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III.       Findings and Recommendations

 

A.        Enhancing the Intellectual Climate on Campus

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.  However, we feel that further progress can be made.  It is clear from our review of annual student surveys that although students identify many professors whom they admire for their passionate investment in the subjects they teach, that passion too rarely informs the overall climate of the Tufts community. 

 

We note, for example, the strikingly small number of students who conduct senior honors theses at Tufts.  Last year, there were 74 honors theses written among the 1015 graduating seniors in Arts and Sciences.  Moreover, the data reveal that only 22 percent of students who graduated summa cum laude wrote an honors thesis, suggesting that we may not be challenging our best students intellectually as much as we might.  While it may be that our best students are taking on other intellectually challenging experiences, we feel that more of our best students can and should be encouraged to take on honors theses. 

 

            Students, we discovered, feel disconnected and atomized in their relation to other groups and to the university as a whole.  We believe that 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 curricular and co-curricular 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 our intention 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 groups organized around 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 activities, a shared experience of Tufts as a crucible for intellectual transformation.  This transformation can best occur if the experience of students in a community dedicated to nurturing the values of curiosity, free inquiry, and scholarly research contributes to an atmosphere of shared intellectual commitment. 

 

Recommendations

 

Emphasize communication skills across the curriculum over all four undergraduate years.

 

Strong communication skills are integral to success in all arenas of life and therefore essential to a good education.  During our outreach work last year, we heard such sentiments echoed repeatedly in the comments of members of the Tufts community.  Yet, overwhelming numbers of students and faculty alike reported to us that they believe that Tufts must do a better job of imparting both written and oral communication skills to our students.  For whatever discoveries our students make will be useless unless they are able to communicate those discoveries to others effectively and creatively.

 

Oral Communications:  The development of effective public speaking and oral communication skills requires significant practice.  We therefore encourage faculty across Arts, Sciences, and Engineering to consider how to create more frequent and more regular opportunities for students to develop their oral communication skills both inside and outside of the classroom.

 

Writing:  Writing is a process.  To learn to write well, one must sustain the practice of writing over time as well as receive substantive feedback on one's writing with some regularity.  It is for these reasons that the Task Force proposes that Tufts institute a four-year writing program.  Such a program would have benefits beyond improving writing skills.  As writing and critical thinking are inextricably intertwined, there is no surer way to improve our students’ capacity to think clearly than by improving their ability to write with power and precision.  We suggest that Tufts carry out a comprehensive review of all our current writing programs, examining our overall writing pedagogy to determine how best to build upon and integrate our various efforts into a coherent four-year writing program.  We strongly urge all departments to consider how to offer their students more opportunities to practice discipline-specific writing throughout the major.

 

We fully recognize that the faculty must discuss and carefully consider how to implement these ideas.  We encourage their full discussion rather than their rapid implementation.  While seemingly straightforward, these initiatives involve a change in our teaching culture at Tufts and will require significant new resources and support for our faculty.  A four-year writing program, as well as any oral communication initiatives, should receive adequate resources from the University in terms of funding, staff, and faculty support. 

 

Construct a cafe in Tisch Library to symbolize the library's role as an intellectual center on campus.

 

We propose the creation of a café in Tisch Library, a place that would bring together the intellectual and the social arenas of student life.  Tufts needs informal gathering spaces for students and faculty, and the library needs a place where thinking, reading, and discussion can take place in a convivial atmosphere.  A library café would also provide a fitting space in which to display faculty books, student art, and other intellectual products of our community.  As an intellectual meeting place, a library café would serve as a powerful architectural symbol of the kind of university Tufts is.  Thus it will be important to design the space carefully to ensure the café’s centrality in the library experience.  Properly conceived, this could be an architectural gem on top of the hill, perhaps even a literal light.  This initiative, which received broad support from all constituencies of the Tufts community during our outreach, is wholly consistent 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.

 

Restructure the curricular requirements to reflect the educational outcomes that define a Tufts education.

