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After nearly two years of intensive study, the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience can proudly affirm the distinction of Tufts as a university that offers its students the world in a college community that gives them a home. Joining students of superb promise with a faculty unsurpassed in its commitment to research and teaching both, Tufts, long known as the light on the hill, has the potential to shine brighter still and become, in the process, a beacon for other mid-sized universities. To do so, however, we must build on our strengths, be bold in our vision, and be candid about where we need to do more. Standing as we do at a moment of decision, knowing that the future of the University will be determined by the priorities we establish here, Tufts should aspire, the Task Force suggests, to become the very model of a close-knit academic community committed to promoting and producing knowledge in a context as large as the globe. We must invigorate the University by creating a climate in which students and faculty form a community of scholars intent on the joys of analysis, the creativity of thought, and the passion to pursue and to challenge the coherence of ideas across the disciplines.
Ambitious as such a prospect may be, it is well within our grasp. But if we would seize the opportunity, if we would realize such a mission, we must make a number of changes— not changes intended to transform the University into something unfamiliar but changes intended to allow Tufts more fully to become what, at its best, it already is. This is the goal of the proposals that follow, whether as large as the commitment to a four-year emphasis on undergraduate communication or as small as increasing the number of classrooms equipped with seminar tables, whether as far-reaching as the prospect of a college system or as pragmatic as establishing a clearing house for undergraduate research opportunities, whether as visually central as a café in the library to bring the community together or as centrifugal as dotting the campus with spaces for informal meetings of students and faculty. For just as we have identified what we take to be the distinctive profile of Tufts, so too have we identified those areas in which we must do more to live up to our potential. We have categorized those areas broadly as dealing with questions of climate, community, and coherence.
Climate: In the course of our interviews with various groups, we often heard the sentiment from faculty and students that Tufts 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 students' shared experiences beyond the classroom. Tufts sometimes misses the opportunity to draw out the connection between those two worlds and so to communicate to our students the relationship between ideas and their application. The Task Force believes we need to enhance the intellectual climate at Tufts to enable our institution to achieve the next level of academic excellence.
Community: We found that although students identify themselves with various groups within the Tufts community— a co-curricular organization, an academic department, a sports team, a group of friends from a Tufts program abroad— they lack a sense of identification with Tufts as a whole. Students, often initially excited by the opportunities Tufts offers for affiliation within such a diverse community, tend to conclude that the University has let them down in this regard. Tufts could do more to push students to venture outside of their comfort zones and draw them out of their various sub-groups in ways that contribute to their sense of belonging to the broader University community. The Task Force contends that truly to benefit from the wealth of cultural and intellectual diversity represented across the Tufts community, we need to strengthen our community and foster our sense of connection to one another as part of a larger whole.
Coherence: We discovered during our outreach work that students often feel that the various pieces of their Tufts experience- fulfilling requirements, choosing a major, pursuing research opportunities, studying abroad, living off-campus, completing a senior project- do not seem connected as integrated parts of a larger whole. In the face of so many requirements and so few visible markers to outline the “big picture,” students frequently adopt a “checklist mentality” with regard to their education. Tufts does not explicitly articulate this big picture for our students, and so students often view any growth experiences they have had here as something that they alone sought out and not something for which Tufts provided them the opportunity. The Task Force concludes that we need to provide greater coherence to our overall educational plan and thereby make more visible Tufts' contributions to the education of our undergraduates.
Climate, community, and coherence lie at the center of the work of the Task Force. These three themes emerged early on in our outreach work and have only become more powerful over time. These themes have helped us to clarify the fundamental issues at stake and in turn to organize our responses to those issues. Therefore, we have used these three themes to categorize the recommendations which follow.
While our recommendations speak to one or more of the themes of community, climate, and coherence, every one of the Task Force's proposals share a common goal:
to bring members of our community together both inside and outside of the classroom, and to do so in ways that foster the learning and development of the whole student.
As has often been said, a great university must have great students and a great faculty, and, we would add, a great staff to support the two. It is the aim of the Task Force to bring those groups more closely together, because it is the connections we make with one another that are the true mechanisms by which we realize our aspirations. Alumni looking back on their college experiences frequently conclude that they learned most from the mentoring relationships they had with a professor, advisor, coach, internship supervisor, or even a fellow classmate. When faculty members connect with one another, they may find an intellectual camaraderie in turn that can energize their scholarship and teaching. Similarly, when staff members engage with one another and with faculty, they may discover a satisfying sense of community that can generate new ways of thinking about ways to improve the University.
Ultimately, people and their relationships with one another are at the very heart of everything we do at Tufts. Those relationships and person-to-person connections are powerful educational tools. To this end, the Task Force's proposals aim to enable, facilitate, support, and enhance those connections and relationships— and an understanding of how to negotiate the differences involved in establishing them— that contribute to the multifaceted development of the undergraduate student.
In sum, we want nothing less than a community of superbly educated students appreciative of the life of the mind and the importance of ideas, invested in social justice and the responsibilities of global citizenship, and aware of the commitment that Tufts has made to promoting and producing their success. The proposals we put before you aim to articulate that commitment. They link our undergraduates more closely to members of the faculty, to their academic advisors, to their peers and classmates, to their various communities, and, finally, to a larger community: to Tufts itself and, through Tufts, to the world beyond.
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