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Spring 2004
illustration by Neil Brennan
A University Poised

In February 2003, about a year and a half into my presidency, I gave a presentation to the Board of Trustees entitled “Tufts: A University Poised.” My intent was to give the trustees an overview of where we are as an institution—a 30,000-foot view of our strategy going forward. Since that time, I have given the same presentation to several faculties at our schools and the HNRCA, to the university’s boards of overseers, to managers, and to the Alumni Council. All have heard the same presentation that I made to the trustees, as I think it is helpful and important for all of us throughout the university to be on the same page when it comes to articulating goals and planning to achieve them. Now I would like to share “Tufts: A University Poised” with you.

Elements of a Great University
First, a great university is defined by its people. We need great students, great faculty, and great staff to make Tufts a great university. In the end, everything that we do is a means to attract and retain the very best people possible. Nothing else matters if we do not have great students and great faculty, and great staff to support them. So, that’s our primary goal as an institution.

Second, we must have a diverse learning environment. We must embrace diversity in every possible dimension, and learn from our differences. It is one of the reasons why we ask humanists to study science and mathematics, and engineers to study poetry and history. It is one of the reasons why we seek a diverse culture in our community.

Third, a great university provides the capacity to work across traditional disciplinary boundaries. I think that the great intellectual challenges that we confront as a society lie not at the heart of disciplines, but rather at the edges and the intersection of disciplines. So, if we can make it easier for our students and faculty to work across traditional boundaries, we are likely to prosper as an institution.

Fourth, great universities succeed in integrating teaching and research. There are times at some institutions in which teaching and research are characterized as in tension. I do not think they are, if we do it right. Great teaching should reinforce great research, and great research should reinforce great teaching. Our students ask us questions in the classroom that we cannot answer. These questions then become the basis for future scholarship. We engage our students in the process of discovery in answering these questions, and the answers then become part of our curriculum. It is a process that reinforces itself if it is done right, and great universities do it right.

Finally, we need the resources to sustain this vision.

The Boyer Commission
Many of you are familiar with the Boyer Commission on Higher Education. It addressed the role of teaching and research at universities like Tufts, and concluded that what research universities need now is a new model of undergraduate education that makes the baccalaureate experience an inseparable part of an integrated whole. We need to take advantage of the immense resources that are available in a research university as we conceptualize the undergraduate experience. We should never forget that most students elect to attend Tufts in part because we are a university with a rich array of graduate and professional programs.

In the time that I have been at Tufts, I have observed that very few undergraduates ever venture intellectually outside the college. We need to create more opportunities for undergraduates to take advantage of the wonderful graduate programs and professional schools at Tufts. I think we can do more than we have to date.

What Are We Known for as a University?
We are known for our international perspective. Seventy years ago, the Fletcher School was founded. During his visit to campus a few years ago, President Clinton remarked on the foresight of Tufts to found the first school of international relations in the country, at a time of great isolationism in the U.S. I think over time Fletcher has infected the rest of the university in a very healthy way. If you look at how each of our schools describes itself, each takes pride in the fact that among its peers, it is international in orientation. Certainly, that is manifested in Arts and Sciences, where International Relations is one of our most popular majors. Also, a significant number of our undergraduates study abroad, and our professional schools engage in international activities. For two out of the last three years, Tufts has led the nation in the number of Peace Corps volunteers. Our international dimension positions us well in this time of global interdependence.

Second, we are known for providing a nurturing environment for our students. Again, I am talking about the university as a whole, not just the undergraduate college. If you ask the Sackler faculty what distinguishes Sackler from other graduate programs in biology, they will tell you it is their nurturing and supportive environment for graduate students. By contrast, comparable graduate programs are anything but nurturing. You hear this same theme at the medical school and the dental school, and at each of our schools. And it is true.

Our intimate scale is a strength of Tufts. Tufts is small enough so that nobody ever gets lost, but large enough so that nobody ever gets bored. Again, this statement is true not just for our undergraduates, but for the entire university. For example, Fletcher faculty will tell you that it is smaller than comparable schools of international relations. It is much more intimate; therefore, the faculty and the students know each other to a far greater degree. This is true in other parts of the university as well. We are the smallest of the major research universities in the country.