 

            We urge the faculty and the designated faculty committees to examine our current curricular requirements and consider restructuring them to reflect more closely our educational outcomes as outlined in Section II.  We feel it may be beneficial to reformulate our requirements such that they emphasize the development of core competencies and modes of inquiry as opposed to simply exposing students to a list of disciplines.  We heard much dissatisfaction with regard to curricular requirements during our outreach to students; specifically, students have complained that many courses are ineffective in fulfilling their intended purpose as a requirement, resulting in students' resentful treatment of requirements as things to "get out of the way."  In order to renew our enthusiasm for breadth, depth, and personal development as parts of a Tufts education, we might consider providing incentives to encourage departments and faculty to infuse more courses with substantial writing, speaking, critical thinking, and other core competencies outlined in our educational outcomes.  We should direct students toward courses that encourage them to grapple with complex problems and diverse ideas, viewpoints, and methodologies.  In so doing, we will enable students to cultivate a language for understanding, articulating, and negotiating the differences and diversity inherent not only in intellectual life but also in the communities and cultures in which we live.  In this way, we can fulfill our mission to educate our students as citizens of the world. 

 

            Additionally, the Task Force encourages the Educational Policy Committee and the Honors Committee to take up the question of the relationship between Latin Honors and Honors Theses.  As noted earlier, fewer than one in four summa graduates in Arts and Sciences write an honors thesis.  More broadly, roughly one in ten Latin Honors candidates in Arts and Sciences writes an honors thesis.  The Task Force does not mean to suggest that every student at Tufts should write an honors thesis.  But our students are among the best in the world, and the best of those students certainly have the capacity to do extraordinary work if given sufficient preparation and encouragement. We might, for example, require the completion of an honors thesis as a requirement to graduate summa cum laude.  Clearly, more will need to be done to encourage undergraduate research than simply linking Latin and Thesis Honors: appropriate training, in which the four-year writing program would play an integral role, will be required, as will additional resources for our students to engage in research and additional support for faculty who supervise them.  We turn to the issue of undergraduate research next.

 

Provide additional support for undergraduate research.

 

            Emphasizing research opportunities for undergraduates has become increasingly important since the Boyer Report (1998) identified the need to “reinvent undergraduate education” by paying more attention to undergraduate research.[i]  Tufts is uniquely situated to offer our students the best of both worlds in this regard.  As a liberal arts college embedded in a research university, Tufts employs faculty who are both world-class scholars and first-rate teachers, making us particularly well suited to provide undergraduates a wealth of research opportunities.  Moreover, because the undergraduate college is surrounded by a number of excellent graduate departments and professional schools, Tufts undergraduates enjoy access not only to excellent faculty across the University but also to opportunities to collaborate with and learn from our graduate and professional students as well.  Undergraduates would benefit from more opportunities to interact with graduate students through joint research and scholarship, just as graduate students would benefit from the opportunities to develop mentoring relationships with undergraduates.  The Task Force therefore sets as a high priority the knitting together of Tufts undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools as well as affiliated hospitals and clinics for continued excellence across the University, and we see the proliferation of and enhanced support for undergraduate research opportunities as a vehicle for doing so.  

 

            In our January Interim Report, we proposed a number of initiatives to support undergraduate research.  In particular we included the following ideas:

 

·        An Augmented Undergraduate Research Fund

·        A Summer Scholars Program

·        Research Funding for Students at the Professional Schools

·        A Research Clearinghouse

·        An Expanded Undergraduate Research Symposium

 

            In response to our Interim Report, the Provost announced several new initiatives: an enhancement of the Undergraduate Research Fund; the creation of a Summer Scholars Program that includes research opportunities with Arts, Sciences, and Engineering faculty, at our professional schools, and at affiliated hospitals and clinics; and the creation of a Research Clearinghouse.  In addition, Tufts has received a number of gifts to support undergraduate research in particular departments or schools. We are pleased to see that the University has moved forward on our proposals and encourage continued progress along these lines.

 

            Furthermore, we encourage the faculty to give continued thought to how the curriculum could be changed to promote undergraduate research more strongly.  It is not enough to provide funding for senior research opportunities.  We must also construct a curriculum over the four years that makes it possible for our students to take advantage of these opportunities when they arise.  This may require individual departments and programs to rethink their curriculum and requirements to provide students with the skills to take on sophisticated research projects as culminating academic experiences.  We also note that Tufts can encourage and support undergraduate research outside of the curriculum.  Currently, Tufts has a number of events that highlight undergraduate research, many of which are department or program specific while others cut across programmatic or disciplinary lines, such as the Undergraduate Research Symposium.  Bringing together many of these events would lend greater prominence to undergraduate research and make it more central to the undergraduate experience: for example, we might benefit from expanding our Undergraduate Research Symposium and moving it to a weekday to underscore for faculty and students alike the central importance of undergraduate research. 

 

Encourage initiatives that knit together the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering.

