A University Poised
||illustration by Neil Brennan
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
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.
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  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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.