All of our schools are committed to producing students who are going to make a difference in the world. Active citizenship is a matter of pride and tradition here. In fact, Tufts is a place where people are not afraid to get their hands dirty. We are not an ivory tower. We are a community committed to producing active, engaged, and effective citizens who make the world better through their work.

Tufts has great strength in the life sciences. As an institution, we do not talk enough about this. There are very few universities that have the collection of schools that are represented by our medical, dental, and veterinary schools, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Sackler School, and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Johns Hopkins is known for strength in the life sciences and actively promotes this image. We have comparable strength, but we have not carefully articulated it as a university.

Student Quality
Undergraduate student quality has increased enormously in a relatively brief period of time. Undergraduate applications are up 70 percent since 1995. Our selectivity has improved from 43 percent to 26 percent. We set a record again this year [2003] for the number of undergraduate applications to Tufts with 14,528 applications. Since 1995, underrepresented minorities increased from 11.7 percent to 15 percent. International enrollment has been as high as 18 percent. We almost doubled the number of National Merit Scholars. As I like to point out, we improved the quality of the student body, unambiguously by any measure, at the same time that we also greatly increased the diversity of this student body. We have sacrificed nothing to achieve this diversity. To the contrary, we have enhanced the quality of the student body.

Alumni often are amazed to hear these statistics. Sometimes they question, “Do you mean that I would not get in if I applied now?” My response is: “Take pride in these numbers, because the value of your diploma is appreciating daily.”

Where Do We Stand Today as an Institution?
First, professional education at Tufts is very healthy, but it is also very expensive. This is an important point. We have the most expensive medical school tuition in the country.1 We have the most expensive veterinary school tuition in the country. Our dental school tuition ranks in the top five nationally. Fletcher’s tuition is comparable to its peer schools, but Fletcher offers less financial aid to students, so the net cost is high relative to the competition. So we have great professional programs, but they are very expensive.

I am an optimist. I look at this fact and say: “Well, if we are going to have a problem, it is better to have healthy, expensive programs than to have less expensive but poor quality programs.” The good news is that Tufts’ problem can be fixed by resources. The quality of the education in all of our graduate schools is terrific. Resources can address the tuition issue.

Undergraduate education at Tufts is excellent, but as a result of the improvement in the quality of the students that we now attract, we operate in a very competitive space. Our overlap schools today are different from what they were 20 years ago. Tufts used to compete for students with Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin, Bates . . . our fellow NESCAC schools. Today, Tufts competes with Dartmouth, Brown, Penn, Cornell, Georgetown, and Washington University—all research universities. It is a different competitive environment for recruiting students, and that has consequences for us that I will address later.

My next statement is controversial, but I said it to the trustees, and I will share it with you. Our scholarly reputation as an institution has lagged behind the improvement in the quality of our students. What does that mean? We compete for students with a set of schools that we do not necessarily compete with for faculty. To some extent this is understandable, because the time constant for turning over students is every four years, while faculty tend to stay in place for 20 or 30 years. I will talk about this point later, along with what we need to do about lifting our sights as an institution.

If you stay abreast of what is happening at other colleges and universities, you know that many are facing difficult choices. Some institutions are not giving raises. Some are cutting salaries of senior officers. Some are grappling with deep cuts in their operating budgets, and eliminating positions and programs. I am pleased to tell you that Tufts is not in this position. We face challenges, but not the severe restrictions that some of our peers face.

Through wise fiscal management and the successful Tufts Tomorrow Campaign, we are in a much stronger position than we were five or ten years ago. In fact, Tufts is in the strongest financial position in its history.

Although we are underendowed as an institution, we have a short-term competitive advantage over endowment-driven colleges and universities. Consider this: If 40 percent of your institutional operating revenues are supported by investment income, and your investments decline by 25 percent, then you have a big problem. On the other hand, if ten percent of your operating revenues are supported by investment income (as are Tufts’), and you see a ten percent annual increase over the past five years (as we did), you are in a very different position than the endowment-driven institutions. Every dog has its day, and this day is ours. We did not achieve the enormous endowment growth during the dot.com era, but neither are we suffering as much since the economic bubble burst. We are in sound financial shape.2

Now is the time to take prudent risks.

