Editorial: SMFA-Tufts coordination issues persist to detriment of students

While the decision to merge the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) and Tufts was made with good intentions, glaring problems have developed that have not been addressed by the administration. Students enrolled in the SMFA are currently facing serious logistical issues. Fundamental problems such as maldistribution of resources, difficulty in navigating transit schedules, and lack of access to food make for a subpar college experience. Students have expressed concerns about poor communication between the institution and students. For example, a May 21, 2017 Daily article reports that a senior had to contact multiple administrative offices to retrieve a tuition refund check. 

Though this bureaucratic disorientation is a natural phase that administrative merging creates, the continuation of poor communication not only places students at a disadvantage, but also creates a sense of disconnection. The SMFA First Year Experience website, for example, advises first-year students to limit the number of classes they take on the Medford/Somerville campus. Although this is intended to help first-years adjust to the SMFA campus, such planning of academic schedules only prevents students from integrating with the larger Tufts community (if that was the purpose of the merger). At a critical phase of college transitions, relationships are just as important as academics, and the university should communicate with SMFA students on the best means to achieve both ends.

Such communication problems are indicative of the larger resource problems that both campuses face. For instance, because of the lack of studio space on the Medford/Somerville campus, fine arts students have been forced to commute long hours to the SMFA. This implicitly shows the priorities of the administration’s distribution of resources; STEM-related studies outweigh fine arts in budget consideration. This is further reflected in the faculty composition of the SMFA. In 2016, of the 128 SMFA faculty members, 62 worked part-time.

Though SMFA Dean Nancy Bauer has expressed willingness to experiment, a large body of part-time faculty, which is subjected to budget restraints and administrative flux, is less likely to promote high-end experimental courses central to the educational experience of a fine arts school.

Yet, beyond resource constraints, students have vocally expressed fundamental problems related to food and transportation. Most SMFA students have no time to grab food at Dewick or Carmichael because they commute early to attend morning classes and return late at night. At the moment, the SMFA does not have a functioning dining hall, and has offered students meal plans at other universities such as Massachusetts College of Art and Design as an alternative. However, dining halls exist on campus for a reason: Students simply do not have the luxury to commute to other universities just to eat.

Though the administration has also responded by providing students with Rhino Bucks, which can be used in restaurants and cafes around campus, the same problem applies here. In addition, Rhino Bucks are inconvenient, according to students, because they cannot be used interchangeably with JumboCash.

Regarding transportation, the SMFA-Tufts shuttle bus, known as the Joey, is the students’ main transportation method. Commute times are excruciatingly long, as buses have to detour at Storrow and Memorial Drive and face traffic during morning and evening rush hours. Moreover, journeys are far from comfortable, as SMFA students are cramped in the often overpopulated Joeys, only increasing the fatigue that they should not have to experience. The university responded by adding a Joey, and Bauer believes that the Green Line extension will be a fundamental solution. However, though the Green Line extension will surely provide relief, it will not be completed in the near future.

In addition, SMFA students have conversely argued that the shuttle system has become more disoriented, despite changes. Through multiple interviews with first-year SMFA students, the Editorial Board has found that students have missed classes and transportation home because shuttles did not show up on time. Students who are already paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition should not have to resort to using the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) services or Uber to avoid these inconveniences. It is critical for the administration to address such transportation problems because they prevent students from accessing important resources. This is ever more relevant considering that fitness centers and health services are dispersed relatively far from the Fenway campus.

The effect of all this is disillusionment. The $10,000 tuition hike faced by incoming SMFA students is only the tip of the iceberg they have to carry. With higher tuition comes higher expectations, and it is important for the university to respond accordingly.