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III.       Findings and Recommendations

 

C.        Contributing to the Coherence of the Tufts Experience

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, both in Arts and Sciences and in Engineering.  Our teacher-scholar model provides a particularly effective framework for providing a first-rate undergraduate education.  It is a framework that incorporates the traditional emphasis on intellectual "breadth" and "depth."

 

Despite these clear strengths, we heard repeatedly in our meetings with the Tufts community concerns about a number of significant shortcomings in the undergraduate academic experience: in particular, a checklist mentality that exists among many freshmen and sophomores towards distribution requirements that is antithetical to their intended purposes; confusion and emotional discomfiture over the process of finding a major and pursuing research within it; considerable disconnection by students returning from study-abroad; and too few systematic efforts at intellectual integration and application among seniors.

 

To address these and other related problems, the Task Force adds a third catalytic element to our present emphasis on breadth and depth— explicit attention to developmental coherence in the undergraduate experience.  We seek 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.  Described fully in Appendix V, a series of milestone events and mechanisms are delineated that mark, celebrate, and support the pivotal junctures in a Tufts education from the pre-matriculation period to alumni status. 

 

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 not only the student for whom Tufts is a formidable challenge but also the precocious student-scholar.   The Task Force believes that adding a developmental perspective to the traditional focus on "breadth" and "depth" 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. 

 

Recommendations

 

Articulate a developmentally coherent vision for each of the four years of a Tufts education through a series of "intellectual milestone" events, mechanisms, and supportive systems.  

 

            We propose a dynamic, explicitly articulated developmental model for intellectual formation at Tufts that is described in detail for every year in Appendix V.  This model builds coherence across the four years of undergraduate experience, capitalizes on the key strengths of our faculty and university (e.g., teacher-scholar model), and highlights major intellectual tasks and challenges in relation to key social and emotional issues at critical junctures in the undergraduate experience.  An outline of each year’s tasks and a brief description of several suggested initiatives follows, with each initiative italicized and elaborated upon in the appendix.

 

Year One is characterized by consolidation of the student’s academic and communication skills, intellectual exploration, and the laying of a foundation of knowledge for the rest of their lives.  Some of the suggested initiatives include a letter from the President upon acceptance; a matriculation speech by the President, and a pre-spring “What’s Available at Tufts” speech by the Provost— all of which help bring to life the six outcomes of a Tufts education, the major milestones during it, and an overview of the many research and service opportunities and support systems to help realize it.  Other proposed initiatives include a prematriculation book-gift from the Alumni Association, an August consolidation session for students who require it; an enhanced advising system; a four-year writing program, and a second, pre-spring department orientation to encourage better exploration and to introduce new fields of study.

 

Year Two is marked by the often difficult transition from intellectual exploration to choice.  A significant number of students feel unprepared, insufficiently supported, and unable to make significant life decisions (e.g., their major; whether to go abroad; how to pursue research/applied options) for personal as well as academic reasons.  The challenges of year two are even less clearly articulated than in the first year, leaving students ill-prepared to recognize and face— and to support one another through— the challenges ahead.  Beginning with a talk by the Dean of the Colleges “On Becoming a Sophomore,” our initiatives are aimed at providing academic and social structures and community-wide events that help students make the best-informed choice and feel well-supported and advised.  These events and structures reinforce a sense of belonging that is often challenged during this year of study.  Proposed initiatives for this year include a large, lively Majors Day, an enhanced event to provide students added support during the selection of a major; a World Day; a Research Clearinghouse at Tufts; and Summer Scholars program.

 

Year Three introduces students to opportunities for immersion within their field or chosen culture and also for learning how knowledge can be applied in the world.  Strengthening students' connections to the larger community is of crucial importance during the third year when many students move off-campus or abroad.  Our initiatives aim to make options for study, research, and applied service transparent, organized, and widely recognized in campus-wide events:  e.g., the Research Clearinghouse; Tufts Abroad; and Tufts-in-Boston options; the Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium; a department-based writing course (which hones general skills and prepares students for the discipline-based writing expected in their fourth year). 

