Op-Ed: What happened to Eaton?

It was the first day of class and everything was going according to schedule. Picking up books, running into about a hundred people at the Rez and sweating more than I’d like to admit while walking up the hill. I made my usual rounds and headed to my art history class, one I took in part to complete my fine arts requirement and in part because, well, I really enjoy studying art.

My class of about forty is located in the basement of Jackson Gym. There is one small, rectangular window illuminating the room. There is a projector and a pull-down screen. There are no whiteboard erasers, and only one marker.  There are not enough desks for the students enrolled, so some sit on chairs by the door. I’m confused, but it’s the first day, so I assure myself that most people are just shopping for classes and that we’ll have enough room by next time. After class is finished, I head to my next class, a 100-level political science course. It was originally supposed to be in one of Tisch Library’s auditorium spaces, but was mysteriously moved to another basement classroom just down the hall. Same story: not enough seats, no erasers, one whiteboard pen, no windows.

Since we are in Aidekman, rehearsal spaces are audible. I am trying to listen to my professor explain structural theories of revolution while music is blasting in a classroom nearby. Class ends, and pissed-off by this point, I go to Eaton to print out the syllabus (I missed a few details due to the music next door). I crack. My once-beloved Eaton is now a “collaborative space for engineers.” Engineering students have free printing in the air-conditioned computer labs in Halligan, but no students have free printing in Tisch, or even in Ginn. Call me ignorant, but from my own experience and from observing friends in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), liberal arts students use printers a lot more often. But, the privileges do not stop there: STEM students have 574 Boston Ave., which is basically Google’s incarnation on campus, and soon will possess an expansive, glass complex behind Anderson.  And now, I guess STEM has Eaton too.

Although not as liberal arts oriented as some of its sister NESCAC colleges, Tufts has long embraced the humanities — our comparably extensive language and arts requirements are just two examples of this. Of course, in recent years, engineering and computer science have become more popular among incoming students due to increasing external demands for these disciplines and because of admission’s recruitment of these students. Tufts isn’t exactly covert about its retreat from the liberal arts. Take a look at our website’s front page and see that the two top headlines involve new developments in STEM programs: “A Boost for Engineering Students,” and “Coding for Kids Goes International. Yet, despite this, a majority of Tufts undergraduates — about 90 percent — are still in the School of Arts and Sciences.  Additionally, data taken from the graduating class of 2015 showed that 48 percent of the class earned bachelor’s degrees in the humanities (language, philosophy, social sciences, history and the arts), while only six percent graduated with computer science degrees and nine percent with engineering degrees. So, in many ways, Tufts’ neglect of the humanities is the neglect of the majority of its academic program for the needs of a newly powerful few.

Of course, Tufts is hardly the only university pushing away from its roots in the arts or social sciences. Cooper Union in New York City recently diverted a large portion of its funding from its historic visual arts program and rescinded its previous policy of full financial aid, instead establishing a large engineering complex under the guidance of Jamshed Bharucha. Interestingly, prior to working at Cooper Union, Bharucha served on Tufts’ board of trustees.

Recently, a Washington Post article by professor Steven Pearlstein criticized parents and institutions discouraging students from pursuing a liberal arts education, stating, “it’s worth remembering that at American universities, the original rationale for majors was not to train students for careers. Rather, the idea was that after a period of broad intellectual exploration, a major was supposed to give students the experience of mastering one subject, in the process developing skills such as discipline, persistence, and how to research, analyze, communicate clearly and think logically. As it happens, those are precisely the skills business executives still say they want from college graduates.” Accordingly, a study for the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers agreed that “demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a job candidate’s] undergraduate major.”

I could go on about the error in judgment that institutions and leaders have made when embracing STEM at the expense of other areas of study, but for the sake of time (and maybe my sanity), let’s get back to Tufts. Tufts’ mission statement reads: “We are committed to providing transformative experiences for students and faculty in an inclusive and collaborative environment where creative scholars generate bold ideas, innovate in the face of complex challenges and distinguish themselves as active citizens of the world.” While of course, the administration could argue that changes to Eaton’s lab facilities as well as the creation of new spaces on campus like 574 Boston Ave. promote collaboration, this is only for one segment of the student population, and is not cross-cutting.

Troublingly, as Pearlstein suggests, those who discourage students from pursuing a broader, liberal arts education are doing a deep disservice even in economic terms, reminding us that employers are “seeking employees who are nimble, curious and innovative … The good jobs of the future will go to those who can collaborate widely, think broadly and challenge conventional wisdom — precisely the capacities that a liberal arts education is meant to develop.”

