The departure of University President Anthony Monaco following this academic year will certainly be emotional for the Tufts student body. Serving as president for over a decade, President Monaco demonstrated his resolute leadership while navigating the university through a challenging pandemic and the subsequent rebound to in-person learning. Although he has received backlash from students on certain issues, he nevertheless remained an open book and did his best to respect and address their concerns.
When his successor, Sunil Kumar, inherits Tufts come July 1, 2023, he should be aware of the numerous issues that need his attention. The most obvious issue for Kumar to address is Tufts’ housing. The increase in the number of temporary housing units demonstrates an overflow of the student population. While construction will soon begin on a new dorm located in what is currently the Hill Hall and Hillsides parking lot, this project is intended solely for upperclassmen. Given that first-years and sophomores are the only members of the undergraduate population that are mandated to live on campus, Kumar should put “increase underclassmen housing” as the first bullet point on his to-do list. The first-year temporary housing is not a permanent solution. First-year students should not begin their undergraduate education worrying that they might end up in a building assembled on tennis courts or a hotel in Medford for which the only cheap form of transportation is an unreliable shuttle.
Even in the existing permanent dorms, students should not have to live in a triple that was clearly designed as a double. Kumar should immediately look into any and all dorm expansion options: initiating conversations with the towns of Medford and Somerville, assessing vacant space on campus as potential real estate for new dorms and working with students to understand the issues with existing dorms. Finding solutions for the housing crisis is not an easy task, but it would be in Kumar’s best interest to try to make progress on this front in order to begin building a rapport with the students. Housing has to be No. 1.
Another key agenda item that Kumar needs to focus on is on-campus antisemitism. This is not just a Tufts issue by any means, though Tufts has recently seen a sharp rise in the number of antisemitic incidents. The relaxed responses from the university to these incidents have communicated to students that antisemitic behavior is tolerated. Responding only by sending an email outlining what happened and joining the Campus Climate Initiative does not have a sufficient impact. This cannot stand. Hate against any minority is fundamentally wrong on every level. Tufts’ leadership needs to have a more active role in club and organization events that are even slightly political in nature in order to ensure that hurtful situations do not arise. Bullet point two: thoughtful reform of administrative response to acts of antisemitism and other forms of hate on campus and in the broader community.
Finally, speaking from my experience and those of my friends, course enrollment is an incredibly stressful process. SIS is outdated, too many classes that I have looked into are taught at 10:30 a.m. and myself and my friends have struggled to get spots in classes we need for graduation and for our majors. Kumar needs to commit major capital, both financial and human, to working on improving SIS, from its aesthetic to its ease of use. In addition, Kumar should work with the deans of the Schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering on finding solutions to allow more students to enroll without increased stress and struggle, whether that means more TAs or more professors. Class selection at the college level should be about exploring and trying new things, not worrying whether you will get into a class you need to graduate.
These three points are just the beginning. Kumar needs to apply pressure to the Hill’s open wounds. He certainly cannot do it alone, and no one should expect him to. He needs to incorporate student, faculty and, most importantly, alumni and administrative input. The student experience at Tufts is in jeopardy and improving it will encourage more frequent and larger contributions towards the endowment from alumni and engagement from students. Collaborating with all members of the Tufts community, students and faculty alike, will be the key to Kumar’s success while in office.