Tufts is in a different position than it was ten years ago, when the university had few reserves. We are in a position now where we can afford to take prudent risks. Yes, the endowment declined slightly last year, but races are won on the uphill. Colleges and universities are running uphill now. This is the time for us to be in the market, hiring faculty, for example. When our peer institutions are cutting back, when they are not giving raises, when they have imposed faculty hiring freezes...now is when Tufts is poised to make a move, and gain on our competitors.

The Strategy
I said earlier that a great university is defined by its ability to attract great students and great faculty. Our first objective is to strengthen Tufts’ faculty with more competitive salaries and hiring packages.

In my first year at Tufts, I eliminated the Vice President for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering position, and the budget that went with it. The money that we saved was put back into faculty salaries in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. This year, we are redeploying other resources, so that we can continue in difficult times to give faculty raises when other institutions are cutting back.

Competitive hiring packages are important because we need to be in the marketplace competing for people. Moreover, we have to meet the test of the market if we want to attract the kind of people that we would like as our colleagues.

Second, we must develop the research facilities that enable us to compete effectively for the faculty that we are trying to hire. We have made substantial progress in certain areas. For example, Tufts has a much better library today than we had ten years ago. But, if you look at our laboratories and some of our other facilities, we have a long way to go if we want to hire outstanding scholars.

Need-blind Admissions
Tufts must cement its undergraduate position by committing to need-blind admissions (in which a student’s ability to pay tuition is not a factor in the admissions decision). We must be able to compete for the best students.

Let me explain why need-blind admissions is important.

The SAT was taken by 1.3 million students in the United States last year. Only 49,000 of those students were in the top ten percent of their class and had SAT scores over 1280. These scores do not necessarily get you into Tufts; in fact, they reflect the middle of our applicant pool. Of the 49,000 students with these average scores, only 13,000 came from families with incomes above $100,000. These are potentially full-pay students, even though $100,000 is not extreme wealth (particularly if you have more than one child in college).

There are 24,000 total seats in the freshman class of the 17 institutions that we compete with each year to attract students. The bottom line is that there are not enough potentially full-pay students of quality (13,000) to fill all of our classes. Therefore, if we want to maintain student quality—remember, the goal is great faculty and great students—then we must commit to need-blind admissions, so that every student admitted to Tufts can attend regardless of his or her family’s ability to pay.
By the way, of the institutions that we go head-to-head with right now, only Georgetown is not need-blind. The other 15 institutions are need-blind. Again, we have moved into a different competitive space.

In the next capital campaign, we must raise the resources to ensure that we can compete for the best undergraduates. Need-blind admissions will require an additional $150 million in endowment. Tufts raised $41.4 million in endowment for undergraduate scholarships in the last capital campaign.3 We will have to do much better in the next campaign.

The Strategy, Continued
First, we want to enhance the undergraduate experience through the work of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education, so that Tufts remains competitive. We have an opportunity to differentiate what we are doing from our competitors through the work of the University College of Citizenship and Public Service (UCCPS). Students who apply and enroll here are attracted to Tufts because we provide an education geared toward active citizenship. UCCPS can become an amplifier for everything we do in undergraduate education.

Second, we must knit the schools together through targeted research initiatives that capitalize on synergies. This is the objective of the university-wide Council on Graduate Education. The undergraduate Summer Scholars program is another example of how we can bring the schools together. We are identifying other opportunities, too.

Third, we must ensure that academic priorities drive all budgetary, space, and hiring decisions. There are three scarce resources in a university: money, space, and faculty slots. We must allocate these resources to help us to attract, recruit, and retain the very best students and the very best faculty at Tufts. We must be crystal clear about our academic priorities. I have already restructured our budget process so that it now begins in the provost’s office. This is a new approach for Tufts. The provost and the executive vice president jointly authored the budget letter that was submitted to the Board of Trustees this year. These actions send important messages about how we are changing the way we do business at Tufts.

We are landlocked on all of our campuses except for Grafton. We will have to deal with this problem because we need new research facilities, instructional space, and housing. Certainly, the cities of Medford and Somerville are not anxious to see the campus expand into the neighborhoods, so we must use our land resources creatively. We are working on this problem.

Second, we have to be much more strategic and less opportunistic. We must articulate our academic priorities and sell them to donors—and not let donors drive our decision making. If we cannot convince donors to invest in our priorities, we must have the courage to turn down their support. This is not easy, but the surest way for a university to go broke is to take 50 percent of the money to underwrite a project or program that is not otherwise a priority. We will not do that on my watch.