With this in mind, Tufts’ choice to distance itself from the humanities limits the extent of “innovation” and “active citizenship” its students and alumni can truly engage in. What “active citizen” is not versed in ethics, in political science, in the psychology of themselves and others? What kind of innovative society is detached from the cultural, anthropological and social history of its ancestors?  Innovation is not solely about mechanical improvements to technology; it also necessitates the understanding of a nexus of other topics — art, literature, sociology, history and language to name a few.  Neglecting structural needs in the humanities, while donating an outrageous sum of money, attention and prestige to STEM isn’t just “unfair”— it is deeply hypocritical given Tufts’ aims as an institution. The day I will be able to take an upper-level political science class in an air-conditioned building, or a quiet classroom conducive to learning — one with windows or even enough desks and supplies — isn’t here yet. Given the direction the university is heading, I probably shouldn’t hold my breath.

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24 Responses

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  1. Anonymous
    Sep 21, 2016 - 02:10 PM

    What about the acquisition of the SMFA and the introduction of BFA degrees?

    • Anonymous
      Sep 21, 2016 - 08:18 PM

      While providing Tufts students with an incredible resource, the acquisition does nothing about the fact that there are very few art studio spaces on the main Medford campus. Many studio art classes (often multiple at the same time) here are held in a large room in Lane, even though that building is primarily dedicated to Earth and Ocean Sciences. The fact remains that Tufts has no one space solely dedicated to studio art that is easily accessible to most students on campus.

      • AngryArtist
        Sep 22, 2016 - 03:16 AM

        Lane has been for many years a shared space between the Art department and the Geology Department. Does it suck that there are not more art studios on campus yes? Have I ever felt like my art class was overcrowded in that space? No. Every department is space limited and I hate to break it to you but Lane art studio is actually a lot more than other schools have. The addition of the SMFA will hopefully bring more art resources to the Medford campus but at least will hopefully at the minimum bolster the offerings at the SMFA available to Medford Campus students. Unfortunately space is an issue everywhere. Many departments are housed in one building including guess what? stem departments. I wish there were more art classes with more space but unfortunately with no Fine Art Major on the Medford campus, you need to dual degree with the SMFA for that, it likely won’t expand beyond Lane time soon and rightly so.

  2. Anonymous
    Sep 21, 2016 - 03:29 PM

    lol this is hilariously whiny!

  3. Anonymous
    Sep 21, 2016 - 04:35 PM

    I’m sorry that you are struggling to grasp the University’s efforts to diversify academically

    • Anonymous
      Sep 21, 2016 - 07:20 PM

      Diversifying academically does not mean prioritizing the education of some students over others.

  4. Anonymous
    Sep 21, 2016 - 05:10 PM

    Maybe if you make enough money with your arts and crafts major you can donate to the school to fix these problems like the engineers did. Honestly, the STEM students needed new buildings- Robinson, where physics once was, was a blazing hellhole. Pearson isn’t in good shape either. SciTech is finally getting the repairs it has needed for a long time. Plus, the engineering school is expanding. More and more students are coming to this university wanting to be engineers and the university needed to accommodate. Because the portion of the student population who wants a research-based stem career is increasing, the university sees this as a potential to increase their endowment long-term, and they make decisions based on that. Tufts is a business, as are all colleges.

    • Kate
      Sep 21, 2016 - 06:37 PM

      Some food for thought–the two largest donors to Tufts in history (Kraft and Tisch) were both students in the liberal arts program.

    • Anonymous
      Sep 21, 2016 - 07:19 PM

      Perhaps more and more students are looking to study STEM because that’s what Tufts is branding itself as. The causation is not as simply as more students are looking for this so Tufts is meeting that. Tufts is putting money and resources into STEM fields not for the good of its students, but for the good of its status. It enables the university to function more as a vessel that fuels corporate capitalism than one that benefits students and society as a whole. You say that Tufts is a business without questioning why that is, or if that needs to be the case. Variety is essential, and so that means supporting humanities majors as much as STEM majors. Implying that none of the humanities buildings need repairs or renovations is simply untrue. I am enrolled in a class that meets in Aidekman, like the author of this article, that is required for my major, and there is not enough desk space for everyone in the class. Taking notes in a fast-paced lecture without a desk is just not something we should have to do. And using the phrase ‘arts and crafts major’ in a derogatory way is just uncalled for. There is no need to imply that you major is better or more worthwhile simply because you’re probably going to make more money. Funnily enough, that isn’t everyone’s priority, and assuming that it is is narrow-minded and downright rude.

    • Anonymous
      Sep 21, 2016 - 07:58 PM

      What you’re basically saying is that arts and humanities (not ‘arts and crafts’ as you rather condescendingly put it) should be punished for their fields not being as lucrative? Should we be punished for trying to contribute to societal good through different means?

