Editorial: Tufts infrastructure fails to accommodate student enrollment

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For Tufts students, it’s clear the university is expanding — it’s also clear that Tufts cannot bear this expansion. From longer lines in the dining halls to difficulties registering for classes, and the ever-present chaos of housing strains, the university is already struggling to accommodate the needs of all its current students.

Last week, Tufts announced that to accommodate incoming first-year students, the university will be constructing temporary housing at the site of the current modular housing units. Though officials promise the new dorms, which are still awaiting approval from the City of Somerville, will be an upgrade from the current COVID-19 units, students deserve a better housing arrangement from Tufts. It’s clear that these “luxury mods” are a simple Band-Aid fix for a much larger problem.

While this year brought unanticipated increases to the student population, the expansion of Tufts is no accident; the university is currently halfway through a multiyear expansion plan, and the program plans to continue increasing undergraduate student enrollment to 6,600 full-time students by 2026.

From fall 2015 to fall 2021, full-time undergraduate student enrollment increased by 25.3%, with the most recent incoming class being the largest in Tufts history with a size of 1,807 students, making Tufts home to over 6,500 undergraduates this year. Given this unprecedented growth, infrastructural change must be made to accommodate student needs.

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With a steadily climbing enrollment over the past few years, students have seen more crowded libraries and difficulty registering for necessary coursework, including the required first-year writing seminar. Additionally, despite the construction of the Joyce Cummings Center this year and its dozens of new study spaces, for many students, the campus feels just as crowded as ever. Students have also expressed fears over the dilution of university resources, such as those of Counseling and Mental Health Services.

As uncontrolled acceptance has put an ever-increasing quantity of students into dorms, the number of cars in Tufts’ parking lots has also gone up. Rather than making more parking available, Tufts recently closed one of its lots — ironically, to accommodate more modular housing. When winter storms force individuals to park their cars in garages, students, staff and faculty, have scrambled to relocate their cars before lots fill up, showing how Tufts’ overenrollment has negatively impacted its own employees as well. Tufts is sacrificing the quality of its students’ college experience — along with the well-being of its employees — in pursuit of expansion.

These concerns are particularly salient with the issue of housing. This year, the university scrambled to accommodate housing for all students, which required the last-minute conversion of West Hall from sophomore to first-year housing and forced the university to house approximately 100 students off campus at the Hyatt Place. This is not the first time a crisis of this sort has arisen. In 2007, for example, university officials offered students the option of living at the Hyatt Place to alleviate housing strains. While the plan was ultimately scrapped, the university’s prior ignorance of housing troubles has continued into the present.

Tufts expansion can’t be met without infrastructure changes. The university has long alluded to the possibility of building a new, high-capacity dorm and recently confirmed they are planning the construction of a 370-person dorm by fall 2026, but these efforts are too little, too late. Even if Tufts adheres to this goal, the university will have gone 20 years without building a new dorm.

Conversations around adding more on-campus housing began with President Monaco’s arrival to campus in 2011, but the end of Monaco’s tenure is in sight, and Tufts students continue to grapple with patchwork housing solutions.

Tufts has focused on maximizing its current residence halls, using the pleasant-sounding term “bed optimization,” which is really just housing students in forced triples. These “optimization” methods have frustrated students, and the university’s conversion of Medford’s wood-frame houses into Community Housing notably displaced many long-time faculty residents. Tufts has added more than 450 beds in the past five years, yet according to the Tufts University 2020–21 Fact Book, Tufts only had on-campus beds for 65% of its full-time undergraduate students — and that was before the unprecedented increase in student population that came with the Class of 2025.

A lack of on-campus housing also pushes a number of students into the Medford/Somerville housing markets, which has contributed to gentrification in the area. In 2018, Katjana Ballantyne, now mayor of Somerville, remarked that this puts Tufts in “direct conflict” with the goals of our host community. Especially given that these issues will likely worsen with the opening of the Green Line Extension, we urge Tufts to accelerate its plans for a new, high-capacity dorm.

As recently as 2018, the university had planned to continue increasing enrollment by approximately 100 first-year students per year until 2020. It’s apparent, however, that such increases in enrollment did not halt then. The continued expansion of Tufts has strained university resources and infrastructure alike. The university has tried too many temporary solutions — Tufts simply cannot enroll more students without infrastructural development.

Although university expansion privileges students with increased opportunities for collaboration and contact with diverse peers, the university infrastructure simply cannot support more students at this moment. Overcrowding was already a concern before this multiyear expansion plan was announced, and the fact that this program has continued unimpeded and even accelerated is ill-advised. Given the rapid expansion this year, Tufts should halt its expansion program until adequate resources can be provided for current students.

Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser has promised that the university is finding the equilibrium between the number of students and the resources that are currently available, but, until that equilibrium is met, Tufts students will continue to struggle with overcrowded conditions. Tufts must reconcile this imbalance by reducing its student expansion plans or by making serious investments in accommodations.

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