I keep emphasizing great students and great faculty because it is an easy message to communicate to donors. When I am asked to list my highest priorities, it is easy to respond: support for students (graduate fellowships or undergraduate financial aid) or support for faculty, usually in the form of endowed chairs.

Third, true excellence will test Tufts’ egalitarian culture. One of the great things about Tufts is that this is an exceptionally collegial place. I hope it never changes, but we are now operating in a highly competitive environment for students and faculty. If we are going to successfully recruit outstanding people, we are going to have to match employment offers from other very competitive institutions.

For example, we may hire someone as a full professor even though he or she is younger than others in the department, because at a lesser rank the person would not come to Tufts. We may have to promote some people faster than we might otherwise, in order to retain them. These approaches will test the culture a bit, but if we want to achieve excellence, we must be willing to adapt. If we do not adapt, we can expect our top faculty to be lured to some of the very best institutions in the country.

Securing the Resources
We must redeploy existing resources in order to increase faculty salaries. The elimination of a layer of management in Arts, Sciences, and Engineering is an example of how we are doing this. We also are changing the way in which deferred maintenance is funded. The deferred maintenance budget is not being cut; however, its rate of growth is being slowed. We have worked through a sizable amount of Tufts’ deferred maintenance backlog. It is evident in new classrooms and other improvements. By slowing growth in the deferred maintenance budget, we will have more resources to invest in people.
We are building the organization for the next capital campaign. We are investing in the annual fund, and already that is bearing fruit. The annual fund last year (FY02) increased seven percent over the previous year. This year (FY03), after just six months, the Arts, Sciences, and Engineering annual fund is up more than nine percent. In a difficult economic climate, we are working hard to reach out to our alumni in ways that we have never done before, and it is starting to pay off.

We must engage our alumni in an ongoing value-added relationship. We cannot just say to them, “Give us money.” Alumni must have a reason to want to stay involved with Tufts. Adele and I recently hosted nine senior dinners at Gifford House. Most of the members of the senior class and numerous alumni were present. The dinners provide an opportunity to connect Tufts seniors with alumni. They also provide an opportunity for alumni to give back to Tufts in a way that does not involve money. In our communications with alumni, we stress that each generation at Tufts has helped the next. We are creating networks among alumni so that they can communicate with each other and draw value from these relationships. Universities that do this well build incredible loyalty among their alumni. We have not done it to date, and we need to.

We are only going to undertake sustainable new initiatives. Endowment here is the key. It is not enough for somebody to fund a new activity for a year or two. Remember, we must be strategic, not opportunistic in our fundraising, and focus on Tufts’ academic priorities. If a new initiative cannot be sustained, we are not going to do it.

Finally, we must tell our story much better. Tufts has a wonderful story to tell, but in the past, we have been very modest about our successes. We also have operated our communications in a very decentralized way. It has made it difficult to focus on key messages and to get the word out about Tufts effectively. We are working on this. Last year, I formed an executive news group that met monthly to determine high-level messages that Tufts wishes to emphasize with its various constituencies. I also formed a university communications council, representative of Tufts’ major print, media, and web content managers, charged with taking the high-level messages and disseminating them throughout our publications, public relations, and website. Communications managers who previously met infrequently now are organized into the new University Relations division and work closely together. In the past year, the number of media hits for Tufts has more than doubled, and we are getting coverage in the nation’s most prominent newspapers. We get international coverage as well. We are sending eNews to all Tufts employees, to alumni, friends, and parents. All of these efforts are making a difference, and the buzz about Tufts is growing.

Raising Our Sights
As I concluded my presentation to the Board of Trustees, I noted that we must raise our sights as an institution. We must raise our sights for the faculty we hire, for the students we recruit, for the donors we solicit, and for ourselves as a board. The trustees embraced this message. This is what it will take to move Tufts to the next level of excellence.

1 The university held tuition steady at the Medical School for the 2003–2004 academic year; tuition currently is second-highest in the nation.
2 In FY 2003, Tufts had a 4.5 percent increase in the value of its total investments.
3 Campaign fundraising for endowment for student scholarships university-wide totaled $86 million.