  5. Anonymous
    Sep 21, 2016 - 05:16 PM

    “Demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a job candidate’s] undergraduate major.”

    Hate to break it to you but I am pretty sure that still rings true for STEM majors, if not even more so….

    • Anonymous
      Sep 21, 2016 - 07:22 PM

      Very different types of critical thinking are required for STEM majors and for humanities majors, and it’s unfair to say that the critical thinking used for STEM majors is simply better. Can’t we realize that both have their benefits? Humanities encourage students to question all the information they are given, to look beyond simply learning to material, and to form those questions and challenges into cogent thoughts. That is a different kind of problem solving and a different kind of communication, but no less valuable.

      • Anonymous
        Sep 21, 2016 - 08:40 PM

        I never said that humanities had “worse” critical thinking. I’m not trying to diminish humanities and the basis at which they are formed. But engineering is ALL about “thinking past the problem”, as much as humanities is. It’s how changes are made and how things are learned. So to say that STEM doesn’t encourage students to question material, or to go beyond learning and memorizing, is bullshit, cause it does just as much. I guess I am trying to say that OP has some major flaws in their argument, trying to brand STEM majors as people who only know how to do problem sets. Go to a Hackathon, go to an engineering firm, go to a research lab, we do those things too.

  6. Anonymous
    Sep 21, 2016 - 08:21 PM

    There are issues of shortages across the school. CS for example is incredible understaffed and as a result required upper level classes have gone from around 20 students to over 100 with only a single professor. And while Halligan is a nice enough building, there are not nearly enough computers or work spaces. Go in the lab on any given night and you will not even be able to find a computer available or a space to sit and work. The CS department has been playing catch up in an effort to handle the amount of students coming in (the new non major waitlists for example – which even professors say is a detriment to courses). But between professors leaving and even more students declaring the major, the number of students is quickly overwhelming the department both in terms of faculty and resources. So I know it may look like things are well and good for certain students, but we are scrunched into classrooms that are too small, using lagging networks, and struggling to keep up in upper level classes from the back of a large auditorium just like the rest.

  7. Jesse
    Sep 21, 2016 - 08:37 PM

    Coming from the engineering side of things, I certainly agree that all the projects I see on campus seem to benefit STEM instead of liberal arts, from 574 to Robinson to the new SEC. From a purely spatial perspective, there’s not much room to expand the buildings that house the arts on top of the hill to fit all the arts and sciences classes, hence the frequent displacement into small rooms, but that raises the issue that Eaton has an engineering room while there is probably room at 574. One reason for this could be that many of the engineering spaces are really far (if you’ve ever tried to go to sci tech from anywhere you’re aware of this), and during the winter the walk to Eaton from Carm, for example, is much closer. But it does seem unfair to displace liberal arts students during STEM construction. Construction does displace everyone to some degree, both engineering classes and arts classes, but the end result of it is obviously to benefit STEM. On a different note, the separation between the arts and STEM is another issue in itself; the school of engineering prides itself on mixing with the arts, but the physicality of the two different campus areas leads into issues with whose space is whose, driving the students to call each other “arts and crafts majors” and to be angry with us illiterate engineers. I wish I had more classes that looked over the Ac quad, and I think that more humanities classes should take place in 574, both of which could lead to both interdisciplinary discussion and a simple change of scenery. But that doesn’t mean Tufts shouldn’t allocate more funds to improving the needs of humanities departments.

  8. Seriously?
    Sep 21, 2016 - 09:37 PM

    Can we all just acknowledge for a moment that the majority of CS majors are liberal arts students? So we’re having the same issues in our distribution classes. Plus we have to deal with massive amounts of overcrowding in our major-required classes. Many CS students have to deal with not being able to get into certain required classes because we don’t have enough space and we don’t have enough professors.

    tl;dr: I’m sorry your rooms aren’t air conditioned. Now please excuse me while I complain to my department-assigned advisor about possibly not graduating on time.

    • True that
      Sep 21, 2016 - 10:01 PM

      It’s also worth mentioning that STEM also includes Science and Math- both of which are in liberal arts. 574 isn’t technically an engineering building (physics and bio). Math majors have a lot of these problems too, considering how tiny the Bromfield pearson classrooms are.

      The author just makes this awful jump from “I hate the classrooms I’m in” to “We have given up on Liberal Arts as a whole and only care about engineers anymore” which is entirely false. The programs themselves, which is what it truly boils down to, have some of the best professors in the world.