 

Year Four consolidates and integrates the previous years of work across multiple disciplines and three years of writing; emphasizes intellectual depth in a chosen field(s) of study through a senior project, thesis, or culminating experience; and helps reconnect students who have been abroad to their departments and to the Tufts community.  Events to aid the latter transition include the World Homecoming Day in September and department-based brown-bag lunches or mini-seminars where students exchange descriptions of their cultural, research and/or service experiences in the junior year.  A greatly enhanced Undergraduate Research Symposium is viewed as a forum for presenting and recognizing senior theses, and research projects.  Facilitating the last transition from college to career and alumnae status is the focus of multiple recommendations: a continuously updated internship and job clearinghouse; job fairs and alumnae-linked career nights; a Two-part Graduation Ceremony where the second phase of commencement takes place in a smaller setting.  Students would receive their diplomas in ceremonies hosted by colleges, departments, or clusters of departments.  This is the last official experience students have at Tufts. These final events should be designed to give students a sense of accomplishment and to mark and support their transition into the world in ways that will make them proud graduates and underscore their life-long membership in the Tufts community.

             

Restructure the advising system within Arts and Sciences to provide students with continuous advising support from matriculation to graduation and to provide faculty with additional advising support.

 

We propose that the current advising system composed of Class Deans and Class Teams be replaced by a system of advising which lends more continuity to the Tufts experience for students and provides faculty a single point person for each student.  The Task Force recognizes the extraordinary success of the advising program in the School of Engineering, and we propose to fashion this new advising system on Engineering's model.  Specifically, there would be five Deans of Advising, one for Engineering and four for Arts and Sciences, and each dean would be responsible for a segment of each class such that every student will have a continuous relationship with their Dean of Advising for their entire four years at Tufts. 

 

The benefits of such a structure are not only that it provides greater continuity of contact and support for our students throughout their Tufts experience, but also greater support for our faculty.   Often, a student's struggles in his or her coursework indicate troubles in other areas, whether personal or academic.  Under our current system, faculty advisors have no single point person to call upon for a picture of the whole student, since relevant information may be broadly dispersed among the student's family or friends, other faculty members, health services, counseling, and previous advisors.  Key to our reconceptualization of the advising system is the notion that the Deans of Advising would act as "case managers" and serve in this way as the connective bridge between students on the one hand and faculty and staff on the other.  This connectivity will benefit not only students who are struggling but also those who are thriving and whom our Deans of Advising will be better equipped to single out for fellowships, certain job opportunities, or other honors.  In order to strengthen the accountability of our advising system, we further propose that these deans report to an academic dean whose primary responsibility is the academic oversight of undergraduate education.  We believe our Deans of Advising are rich reservoirs of wisdom gained from being on the “frontline,” and the proposed revision to the accountability structure would better enable them to inform the process of academic policy-making.

 

Strengthen connections between our alumni and students, particularly in the area of career services.

 

            Our alumni provide a rich resource for our students, as they are a gateway to and a window on "life after Tufts" for our students.  Alumni can actively contribute to undergraduate education, both by helping students identify jobs and internships and through alumni programming on campus. We applaud the on-going improvements to Tufts' Alumni Network and strongly support further efforts in this area.  Career Services plays a vital role in the professional development of students and in the continuation of Tufts’ relationships with new generations of alumni.  Career Services, consistently praised by students for helping with resume writing and interviewing skills, can also make a significant impact by helping the university develop a strong network with employers and alumni.  The Task Force recommends that a Career Services advisory board be established, consisting of students, faculty, and professionals, including both alumni and non-alumni participants.  Such an advisory board could provide useful feedback and advice to the Career Services office to ensure that we provide the best possible service to our graduating students.

 

Create closer links between the curriculum and co-curricular life.

 

            One thing that has become perfectly clear to us through our outreach is how dearly our students value Tufts for the richness of and the diversity of options within co-curricular life here.  Much of the pride or school spirit students articulate emanates from their sense of how well-served they feel by the innumerable opportunities available to them outside of the classroom.  However, faculty often describe these very same opportunities with frustration: many professors wish the excitement students clearly feel in and for many of their co-curricular activities would follow them back into the classroom.  Likewise, many students wish there were more opportunities to build connections between life in and life out of the classroom, allowing, for instance, an editor of a campus publication to pursue a project in Communications and Media Studies in which each experience would be enhanced by the knowledge developed in the other.  The Task Force sees great value in such linkages and strongly encourages Tufts to maximize the educational benefit to students through a closer, more intentional integration of the curriculum and co-curricular life.  An example, which the Task Force fully endorses, of an initiative which integrates both realms is the Tufts Personalized Performance Program, a joint program of the Athletics Department, Health Services, Dining Services, and the School of Nutrition.  The Task Force also recognizes existing efforts in this arena, such as the Omidyar Scholars program run through UCCPS, and encourages the University to continue to develop programs and initiatives which integrate life in and life out of the classroom in ways that lend intellectual excitement and coherence to the whole of the Tufts experience. 

 

 

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