Fall semester: State of the TCU
Published: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 01:10
Last Friday I attended a Q&A session with our new provost, David Harris. I asked the provost a question that should be quite familiar to everyone reading this op-ed: Why Tufts? These two simple words provide us with the occasional opportunity to reflect and examine the greatness of this university. And while we spend a lot of time on this campus discussing grievances, watching a slow bureaucracy and trying to address our school’s inadequacies, I want to begin this piece by highlighting what we have going for us.
In the simplest terms possible: Tufts’ greatest asset is its people. We, as an institution, are led by a world-renowned geneticist and a Board of Trustees comprised of wildly successful and philanthropic individuals. Tufts professors are quite incredible as well — at many colleges, it is the expectation that faculty are either leading scholars in their field or are able to provide personalized mentorship to undergraduates. At Tufts, it is the expectation that our faculty do both, and they do so gladly. Finally, no conversation about the greatness of Tufts is complete without a discussion of our students.
Tufts students started “Fan the Fire,” an athletic initiative which emphasizes “Spirit, Sports and Service.” We don’t have a “dumb jock” clique at Tufts; we have scholar-athletes with a tradition of serving their community. For 40 years, students on this campus have protested and called for a curriculum which speaks to the diverse experiences of our entire campus population. We do not have a community of angry and bitter activists; we have a community of students who steadfastly stand up for their principles and social justice. Tufts is a place where students stand in the rain to welcome their neighbors on Community Day; where students actively seek to create safe spaces in Greek Houses, classrooms and dorms and where students somehow find a way to top it all off with rigorous and intellectually stimulating classes.
Given these accomplishments, it is no wonder that Provost Harris responded to my question by describing Tufts as a “university poised.” There is no denying that Tufts is capable of greatness, but we have far from peaked. There are still students on this campus who are disappointed with the Tufts experience, our endowment is far from impressive and the list of student grievances is vast. I have thought quite extensively over the past three years about why we are just a “university poised” and not a “university achieved,” and the closest thing I have to an answer is this: The quality of our bureaucracy fails to match the quality of our people.
When an eight-semester residency requirement forces a student to pay for another semester even though he or she has completed all required course credits, the bureaucracy is failing students. When club sport athletes have to dig deep into their pockets and pay excessively high fees, the bureaucracy is failing students. When students do not have convenient and timely access to grades, syllabi and feedback, the bureaucracy is failing students.
The test for our student government is clear: Can the TCU Senate make the bureaucracy work better? While the year has just begun, many senators have been hard at work effecting change all summer long.
Our treasury has already implemented a number of new changes in response to real student concerns. This year, TCU-recognized student groups will have the opportunity to seek mid-year funding jointly with other student groups, thus empowering a culture of collaboration instead of co-sponsorship. Furthermore, we have tweaked some of our treasury practices to incentivize more responsible spending, thus ensuring that we make the most of every dollar. Our treasury is the envy of our peer student governments, and I know that Matt Roy, Jessie Serrino and Adam Kochman, our new treasury team, will continue a proud treasury tradition.
Outside of the treasury, Senate’s Executive Board has already been active in soliciting student feedback. I had the pleasure of attending a community forum hosted by Logan Cotton, our diversity and community affairs officer; Andrew Nunez, our historian, has been hard at work scheduling some of our major outreach events and Robert Joseph, our parliamentarian, has been going through the constitution and bylaws with a fine-tooth comb.
So what have I been up to as president? Alongside my vice president, Meredith Goldberg, I’ve been downright aggressive in scheduling preliminary meetings to lay the foundation for a number of campus improvement initiatives. Senate has already launched a new orientation program called “Orientation Extended,” which will hopefully serve as a model for future Tufts orientations. After years of student-led discussions, Tufts finally launched an orientation program and social norms campaign devoted toward highlighting a realistic but safe alcohol culture. Last week, I appointed Tufts’ first-ever student community outreach liaison. Junior Stephen Ruggiero, the new liaison, will be working alongside Tufts’ Office of Community and Government Relations to improve student relations with our neighboring community.
I have already met with the director of fraternity and sorority affairs to brainstorm a number of relevant Greek Life projects this year. After meeting with Deans Joanne Berger-Sweeney and Nancy Bauer of the School of Arts and Sciences (A&S), an agreement has been reached that Senate will be hosting three open Community Forums alongside A&S with the aim of discussing the future of Critical Studies at Tufts. We have also been actively engaging with the faculty on a number of issues; this partnership will be essential over the course of the year since many of Senate’s potential projects, from JumboDay to reforming undergraduate advising, will need faculty support.