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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, June 15, 2024

Students, faculty mourn end of Tufts/NEC dual degree program

The program, which has allowed students to pursue degrees in music alongside their degrees at Tufts for nearly 50 years, was terminated by Tufts last October.

The Granoff Music Center, home of Tufts’ music department, is pictured on Aug. 8, 2020.

After nearly 50 years of providing rigorous academic and musical education to Tufts students, the Tufts/New England Conservatory five-year dual degree program is coming to an end. The decision to end the program was made in summer 2023, and its termination was announced by email to students in the program and Department of Music faculty and staff on Oct. 25, 2023. NEC faculty were notified of the decision on Oct. 24. Students currently enrolled in or accepted into the program will be allowed to complete it, but no new students will be accepted into the program, and it will end when the last student graduates. There are currently 14 students in the program.

The program was co-founded in 1976 by T.J. Anderson, a world-renowned composer who served as chair of the Tufts Music Department from 1972–80, and composer Donald Harris, then vice president of the NEC, in an effort to improve Tufts’ music offerings. It offers a Bachelor of Science or Arts from Tufts, in addition to a Bachelor of Music from the NEC. It is the only program in the country that offers simultaneous bachelor’s degrees from a liberal arts university and an unaffiliated conservatory. The program boasts alumni as distinguished as Chad Smith, the president and CEO of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

According to Dean Carmen Lowe, who advises students in the program, the decision to end the program was made by James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with Provost Caroline Genco, University President Sunil Kumar and other advisers. 

“The decision to end the dual degree program was made last year by Tufts. As part of the arrangement with NEC, one of the partners could pull out if the program was no longer working,” Glaser wrote in an email to the Daily.

Upon receiving the news that the program was ending, students and faculty were invited to an open meeting on Nov. 9, 2023 to discuss the decision, which was, at that point, final.

Cost was a major factor in the decision to the program. In the November meeting, it was estimated that the program cost Tufts close to $400,000 per year and that “the costs outweighed the benefits.” In his statement, Glaser also mentioned the program’s high dropout rate (close to 50%, according to Lowe), the pressure placed on the students and administrative challenges, including conflicting schedules and transportation concerns.

The Daily interviewed three students about their experiences in the program: graduating fifth-year Julien Rollins, fourth-year Lily Stern and third-year Oluwanimofe Akinyanmi. The Daily also interviewed faculty and staff in the music department, including former chair John McDonald; studio manager and NEC/Tufts alumnus Peter Atkinson; and part-time lecturer Sid Richardson, a Tufts alumnus and faculty member at Tufts and the NEC. Most of the interviewees attended the meeting on Nov. 9.

Though many students in the program reported having busy schedules during the school year, they still find the time to focus on what is important to them.

“I really love everything I'm doing,” Akinyanmi explained. “It is nice to be busy with something that you enjoy.”

“What they were saying about students struggling, it’s partly to do with the fact that we don’t get that much support,” Stern said, discussing administration’s concerns about dropout rates. “I would say that a lot of the students are thriving, actually.”

“We’re kind of an orphan program,” Rollins said, echoing Stern’s feelings. He called Lowe “the first dean in a while that has actually cared about the program.”

Of the seven students, faculty and staff the Daily spoke with, only Lowe was consulted about the decision, though she did not have the final say.

“I wish there was more of a conversation about it,” Akinyanmi said. “Nobody told us until after the decision was made.”

In the meeting, students realized that even representatives from the NEC were surprised by the decision. According to Stern, Tufts administrators made the choice to stop accepting applicants without consulting with NEC beforehand.

“It was a unilateral Tufts decision,” Stern said.

When asked about their feelings on the program’s ending, all students and faculty agreed that it was a disappointment.

“It was such a great opportunity to be able to explore your interest in music and an academic discipline at a high level at two of the best schools in the country,” Stern said.

“It makes sense,” Akinyanmi acknowledged. “I guess money is a reason, but we’ve had a lot of really successful graduates from the program, and I feel like it’s something that Tufts should be proud of, so it was a little disappointing to see it canceled.”

“It’s a unique opportunity,” added Atkinson. “It brings people to Tufts that wouldn’t otherwise come here.”

Over 65 program alumni signed a petition addressed to administrative leaders asking Tufts to reconsider the decision to end the program and requesting further communication. Despite this, McDonald doubts that the decision will be reversed.

McDonald expressed confidence that the program could have continued if enough support had been provided. He suggested that Richardson, a faculty member at both institutions, had enough knowledge to help students navigate the two schools. Richardson told the Daily that, had he been asked, he would have been willing to play this role. In an email statement to the Daily, NEC Provost Benjamin Sosland wrote that “NEC made every effort to extend this partnership,” and expressed disappointment at the program’s ending.

Glaser suggested that Tufts hopes to consider a combined bachelor’s/master’s program with the NEC, similar to an existing program at Harvard. Dean Lowe mentioned that this model can be less stressful and more affordable for students. However, students say that these require a higher level of musicianship before college, making them less accessible. Rollins explained that students like him from rural areas would have been unable to receive the level of pre-college training acceptance to these programs requires. McDonald also seemed doubtful that undergraduate music training in a liberal arts university could substitute for an immersive conservatory experience.

When asked about the program ending, Dean Lowe was optimistic about future collaboration between the two schools.

“The way the program has been running has been extraordinarily stressful on the students. It feels like so many of them are missing out on so much of their undergraduate experience. There are a few rare students who really thrive, but even then, it’s extremely stressful,” Lowe said. “I’m hopeful that we can come up with a program that’s better, that is focused on a bachelor’s and a master’s between the two schools.”