Tufts University president, Anthony Monaco, poses for a portrait in his office on Wednesday, May 4. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

Monaco discusses issues surrounding housing, diversity on campus

With an eventful academic year winding down and five years as University President under his belt, Anthony Monaco sat down with the Daily to discuss some of the major issues and events on campus.

Tufts Daily: What did you think about this academic year as a whole, and what are your thoughts moving forward?

Anthony Monaco: This was my fifth year — time has really flown by really quickly. I feel this year that we had a lot of momentum around our mission, which we describe as a student-centered research university … Across the university, we continue to push the idea of one Tufts, that we as a university, not a collection of schools, can really pool the expertise from our unique set of schools — the veterinary school, nutrition, medicine, dentistry, engineering, Fletcher — to work on global challenges.

TD: Where do you see the [Tufts-SMFA] merger going forward, and how do you see the two schools working together?

AM: Part of the success of this integration is because we’ve had such a longstanding relationship with them … Now that we have the school fully integrated, the curriculum will be integrated, and students will have many more courses they can take. Logistically, the building does need some renovation, and we will do that with the MFA, but they’re not moving … It’s not the SMFA if they relocate somewhere else because the beauty of it is the relationship with the museum, and being right adjacent to the museum.

TD: Tufts is one of the only three schools in the country that offers an organized gap year program [with the 1+4 Bridge-Year Service Learning Program] … How did the first year go, and how do you see this program continuing in the future?

AM: The first year, we had 15 students that took it up, and they were all at international sites. Next year, we think we’ll get more students, we added a domestic site through City Year … Much more than half [of the students] were on financial aid … In our goal of democratizing the gap year, I think that’s been hugely successful. For many of the students, it was [the] first time they’ve been out of the country because they didn’t have that accessibility to that type of travel before, so I think that experience, and bringing that back to the campus when they register and matriculate this year, will be great … Our goal is to grow that program to 50 students.

TD: International relations used to be the biggest major at Tufts, but now it is computer science. How is the university going to look to prioritize building up the computer science department’s resources and faculty?

AM: The unique thing about the computer science department is although it sits in engineering, it gets lots of students taking courses and majoring in it from Arts and Sciences. It’s one of the beautiful arrangements between the two schools that many universities don’t have, but what we’ve done to try to keep up with the demand — and it was almost exponential over the last two years … [is to] increase the number of faculty by three, and they’re also increasing the number of TAs. … [Dean of Engineering] Jianmin Qu is trying to think long-term how to deal with this. The other thing that we’ve been developing over the last year is working with faculty on what we want to do in the area of data science … It’s also showing our commitment to the area of data and computers going forward.

TD: Housing has been an issue for the past two years … how is the university addressing this issue and what are its next steps?

AM: There are concerns around housing, and not only the pressure of the quality of the housing, but also concerns about the number of students living off campus. Over the last couple of years, we [have], over the summers, renovate[d], [tried] to improve the quality of our existing housing stock. The Residential Strategies Working Group (RSWG) has [looked] at the actual physical side of the dorms and the business case for any renovations or new dorms … [to] have a holistic look at where students are living, and what could change, and how would we plan going forward … Whatever we end up doing is going to have to be a phased approach — whether we renovate the oldest dorms to improve their condition, add some new rooms, think about neighborhoods in the different campus environment.

TD: There have been a lot of high-profile cases on campus relating to sexual assault or other types of safety concerns. How is the university going to move forward and maintain the safety of the dorms that are on campus?

AM: The Dean of Student Affairs, [Tufts University Police Department] TUPD, [Office of Equal Opportunity] and [Residential Life and Learning] are working together to evaluate and increase the security [particularly of Wren Hall] ... In general, one of the biggest deterrents to that kind of thing happening is to have video security of the exit and entrance of dorms, that’s been a process that went forward starting a couple years ago. They actually hope that that’ll be finished in the next academic year.

TD: After #TheThreePercent protests, we understand that [administrators] met with [Black-identifying students] to try to come to agreements or connect with their demands.

AM: From our point of view, the meetings were very, very constructive. There were certain concerns that they had where we had already started to do things … One example is that [students] wanted more demographic data and transparency on numbers of students, faculty and staff around diversity. This was a recommendation of the Diversity Council that I led, and the diversity dashboard is up [online] … that’s been very helpful to show as transparently as we can.

There was a category of concerns where the students very rightfully pointed out inequities or underfunding of certain areas, and we weren’t so aware of the concern before they voiced it, but when they did, it made complete sense to change the policy. One was around the TUPD coverage and metal detectors at certain events, and we decided to abandon that. … Also, the Africana Center wanted to have more funding for certain things, and we agreed to do a pre-orientation program with them on the African diaspora, and that’s being offered for the first time for the Class of 2020. The other thing was the mental health counselor, and we’re very pleased … we were able to hire … Linda Daniels, [who is] a great addition.

The biggest issue was around diversity in admissions and financial aid … The number of Black students — that’s all races — has gone from five percent to eight percent in the admissions class for next year, and I think a large part of that increase in yield is due to this partnership between the students and the Admissions office, so that to me is a win-win outcome of this conversation.

