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Gearing up for action, Monaco passes 100-day mark

Published: Monday, November 7, 2011

Updated: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 14:11


Josh Berlinger / Tufts Daily

University President Anthony Monaco meets with as many as two students a day to discuss the issues most important to them.


Josh Berlinger / Tufts Daily

Monaco was inaugurated as the university’s 13th president last month.


After 100 days in office, University President Anthony Monaco is ready to switch gears. 

Across all three campuses and at alumni events in Washington, D.C. and New York City, the University of Oxford transplant has filled his days over the past three months with a crash course in the art of listening. 

He has listened to lengthy Facebook messages, to Tweets, to students and alumni who fill any empty time slots in his daily planner with personal meetings. He has listened to crowds rallying outside his office inBallou Hall calling for improved treatment of the university's janitorial staff and to neighborhood residents at Community Day. 

His inbox has become flooded with suggestions and concerns about everything from women's studies to Facebook pictures glorifying the use of alcohol, from issues of inclusion and the racial climate on campus to capital investments in the university's lab sciences facilities.

It's an experience, he says, that has both confirmed much of what he anticipated coming into the job and shed light on sensitive issues that run deeper through Tufts community than he could have imagined. His challenge is to craft a course for the university that addresses the innumerable and often contradictory views of a diverse community. 

"All through this I am always trying to synthesize all the information," he said in a recent interview with the Daily. "I'm using the perspective of what I heard from others to focus and also change how I might approach the whole way forward strategically."

After all this listening, though, the university president is ready—and eager—to use what he has heard and begin crafting what will be the tangible impact he has on Tufts during his tenure.

"Listening is good," he said. "But you need to start doing something."


Learning from the past

Diving into one of the biggest responsibilities that comes with the post -- attracting funds from alumni donors has not posed any great challenge for Monaco. Fundraising was one of his primary duties as pro-vice-chancellor for planning and resources at Oxford, a position that charged him with capital development in addition to strategic planning and student enrollment.

"It's a large part of the [president's] job, obviously, to bring in the funds for financial aid, for capital projects, for programs for faculty," he said, explaining that at Oxford he was only responsible for raising capital funds, but that that the experience has been valuable as he now deals with the responsibility of fundraising for a wider variety of projects.

"I have tried to spend my time in the last three months getting to know our major donors and making sure they get to know me personally and understand my background and where I am coming from and what kind of things I would like to achieve for Tufts together with them," he said.

While Monaco must wait to develop stronger relationships with donors before expecting major contributions, he feels that a certain sense of urgency. Soon, he hopes to begin attracting funds for financial aid and faculty support and plans to make them top priorities.

"It's not going and asking them for money at this stage, obviously, but I think some of the things that are early wins [and] will always be important are things like financial aid, or the programmatic support of faculty," he said. 

"The big lab complexes we need time to develop our thoughts on…there's different velocities at which these things travel and the financial aid to me is something that we shouldn't lose any momentum on from the previous campaign."


Addressing the undergraduate community 

On issues affecting undergraduate student life, making the switch from a focus on listening to bringing about tangible change is easier said than done. 

The learning curve for any new president is a steep one, but this is especially true for a Delaware native who has spent the past twenty years across a pond that is wider than he expected. 

Nowhere has Monaco been more rudely awaked to the reality of the social differences spanning the Atlantic than by the rampant abuse of alcohol among undergraduate students on the Hill. Above all else, he said he has been appalled by the images on Facebook depicting out of control binge drinking and stories of emergency room visits after nights of excessive underage liquor consumption.

Monaco was cautioned by former University President Lawrence Bacow about the prevalence of underage drinking at Tufts -- "Larry warned me, he warned me in black and white," he said -- but he was still shocked upon his arrival on the Hill. 

"I think it's because I've been in a different environment for the last 20 years," he said. "When I went to university we never went out and bought a bottle of vodka and set up shots -- I mean, we could drink back then because the drinking age was 18, but it was all a little beer and wine -- it wasn't this culture of binge drinking…that, to me, was a real eye-opener that things had changed."

Monaco has tackled this critical issue head-on, setting up an alcohol steering committee to coordinate preventative efforts that he hopes will ameliorate what he sees as a danger to students' health and safety. He has also taken a personal interest in the students he has found posting incriminating pictures "glorifying" alcohol use on Facebook, calling them into his office to better understand their motivation and to warn them of the dangers of binge drinking. 

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