 

            As previously noted, Tufts' unique structure as an undergraduate college embedded in a research university represents an environment ripe with potential opportunities for undergraduates to benefit from the resources surrounding them.  The close connection between the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering is a particularly important source of strength at Tufts that should be built upon.  Specifically, the Task Force encourages Tufts to develop initiatives to deepen the connection between the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering to enable students in each school to benefit from the resources of the other.  For example, we would encourage jointly-taught courses, research opportunities that span the two schools, and continued coordination of curricular requirements.

 

Increase programming that contributes to an enhanced intellectual climate.

 

            The Task Force proposes that additional efforts be made to create programming that contributes to the intellectual life of the campus.  A Distinguished Lecture Series, perhaps hosted by the president or provost, bringing world-renowned intellectual, social, and political figures to campus to speak to faculty and students is one possible initiative.  In addition, we should provide more opportunities for our own faculty here on campus.  We might, for example, establish a Deans' Luncheon Series in which members of the AS&E faculty give general interest lectures on their areas of research to students and faculty in brown-bag luncheon talks in the Coolidge Room or the Campus Center, thereby contributing to the establishment of traditions of intellectual discourse on campus. 

 

Programming need not be limited to the campus, however.  Tufts is located in a vibrant intellectual and cultural community, and we should view the city of Boston as a setting for intellectual and cultural engagement.  In our interviews, we heard many positive statements about the benefits Tufts can derive from its location near the center of Boston while enjoying the relative tranquility of a suburban campus.   Participation in an internship or community service program in Boston allows students to create links between their academic and extracurricular interests.  However, there are few resources to help students find such opportunities, and as culturally rich as Boston is, many students are often unable to cover the cost of enjoying the cultural activities it boasts.

 

We therefore recommend that Tufts take advantage of Boston as a setting for intellectual and cultural engagement and seek ways to make its offerings more readily available to students: for example, a Cultural Ticket to Boston program that provides students with discounted passes to plays, museums, symphonies, and other events; a centralized Internship Clearinghouse; and encouragement of independent or group projects which integrate community service into existing coursework.  These opportunities, though off-campus, would enhance the intellectual climate on campus by giving students experiences to infuse their life at Tufts with the value of engagement in the broader community.

 

Create attractive and convenient gathering spaces for faculty and students throughout the campus.

 

As campus construction and renovation projects occur over time, Tufts should have a systematic plan in place to develop a variety of spaces around campus both indoors and outdoors where students and faculty can gather for informal discussion.  Such a plan could be constructed by professional designers working together with the Campus Planning and Development Committee and include an assessment of current as well as future space use.  Students should also be involved in this planning process, as they can readily identify some of the practical obstacles that particular designs might pose.  Possibilities include small café-style tables and chairs dotted around campus and lounges for students and faculty in departments as well as in residence halls.  As new residence halls are built or existing halls renovated, consideration should be given to creating spaces sufficiently flexible to be used as group study spaces and small seminar rooms for classes.  Having small classrooms in the residence halls would send a statement that our residence halls are not simply a place for sleep but integral components of our educational program.  This recommendation picks up a theme to be repeated in this report: that space can be a powerful and symbolic instrument for accomplishing our educational goals.  The college system proposal and the campus center initiative in Section B continue this theme.

 

Support our continuing commitment to providing attractive and educationally appropriate classrooms.

 

Tufts has begun a substantial program of classroom renovation, and the Task Force wholeheartedly endorses this effort.  We believe that classrooms – the way they are furnished, their size in relationship to the size of the class, and how they are technologically outfitted and supported – send students and faculty alike a powerful message about the value Tufts places on undergraduate education.  As such, we strongly encourage Tufts to remain continuously committed to providing the most up-to-date classrooms possible and to outfitting them, as appropriate, with state-of-the-art audio-visual and computer technology.  To move our classrooms successfully into the twenty-first century, Tufts must also commit to providing the support structures necessary to ensure the dependability and functionality of the technology so that our faculty may rely on it to add value to their teaching.  Additionally, we urge Tufts to provide additional seminar rooms to enable more small classes to benefit from the enhanced intimacy such classrooms provide.  Wherever possible, we encourage the provision of tables and chairs as opposed to individual desks in seminar classrooms to create an environment that fosters intellectual discourse among the group.


 

[i] The Boyer Commission on Educating Undergraduates in the Research University, Reinventing Undergraduate Education: A Blueprint for America's Research Universities, Stony Brook, State University of New York: 1998.

 

 

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