  9. Anonymous
    Sep 22, 2016 - 03:08 AM

    Have you ever been in an engineering building? Have you had a class in Anderson where you are lucky if your room has climate control and where for the past 2 years there has been constant construction noise from everything from the memorial steps project, to retrofitting of Robinson to bring it up to code and many other construction projects? If the class is not in Anderson it is likely in Sci Tech where almost none of the classrooms have windows and all are within earshot of the commuter rail and the green line extension construction. You are writing this article without any legs to stand on. The university is not discriminating against you as a non stem major, not even close. Many stem classes are taught in the same locations you are complaining about just like many non-stem classes are taught in nicer locations as well. There has not been a decrease in offerings of liberal arts classes nor a diminishing of resources. 574 is a space open to all students in case you missed that fact. Eaton has never been a space exclusively dedicated to liberal arts. Tufts is a university composed of two schools and many majors all deserving and all receiving the same resources and treatment. Next time you want to write an op ed do some research or maybe at least talk to your peers. Imagine if someone wrote this article from the opposite perspective and got it all wrong how would you feel?

  10. Anonymous
    Sep 22, 2016 - 03:21 AM

    You cannot claim Tufts is distancing itself from the humanities when every Liberal Arts student is still required to complete a 6 semester language requirement, writing requirement and many other distribution requirements. Every student even engineering interact and absorb the humanities. Tufts is not defunding the humanities any time soon. Many of us in every major have had classes in those rooms. Get off your high horse and stop complaining. Hopefully you will get a room with the number of seats you need but don’t act like you’re special or being personally discriminated against based on your major.

  11. Curious
    Sep 22, 2016 - 03:33 AM

    Can you tell me where this collaborative space for engineers is wihtin Eaton? I would love to make use of it

  12. anonymous
    Sep 23, 2016 - 06:24 PM

    Not all engineers can print for free in Halligan – only CS and ECE people can actually. 574 houses the community health department which is humanities. Eaton is not an engineering collaborating spot. Humanities kids are not confined to Ginn or Tisch; they can print for free in the Women’s Center or the LGBT center. Perhaps some more fact checking should have been done here first?

  13. Anonymous '15 Eng Grad
    Sep 25, 2016 - 04:47 PM

    Paris makes some interesting observations, so thank you Paris for pointing them out. As an engineer, these are things I might not have otherwise noticed. However, I would keep a few things in mind. First, the new engineering spaces referenced in the article have only gone up within the last year. I graduated in May 2015 and none of those spaces were available while I was there. Institutions don’t upgrade their entire array of facilities in one shot, they choose a few spaces to improve each year for practical and financial reasons. You will notice this same pattern with the dorms. Each year I was at Tufts, 1 or 2 different dorms were renovated. It is possible that Tufts is already planning on upgrading some liberal arts spaces in the next few years and we are just not aware of it yet.

    I would also point out that Tufts is a research institution that operates like a micro-economy (for better or worse). Departments compete for space and resources on campus based on how much research money they bring in. When I was at Tufts, my department lost office and lab space because other departments brought in more research money and were able to buy more space from the university. I don’t know the details of how this works, I only learned a little about it by talking to my department’s faculty and staff, and I would encourage anyone else who wants to learn more to do the same. From what I understand, departments essentially rent space from Tufts, and they pay that rent by bringing in research funding. My point is, be careful about accusing “Tufts” of promoting certain departments at the expense of others, because “Tufts” is not really a single entity that makes all decisions across the board. There are many moving parts within Tufts that operate independently of each other and make decisions on their own.

    One more thing. The claim that liberal arts students print “a lot more” than engineering students is anecdotal and baseless. Engineers print plenty of stuff too, including problem sets, research papers, lab reports, poster presentations, etc. Students are also not the only ones printing stuff; professors and staff print exams, handouts, and more, and in departments with free printing, I have seen first hand that they share the same printers with the students. It could be true that liberal arts students/faculty print more stuff, but it could just as easily be the other way around, I don’t know, and neither does the author. I would not make a claim like that without seeing the numbers first. Free printing on campus is a service offered by specific departments ONLY to the students within their departments. Each department decides whether or not they will offer this service.

  14. Anonymous
    Oct 31, 2016 - 02:43 PM

    Is she actually trying to claim that the humanities are better than STEM? Parents are discouraging humanities because those degrees often don’t translate into professions that justify a 240K undergraduate degree investment. This is a very common and well known stance that the author has conveniently left out. STEM jobs are worth the tuition investment. Engineers and scientist are saving this planet. STEM majors require a lot more equipment and support compared to English majors. Paris Sanders seems whiny and bitter with this weak as hell argument.

  15. Anonymous
    Oct 31, 2016 - 02:51 PM

    So Paris is trying to claim Tufts should go back to it’s roots of college being basically a finishing school and not set up students for careers and professions??? How is this real?

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