We continue to try to raise money for financial aid — it’s a huge priority — we have the Financial Aid Initiative, which will end this June … We hope we’ll get to the 90 million-dollar goal, but we continue to increase financial aid well above the rate of increasing tuition. Over a ten-year period, it’s probably been double the rate of the increase in the tuition, the rate by which financial aid is increased and for the entering class, we’ve been able to have the highest level in a long time of domestic students of color.

TD: Is the university going to do anything to improve retention rates among students of color?

AM: A lot of the transition programming — the [Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts] BEST and [Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts] BLAST programs — and just the general network in which the [Groups of Six] and the Dean of Student Affairs Office work is really about retaining students. We had some good data in the last year around African-American students having comparable rates of retention. Historically, they’ve been slightly lower, but this last year, they were comparable [to other students]. We hope that we can [keep it at that level], but it’s really about that network of support, and the BEST and BLAST programs are wonderful examples about how you can have innovative programming to help transition students in, and keep them together as a group and provide support throughout their time here … The BLAST students have their first graduation this year, and their retention rates have been 100 percent.

TD: What about the demand for more faculty of color — is the university moving forward with that?

AM: We have a very strong policy [in Arts and Sciences and Engineering (AS&E)] that you’re not allowed to search [for faculty members] unless you have a real plan on how you’re going to look at candidates with diverse backgrounds … We do much better in arts and humanities and social sciences in hiring faculty of color. In engineering and science, its been much lower … This is a national trend, and it’s a pipeline problem … What we need to do also in other parts of the university outside of AS&E is increase the number of graduate students of color, so that we’re contributing to the pipeline.

TD: What is the university going to do in the coming years in terms of Greek Life?

AM: Greek Life has grown somewhat in my time here; now something like 25 percent of students are involved … We want to make sure that they are inclusive. I have had conversations with them around diversity and how they give out financial aid … A couple areas where they’ve shown themselves to be a very positive force is the way they work on community partnerships and fundraising around good causes. And they’ve really stepped up in leadership around some of the alcohol issues, [and now have] sexual misconduct training, the Green Dot Program, the bystander program. They’ve take it seriously; their leadership is engaged, and their membership is engaged.

TD: On the topic of community engagement, Tufts has been working on the Green Line Extension — that’s been a cooperative effort as well — are there any updates on that?

AM: There [was] a sizable deficit in the original budget for the Green Line Extension. My understanding at the moment is they are redesigning and rethinking how they procure the different stages of the project to try to overcome that deficit … My belief is that the Green Line Extension will happen. The question is what will they actually build and how much cost are they trying to push on people like the developers … That’s the big question mark — what can we afford to do?

TD: The Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) has continued to protest fairly actively for the past two years [in support of university janitors and union workers]. Can you respond to some of their labor demands?

AM: We procure, through a contract, custodial services from C&W, and they have a contract through SEIU, as the [union] representative of the janitors. By law, the university is not allowed to be the employer because the contract between SEIU and those negotiations are between C&W and SEIU … We value the work that [the custodial workers] do, we value what they do for our community, but the way it’s set up, we don’t have a role in those negotiations.

Some of the concerns have been around union labor … Boston is 100 percent union, and on this campus right now, on the two big projects, it was 90 percent union. We’re not obligated here in Somerville and Medford to have all union, and we don’t … We certainly respect union labor, and we want to work with them and have them involved in our projects as much as we can, but in [the Science and Engineering Complex project], the one particular union just wasn’t competitive in their bid.

TD: There have been a lot of conversations lately on campus and across the nation about political correctness. What are your thoughts on the subject, given the [Jan. 13, 2015 op-ed] you wrote for the Daily about freedom of speech?

AM: A college campus should be one of the great places where people should be able to express their different opinions … [There are] certain lines you shouldn’t cross — when you get into hate speech or racial slurs and things like that — but I do feel that people have to understand that people will get offended by some things you say, and you have to think about your moral imperative of living and being educated in this academic and residential environment. Yes, free speech is your right, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t think about and be sensitive to the people around you, and what the things that you say might hurt someone else’s feelings or make them feel further marginalized … That’s what we’re trying to educate students [about] during their time here, by having these conversations, for them and faculty members to understand that difference.

TD: What do you feel like your biggest accomplishments as president have been so far and what are your goals going into next year?

AM: It goes back to trying to articulate and get momentum on our mission. On the core, we’re student-centered, it is about the student experience, but we have quite a research university, and I really wanted to, in my time here, think about how we harness that to work on big, global challenges. I feel we’re in a good spot right now where we are, our students are coming in more selective, more engaged and getting involved in research … We can’t expand everything, but we can be much smarter and more collaborative and interactive on how those things can work together to have a real impact on society.

TD: Is there anything else you want to add?

AM: Spring Fling went off really well this year … We want it to be safe, and it was the safest one in my five years here, and I think that’s something to celebrate. I don’t know how good the acts were, all I could hear was the bass vibrating.

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

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