The Tufts Daily met with University President Anthony Monaco to review the academic year and discuss key topics, construction projects and future plans for the university.
The Tufts Daily (TD): You spoke a lot about some of the successes of the university this year. Could you speak about some of the challenges that we faced?
Anthony Monaco (AM): Enhancing and advancing student life is a top priority. It was clear from the Student Life Review Committee that … the social life on campus, the issues around diversity and inclusion and, really, people feeling that they could join organizations despite their socioeconomic background, was a challenge. We still to have a lot of work to do on how Greek life is going forward, on issues on how the clubs and organizations are run and how the leaders are trained.
Of course, one of the issues in every university across the country is trying to balance budgets, you know — not trying to increase tuition beyond affordability but at the same time investing in not only our current faculty and students, but investing in the future to make sure that the experience is really worth the price they’re paying, so tuition and financial aid continue to be top concerns.
We also have had some departures. This next year, I am going to have a series of positions to fill, the most senior of which is David Harris, the provost going on to be president of Union College, which is a great achievement for him and for the university, to see him get to that leadership level. We’re going to be doing that search starting in May. We’ve already formed the committee. We also have to replace Debbie Kochevar, the interim provost, as Dean of the Cummings School. So that will be going on in parallel.
I would say that one other challenge … this year was the SMFA. Any time you merge such complex organizations, you have to deal with those transitional issues. For this year, it was trying to get the transport correct, the dining, the housing. We need to increase enrollments for next year to make it financially sustainable, as well as continue to pursue some of the operational issues which may have hindered the first year of integration.
TD: There have been protests from students about tuition hikes and the general socioeconomic climate of the university. How does Tufts plan on responding to these demands going forward?
AM: I think this year was notable for having a very good format for students to understand the complexity of the university’s budget by having that TCU [Tufts Community Union] Senate forum where about 100 to 150 students came and we were able to present from our perspective what the challenges were, how do we set the budget, what are the things we’re trying to achieve and what are the factors that make this year more challenging than, say…. two years ago. Some of those were bringing in new facilities, which we need to invest in for the future, but they have operational costs and you have to absorb those costs.
One of the things that we did do in response … was a committee that we started over a year ago called Equity, Access for Student Equality (EASE). EASE was trying to look at what were some of the hidden costs of attending Tufts, where students on financial aid were finding they couldn’t participate fully because they didn’t have the ability to pay a fee for expensive textbooks, or to join a club or organization, or to live off campus and get that first and last month’s rent and deposit on time if they were on financial aid. They responded, and so this year we’re raising financial aid 7.1 percent for next year. Some of the things in that increase include more money for textbook costs, more money for general living costs and the ability to get an advance on your financial aid if you’re living off campus and need to meet those advanced payments for renting.
I think the TCU Senate resolution which came forward from Nathan [Foster] and his colleagues was much more nuanced in understanding the effect of inflation on our budget, and also the fact that we are trying to increase financial aid at a higher rate than tuition increases so that our net price to the average student on average is not going up at nearly the rate that we’re increasing tuition and room and board. It was an important year to have a better understanding of students’ needs, but [also for] students to have a better understanding of the complexity of what we’re facing as administrators in setting the budget.
TD: There have been a lot of faculty that have left this year, particularly those from the Consortium of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora (RCD) and faculty of color. How is the university handling these changes? Why has this been a big year for faculty turnover?
AM: Every year, we have faculty and staff turnover, and overall it’s in the low teens, so before we say that there’s been a huge exodus of a particular category of faculty and staff, you also have to look at who we’re hiring and then see what the net is, and I don’t think anyone has done that analysis. On the faculty side, the Dean’s office in Arts, Science and Engineering (AS&E) oversee that process.
I chair the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council, and we’ve done work over the last two years to have a better sense [of the gender and diversity balance] at various levels of leadership. One area that we have instituted over the last year that will make further progress is that for every search committee, there is going to be mandatory training in what it means to look at a diverse set of candidates.
That said, I think the fact that faculty are being recruited elsewhere is partly because, over the last decade, we’ve been able to recruit really high quality faculty here, as Tufts’ academic profile and trajectory have been better known nationally and internationally. It is part of that natural process that you’re going to have that turnover, and we just try to keep an eye on it and offer good retention practices.
TD: We are wondering if you could provide an update on….the [CoHo] upperclassman housing.
AM: From the Residential Strategies Working Group and the Student Life Review Committee we are going forward with community housing in Medford and Somerville, which is using the wood-frame houses that we have had for many years. The university would be the landlord, so we can ensure the safety features of the house, the furniture could be used year after year, good Wi-Fi, all the things you would want and … [for] those on financial aid, [it] would be easier to deal with the way we allocate the rent costs. Overall, it could almost double the number of juniors and seniors on campus within due course. I think that would be a great way of connecting upperclasspersons to the residential community better, as well as provide the ability to have themed housing.
TD: What do you see for the future of the Greek life system?
AM: We’ve moved pledging for Greek life into sophomore year. I think that’s an important change because first-year students, I believe, should have a shared first-year experience in the residential dorms. Doing it as sophomores, then they’re wiser about the alternatives to the Greek life and have a better sense of what they want to achieve in that aspect of their experience. We’re doing a lot of work at the moment to train the student leaders involved in Greek life, and all clubs and organizations, about their roles as leaders.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.