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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, November 30, 2023

President Monaco sheds light on vision for Tufts

As University President Anthony Monaco moves through his second year at Tufts, he has become a familiar face on the Hill for students, staff and faculty. Settled into a newly renovated Gifford House and continuing to make himself accessible to the community through social media, Monaco rang in the 2012-2013 academic year with plans to resume progress on several initiatives and steer the university forward with new ones.

With his third semester in office now nearing its end, Monaco sits at the helm of various large-scale projects aimed at positioning Tufts for the future, including a university-wide strategic plan and a financial aid initiative.

He has also brought leadership in the face of many student concerns this fall, ranging from the university endowment's investment profile to sexual assault. 

A vision and a plan

Along with Provost and Senior Vice President David Harris, who assumed his position on July 1, Monaco debuted a 10-year strategic plan to the Tufts community in early October. He and Harris have since convened working groups and committees comprised of faculty, staff and students to help shape the content of the plan. 

Monaco explained that, although specific schools within the university have independently launched strategic plans in the past, this marks the first time that the administration has spearheaded the development of a strategy for Tufts as a whole. 

"[Tufts has] never done a university-wide strategic plan where you try to think about the missions, the values, the goals and objectives of the university looking five to 10 years out, bring that vision into the present and think about the things you need to do to get there," he said.

The plan targets areas such as teaching and learning, research, the university's impact on society, active citizenship, public service, entrepreneurship, innovation, online technology and the student experience, Monaco said. 

"Where do we want to place Tufts in enhancing our residential teaching mission, as well as thinking about ways in which we can engage the wider world using online technology, either by joining something like Coursera or edX or some other bigger MOOC [massive open online course]?" he said. "These are questions that we're asking our faculty and students and trying to get a perspective and a direction of travel."

Monaco cited improving the student experience both inside and outside of the classroom as one of the biggest challenges the strategic plan will tackle, adding that he hopes to expand programming for underclassmen in particular. He referred to the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts (BLAST) program, which piloted this semester and provided academic support to selected incoming freshmen in the School of Arts and Sciences, as an example of headway towards this goal. 

"I think there's a number of areas of student development that we need to think about throughout the freshman and sophomore year, areas around diversity, sustainability, sexual misconduct, sexual assault, alcohol, research integrity, what it's like to live in an academic residential hall," Monaco said.

While many of these policies and issues are addressed during freshman orientation, he said that the discourse surrounding these aspects of student life should not be limited to the first week of an undergraduate's Tufts career. 

"Maybe there's a way we could group those students together throughout that time, have discussions focused on some of those areas and provide programming which allows them to develop their own skills and education in these important areas, which would improve the whole campus environment and the experience here at Tufts," Monaco said.

However, he said that much of this programming would hinge on restructuring the residence halls to include more study and group meeting spaces. The university renovated dorms including South Hall and Latin Way over the summer, but those projects served to update each dorm's facilities rather than completely redesign them, Monaco added. 

"I don't think it'll be solved in the strategic plan process - it's a long-term vision - but I do think that we need to look at that whole area and decide what we want to achieve in the future for Tufts students that live here on campus," he said.

Tackling finances

Although Monaco still enjoys engaging in activities on campus, whether by attending student performances or training with the Tufts Marathon Team, this semester he spent more time traveling off campus in an effort to boost university fundraising. 

"Last year, without David Harris here as the provost, I felt I had to spend a lot of time getting to know the Tufts community and leading the academic mission at the same time that I was doing the external work," he said. "So, now that David is here and pushing forward things like the strategic plan, I think it will allow me to spend more time on the external side of the job in the sense of fundraising."

This comes on the heels of the launch of a new financial aid initiative that aims to increase the total amount of financial aid available to incoming students. Monaco hopes that, in turn, the initiative will add to the socioeconomic, cultural and ethnic diversity of the student body.

Over the course of two years, the campaign aims to raise $25 million for the endowment that is designated for financial aid, according to Monaco. The university plans to match gifts of at least $100,000 contributed to the endowment's scholarship fund. 

"The whole thing will shift us into a more competitive position and help drive the diversity that we want to achieve," he said.

In an interview with the Daily in March, Monaco said he wanted to implement a need-blind policy by the end of his tenure at Tufts, but acknowledged that this would require a more sizable endowment. The Office of Admissions currently operates on a need-sensitive basis, considering the applicant's financial need when making admissions decisions.

The start of this academic year has signaled a shift in focus. Monaco asserted that at this time, he would rather work to expand financial aid than pursue a need-blind policy.

"I'm not sure I would set it as a goal to be need-blind because it's hard to attain, and also hard to maintain," he said.

The anonymous monetary gift that allowed Tufts to temporarily adopt a need-blind program in 2007 and 2008, Monaco said, was a sum that was supposed to be spent instead of put to the endowment. 

"And so when the money was spent, we found ourselves unable to maintain need-blind [admissions]," he said.

Concerns over the endowment's investment profile have gripped the Hill as well this fall. The Responsible Endowment Collective (REC), a student group lobbying for Tufts to divest from fossil fuel companies, met with administrators in October to discuss its petition.

Monaco recognized REC's demands, but emphasized that the group's campaign may be too far-reaching. 

"We don't invest particularly in any single [company]," he said. "Most of our funds are either fixed-income, private or public equity, and they're managed assets, so it would be quite complex to consider even how you would ever go in and divest from fossil fuels."

Monaco urged REC to bring a well-researched proposal to the Board of Trustees' Investment Committee, which manages the endowment's investments.

"But I think in the end it is going to be very, very difficult to achieve the aims that the students want," he said.

Hot topics on the Hill

The Oct. 17 publication of a former Amherst College student's account of sexual assault in The Amherst Student newspaper sparked a conversation on campus about the Tufts administration's accessibility in the case of sexual misconduct.

The university over the summer expanded and revised its sexual assault policy and adjudication process. Monaco emphasized the importance of educating the student body about sexual misconduct.

"I know that the [Office of Equal Opportunity], the [Counseling and Mental Health Services] and the Health Services have been working to try to explain the new policy and make sure that the information is out there," he said.

He hopes in the future a reduction in the number of sexual assault incidents on campus will stem from additional focused discussions that could take place during students' freshman and sophomore years, Monaco said, highlighting the administration's commitment to the issue.

"We certainly take it quite seriously, and we want to have a system that allows people to come forward when they have had such an experience, that they feel supported and can make accusations if they feel they want to do so," he said.

In addition, students have been involved in debates about privacy following an announcement that the Department of Public and Environmental Safety will be installing a video security system on campus as early as next semester.

Monaco voiced support for the system and explained that Public Safety based their proposal on evidence that cameras previously set up in Cousens Gymnasium have helped deter crime.

"Now I think, as far as I understand it, these are not going to be someone sitting with a deck full of monitors watching Tufts students go about their daily lives," he said. "This is just on a recording basis, so if there was an assault or if there was a theft or someone got into a dorm room ... [Public Safety] could go back - these things usually record for 30 days - and review the tapes, and that should help them catch the culprits."

He suggested that concerns over invasion of privacy might be due to misinformation, clarifying that students will not be under 24-hour surveillance.

"And we couldn't afford to do that anyway. It's very expensive to have that kind of outfit," Monaco said.