibly provided for at every phase of a student's development. 

 

For example, in the beginning phases, emphases are placed on a student's membership in a scholarly community and on the development of research and communication skills.  Within such a framework, a student's first milestone is to strive to understand college life as distinct from high school and to take on the responsibility for his or her own intellectual and personal development.  A second milestone follows: the exploration of various intellectual pathways that introduce undergraduates to methodology while considering the relationship between the production of knowledge and its application to society.  The third milestone is intellectual expansion and depth.  For some it will be an immersion in a foreign culture or working with a local community-based organization.  For others it could be pursuing a research interest at the Health Sciences Center in downtown Boston, or working in the day care center on the Medford campus.  But for all, it will be an integral part of the overall project of immersing oneself in the pursuit of one’s interests.  Ultimately, our graduating seniors should possess a sense of accomplishment and habits of mind that will ensure a life of continued learning and effective communication whatever the next steps.   

 

Our deliberations on a developmental approach incorporate two important principles.  First, we recognize that there is tremendous variety in the methodologies across departments and programs and that any developmental perspective must be flexible enough to accommodate such variety.  Second, students develop at different rates, and a developmental model must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate and enable both the student for whom Tufts is a formidable challenge as well as the precocious student-scholar.  

 

In sum, the Task Force believes that adding a developmental perspective to the traditional "breadth" and "depth" focus in our undergraduate education would powerfully enhance our ability to provide our students with an intellectually coherent educational experience, as well as prepare them for participation in faculty research or substantial scholarship of their own.  We do not mean to suggest that every student at Tufts need write a senior thesis. But our students are among the best students in the world and the best of those students have the capacity to do extraordinary work if given preparation and the right framework to encourage them to push themselves beyond satisfying the requirements for the various degrees.

 

B.        Goals

 

            The themes discussed above provide some context as we think about our aspirations and goals.  We will return to the themes of climate, community, and coherence when we discuss specific initiatives.  Before turning to initiatives, let us articulate our institutional goals.  We see the three goals of academic excellence, community building, and a continuing commitment to diversity as paramount.

 

1.         Academic Excellence

 

            Over the last several decades, Tufts University has made a remarkable transformation from a regional university to a university of international prominence.  Faculty throughout Arts, Sciences, and Engineering are engaged in path-breaking scholarship that contributes to the university's national and international prominence.  Our students are superb as well.  With a new president and provost and new leadership in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering, AS&E is in a position to make the leap to the next level of academic excellence.  Many of the initiatives that we describe below serve to enhance academic excellence in a way that honors our commitment to Tufts as a community of scholar-teachers.

 

2.         Community Building

 

            As noted above, the Tufts community can be a powerful instrument for achieving academic excellence at Tufts.  Many of the initiatives we discuss below build on this premise.  A well-designed community can also help us effect a better balance of responsibilities between faculty and staff in a way that maximizes the efficient use of their time and energy.  We also see community building as important in its own right.  As we discuss in the next section, one of our educational goals is to develop a sense of community in our students along with an appreciation for the varied perspectives arising from the differing backgrounds and experiences of our students.  This appreciation prepares our students to be more responsible citizens in local and global communities both while they are students at Tufts and in their lives as Tufts graduates.

 

3.         A Continuing Commitment to Diversity

 

            Tufts now attracts students of many diverse backgrounds creating an environment in which the encounter with differences educates and prepares students for the world in which they will reside.  Ironically, the achievement of this diversity is best demonstrated in the occasional tension on campus among constituencies based on race, gender, ethnic backgrounds, and political ideologies.  Freedom of expression and controversial dialogue are essential aspects of learning and integral to the mission an academic community should embrace.

 

            Need-blind admissions is an important tool in creating the type of community that Tufts aspires to be.  An analysis of the 1.3 million students who took SAT tests in 2001-02 indicates that there are fewer than 50,000 students with the academic characteristics that we look for in our student body.  Limiting this pool to students coming from families with incomes of $100,000 or more shrinks the pool to roughly 12,500.  The group of highly selective schools with which Tufts competes have roughly 24,500 slots for first-year students.  Even if we wanted to fill our first-year class with highly accomplished students with the resources to finance their Tufts education entirely out of pocket, we would be unable to do so since there are roughly two slots for every candidate.

 

Nor would we wish to engage in such a policy.  Diversity of opinion, background, economic status, ethnicity, nationality, geography, and talent enriches the educational experience of all our students.  In fact, this diversity is a strong magnet for those exceptional students who do not need financial aid. 

 

In short, a strong financial aid program is imperative for Tufts.  Currently, we meet full need for those students we admit but do not engage in need-blind admissions.  Moving to an environment where we can engage in need-blind admissions and still meet full need allows us to focus our energy in the admissions process on constructing the best possible class without the constraint of limited resources.

 

Attracting a diverse population of students to the university is essential, but it requires additional resources to provide the tools that will help all students be successful in their experience at Tufts and enable Tufts to benefit from their contributions.  We need to institutionalize our welcome to students from diverse backgrounds, along with the ideas, approaches, and values they bring to campus.  Our climate, curriculum, and college-wide activities need to provide students with mirrors of their own experiences, and windows onto experiences and visions that are new to them.  Addressing these issues in intellectual as well as social arenas will require faculty engagement and resources for faculty development to implement change. 

 

The retention rate of students and faculty of color and international students also needs to be addressed.  A pre-baccalaureate program for skills-building is essential as we continue to welcome students of varying backgrounds.   Additionally, the orientation for new students should pay careful attention to the establishment of community.  This may be achieved most realistically in the college system which we are proposing.

 


 

[1]  Making the Most of College, Students Speak their Minds, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

 

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