Committee responds to Strategic Plan in document draft, discussion sessions

On Sept. 23, the Arts and Sciences Strategic Planning and Implementation Committee released a draft of the working document for a strategic plan, which details the School of Arts and Sciences’ response to the university’s T10 Strategic Plan. The committee then offered five discussion sessions this week for different community groups, and launched an online forum in which community members were invited to provide feedback on the working document.

The committee is led by co-chairs James Glaser, interim dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Vickie Sullivan, professor of political science and chair of the Department of Classics, and includes 11 other community members. Former Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate President Joe Thibodeau (LA ’14) sat on the committee last year, and was replaced by current TCU President Robert Joseph in May.

The document reviews the current state of the university and details the major themes and initiatives that community members feel should be prioritized in the university’s long term planning.

We intend this strategic plan to serve as a blueprint for the future of Arts and Sciences,” the document states.

The principal themes and proposals highlighted in the document include the need for new and renovated infrastructure, the expansion of financial aid resources and the improvement of the university’s graduate programs, according to the document.

“The major themes in the document are all essentially around creating the Tufts community that we think is best for the student experience and all the steps that we need to take in order to strive for those goals,” Joseph, a senior, said. “It starts with financial aid and the type of students we admit, discusses how we prepare students before and while we’re here and how we prepare them to go out in the real world and join the workforce or continue in academia.”

At the undergraduate student discussion hosted in the Balch Arena Theater on Wednesday, students participated in a discussion on a number of topics with the strategic planning committee. The discussion topics were voted upon by the TCU Senate prior to the event and were each presented by a senator and then opened for discussion.

The topics included the need to expand grant-based financial aid through endowment, the continued financing of the Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts (BLAST) program, the expansion of on-campus housing as well as the creation of off-campus housing resources, the renovation of classrooms, the restructuring of distribution requirements and the ensuring of equal access to involvement on campus.

TCU Senator Benya Kraus, a freshman, began the discussion session with a statement reiterating the need to expand not only grant packages but also on-campus resources, such as housing over vacation, particularly for international students on financial aid.

“To become a global institution, we need to meet these financial aid needs,” she said.

The current document calls to expand the number of need-based grant recipients to at least 40 percent of each first-year class which would require at least $400 million in additional endowment resources, according to the document.

TCU Senator Ramiro Sarabia, a sophomore, then introduced the second discussion topic: the need to refinance BLAST, a program that runs a six-week pre-matriculation summer orientation for students who are first-generation four-year-college attending students, have attended under-resourced high schools or have been affiliated with a college access agency, according to the BLAST website.

“A lot of the other goals are about getting students to Tufts,” he said. “BLAST keeps students at Tufts.”

Finally, TCU Senator Shai Slotky, a sophomore, introduced the topic of expanding both on- and off-campus housing resources, urging the committee to further prioritize this issue in the document, as well as define both short-and long-term goals more specifically.

“We are at a point of crisis in terms of beds,” Dean of Campus Life and Leadership Bruce Reitman noted.

After hearing students’ feedback on the need to provide more housing assurance for upperclassmen, the committee members agreed to revisit this section of the document. The committee explained that the document was drafted over the summer, and housing has become a more immediate concern for students this semester.

The discussion did not have time to cover all items on the agenda, and committee members encouraged students to provide feedback via the online portal, which closes this evening.

“I really encourage students to submit their feedback and possibly seek out administrators to discuss the things that they’re concerned about,” Joseph said. “There are very clear areas where students have voiced concerns to me, and that makes it easier for me to come forward and say that these are the thing students feel very passionately about.”