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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Q&A: President Monaco addresses housing, Sackler controversy, university budget

Tufts President Anthony Monaco poses for a portrait in front of Ballou Hall on Apr. 30, 2019.

The Tufts Daily sat down with University President Anthony Monaco to discuss this year's events at Tufts.

The Tufts Daily (TD): What are some of the major triumphs and challenges that Tufts has faced this year?

Anthony Monaco (AM): Overall, it's been a very good year for Tufts University. On the undergraduate level, accomplishments are [that] the most diverse class entered with new levels of financial aid and continuing strong applications. We're particularly proud that our female engineering class has now reached gender parity. The other highlights for the undergraduates were things like the Race, Colonialism and Diaspora [program] becoming a department — not only getting that approved, but also obtaining a $1.5 million Mellon Foundation grant to help support recruitment of faculty to that department. Another highlight of the year was the starting of the FIRST [Resource] Center and all the great work that Rob Mack and his colleagues have done. We've continued to make strides this year on student housing like renovating old dorms such as Miller and Houston to make them disabled-accessible, as well as creating CoHo [Community Housing]. On the university level, there's a couple exciting areas: The trustees have agreed to a new Student Affairs Subcommittee of the Board. We also launched University College this year, which is a new effort to access more learners, either high school or adult learners, through summer session, online courses [and other] non-traditional types of courses. Out of the provost’s office, we had the Research and Scholarship Strategic Plan launched this year. Lastly, we're very excited about the Joyce Cummings Center getting approval [from the trustees] this spring to go ahead with breaking ground this June ... The final achievement, I think, is the Brighter World campaign.

[As for] challenges, one is certainly the Sackler and Purdue Pharma controversy and the Attorney General's report that led us to assign an independent review by former U.S. Attorney General from Massachusetts, Don Stern. We believe that it's important for us to understand what happened during that time so we can make the right decisions going forward. We also had a number of concerning incidents on campus related to the campus climate. I think we've learned from those experiences and we've held a number of forums to enhance the student experience. Although I said we've made strides on student housing, we still have much more to do. I think budgets and financial sustainability is always a challenge. It’s a challenge to maintain a level of year-end surplus, which allows us to invest in our future, and that has been decreasing over the last couple of years. Additionally, the provost position is being filled this year. We have three dean positions, executive vice president and chief information officer. We just lost Karen Richardson to Princeton [and] Mary Pat McMahon to Duke.

TD: The dining workers ratified their first contract on April 4, bringing their working conditions and wages in line with those other universities. Can you speak about how Tufts plans to work with the union UNITE HERE Local 26 in the future?

AM: The university has a number of unions representing different workers on campus, including graduate students for [The School of] Arts and Sciences, and we have a good relationship with them. The dining workers’ was a new contract so that always takes a lot more time. We certainly respected the bargaining process; we bargained in good faith, but also will look forward to working with the union and joining workers and they are important members of our community.

TD: As you mentioned, rates of administrative turnover for Tufts at high levels of leadership have been high this year. What does Tufts’ hiring climate look like for these positions? And how does it stand against the backdrop of higher education hiring at large since they're going to peer institutions?

AM: I think people leave for one of two reasons. Either they're retiring or they feel that their career is better suited with a promotion at another institution. We certainly respect that and try to work with all of our employees to further their careers. Tufts’ turnover per annum is in the double digits. It’s probably higher than 10%, which is normal. So we also see this as an opportunity to bring in new perspectives and more diverse people into the higher education market. I don't think there's any shortage of great people out there that want to come to Tufts.

TD: How does Tufts plan to reaffirm its support for students in light of recent controversial incidents on campus?

AM: These incidents are an affront to all the values that Tufts holds into every member of our community. But they do occur and they don't occur solely on Tufts campus — we see these kinds of events occurring on other college campuses. That said, when they occur, they do cause hurt. They diminish the campus climate. We want to make sure that people feel well-supported after these events. If there is this type of hurt around an event, how do we bring the community together so that we can learn from each other? I think the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council and the role of our chief diversity officers on our campus are essential to to that part of the broader issue. I chair the Council, so I'm intimately involved. We are thinking about further ways to help faculty deal with these issues in the classroom. For example, the Council is redoing part of the orientation [process] to highlight and have a focus on race. We'll continue to push new programming and new ways of supporting our community.

TD: What does the future of the Group of Six look like?

AM: From my view, the Group of Six is incredibly important for individuals with those racial identities [to have] a place to go and to be part of a group with similar identity. I have no plans myself on its future, except that I think its an important part of our community.

TD: This year has seen multiple calls from students to for increased transparency from the administration side of the university, regarding especially the budget, tuition and delegation of funding. Does the university have plans to respond to these calls? Are there plans to increase student access to university administration?

AM: We certainly are willing to have forums with students to discuss the budget, but it's hard for students to be involved in the budget formation. There are student representatives on the Trustee Board and also on some of the Arts and Sciences committees, which involve the budget.

TD: Our next question has to do with the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate elections, and two non-binding referenda that just passed. The first of the referenda called for the placement of a young alumnus on the Board of Trustees and the second asked if students would support a requirement for the administration to respond to TCU resolutions within two weeks. Since the majority of voters did express their support passing these referenda, we’re wondering if the administration will work to make this connection with TCU Senate more entrenched.

AM: I meet every two weeks with the president and vice president of TCU Senate, and they showed me the resolution. They have also regular meetings with the dean of student affairs and others. When they have resolutions, we try to steer [the TCU Senate] to the right place to follow up. I don’t think the time calls for budgets to be decreased. As for young alumni trustee representation, that issue is going to be taken up by the Alumni Council.

TD: Recently, Tufts’ enrollment has increased, and the university plans to continue to increase its enrollment each year, which puts pressure on the off-campus housing market while also making on-campus housing more difficult to find. And the tiered housing system also increases the prices of off-campus accommodations as well as on-campus accommodations for many students. What is your and the university's perspective on building a new dorm?

AM: We have actually produced more rooms in the last four years than the number of new students. We've added 437 beds, but we've only added 300 students over the last three years, and we're going to add another hundred in the fourth year. We also hope to add another 200 beds on the Somerville side. We've also just bought 123 Packard Ave., which adds another 20. So given that the average dorm … on campus [has] about 186 beds, we've added the equivalent of two dorms faster and cheaper than it would be to build a new dorm. We've tried to have a strategy, which is to renovate the old dorms because they were in terrible shape, and as we do that, systematically make sure that space standards are being recognized. [If] there are offices or other things in the dorm that could be removed and made room for actual beds, then we should do that. I believe that we should do a new dorm once we feel that those things have been accomplished. We can't afford the borrowing and the operational cost of a new dorm at this moment. I would prefer to see it planned for once the Cummings building is well under way. I'm not opposed to a new dorm, but I thought it was important as a strategy to better our existing dorms — add new rooms as we can and then think about a new dorm room when we financially can support it.

Now let me just say something about the tiered housing. Sophia Gordon Hall was one of the first upper class dorms added, and we don't have many dorms where you have suite-like living. And now we're going to expand that with CoHo. And let's say we add another dorm that's for juniors and seniors in the future. We're going to expand that type of housing, which is much more expensive to maintain and build. And so we felt it was important to no longer charge everyone the same amount. It's because we didn't have much of this housing before, so we never differentiated the price. If you're not bringing enough income on your current pricing, how can you possibly afford to offer more suite-like options? Which is what we know juniors and seniors like. You don't want to be in a dorm with a double on a corridor for four years.

TD: Many community members have said that Tufts’ Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) payments to Medford and Somerville are not nearly enough to offset the university's impact on the city. What is Tufts doing to address the financial effects of its expansion into and presence in our neighboring communities?

AM: We value our communities very much. All the work we do with the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and the Leonard Carmichael Society show that this is a very strong partnership. Currently, we have made voluntary contributions of $2.75 million over the last five years to Somerville and Medford. We also pay property taxes on 75 properties for an additional $1.25 million a year. So it comes as a surprise to many folks that if we have a property, which we're paying taxes on, and then we say we're going to use it for academic purposes, theoretically, we don't have to pay taxes, but we continue to pay top property taxes on things that come on to our register if they were already on the property tax. We [also] did the intersection of Boston Avenue and College Avenue. That was a $2 million investment that we paid for to improve the safety of the crosswalk. And then on top of that, of course, we are one of the largest employers in both Somerville and Medford. We provide financial aid support for Medford residents to attend here. So we want to continue to work closely with them. We will make a considerable increase in those [PILOT] payments because we think it's important to support the services and other aspects of community life that we have by being in Medford and Somerville.

TD: What are your biggest takeaways from this year? And how will you draw upon these when shaping the future of the university?

AM: One of the biggest challenges for any university president is trying to think about your strategies and initiatives and keeping them going and getting the dynamism of a team. You need to make things like University College happen as a new initiative or the Research and Scholarship Strategic Plan [and other] things that are important for the long-term future of the university. At the same time, you're dealing with a lot of crises and challenges, which need all hands on deck. You've got to get through this and get the statements out, make sure the forms are happening, feel [whether] students are supported. What I've learned over the years is how to manage those two competing calls in your time, because they're completely different forms of management. One is longer-term and strategic, and the other is more immediate. You have to really take seriously when there's a an urgent issue, and you've got to address it and have really good mechanisms and processes in play, so that the community feels well supported. At the same time, you can't lose momentum on the very important and essential longer-term strategic initiatives that you're trying to achieve for the future of the university.

TD: There have been a lot of calls from student groups and TCU Senate as well, regarding the Sackler investigation and the calls to disclose the full findings from the Stern investigation. Do you have a response to those? Will the findings be disclosed?

AM: Whatever the Stern report [discloses] to the academics, I will make open to the community.

EL: Do we know when that Stern report will be released?

AM: We’re hoping over the summer. He has to interview a lot of people and dig through a lot of old papers.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Tufts has added 3,000 students over the past two years. The correct number is 300. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily regrets this error.