A great university

It's time to take 'prudent risks,' president says

President Lawrence S. Bacow presented an overview of Tufts' strengths and challenges to the Arts, Sciences and Engineering faculty, noting that the university has moved up a notch in the schools with which it competes. "Now is the time to take prudent risks," he said.

At the March 5 faculty meeting, Bacow gave a presentation similar to the one he made to the Board of Trustees in February. Bacow talked about where Tufts stands today and then offered strategies for improving the quality and vitality of the university.

President Lawrence S. Bacow

President Lawrence S. Bacow

He outlined the elements of a great university. A university, he said, is defined by its students, faculty and staff, and everything Tufts does is motivated by making sure it attracts the best people. A great university, he said, is also one that provides a diverse learning environment, has the capacity to work across traditional disciplinary boundaries, provides integration of teaching and research and has the resources to sustain its mission.

What Tufts is known for, he said, is "our international perspective, our nurturing environment for students and our intimate scale. What people like about Tufts is that we are small enough so no one gets lost, yet large enough so that no one gets bored."

Bacow said that Tufts' stature has continued to grow in recent years, allowing it to attract top-notch students. Since 1995, he said, applications to the undergraduate colleges have gone up 70 percent; the number of students accepted for admission was 43 percent and is now 23 percent; the number of National Merit Scholars has increased from 81 to 154, and the number of under-represented minorities has increased from 11 percent to 20.3 percent. Last year, Tufts rejected one third of the high school valedictorians who applied for admission.

In terms of where Tufts stands today, Bacow said, "Our professional schools are healthy but very expensive. We have the most expensive medical and veterinary school tuitions in the country. The quality of education is terrific; the [tuition] problem can be fixed with resources.

"Our undergraduate education is excellent, but we now operate in a very competitive environment. We used to compete for students with Amherst, Bates and Williams, and now it's Dartmouth, Brown and Cornell. And we are going to compete with them for faculty as well."

Bacow said the $600 million Tufts Tomorrow fund-raising campaign, completed last summer, strengthened the university, but Tufts is still under-endowed. Still, because only eight percent of the university's operating budget comes from the endowment, the university has not been hurt as much by the downturn in the stock market as have universities that rely much more heavily on their endowments for operating costs.

"Now is the time to take prudent risks," he said. "You win races on the uphill. This is the time to hire faculty, when peer institutions are cutting back." Bacow said Tufts must offer more competitive hiring and salary packages and develop research facilities to allow it to compete "for excellent teachers and scholars."

To attract that faculty, Bacow said, "we will test our egalitarian culture. We will have to match offers from other universities, and we may hire someone as a full professor who is younger than those around him or her. We may promote some people more quickly."

Bacow also said that to cement its position as being highly attractive to undergraduates, Tufts needs to develop a need-blind admissions strategy, meaning it will accept a student regardless of his or her ability to pay.

Bacow said the number of students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes who have high SAT scores and also come from families that earn more than $100,000 a year is relatively low. "The bottom line," he said, "is there are not enough potentially full-pay students to go around. Every student we admit should be able to go here regardless of the ability to pay. Only Tufts and Georgetown are not need-blind in the range of schools we compete with."

Bacow said that among Tufts' other challenges is the problem of not having enough land for new facilities on the Medford/Somerville campus. "We are landlocked," he said. "We will have to be more strategic and less opportunistic. We have invested in some areas because they are donor-driven. Now we have to say [to donors], 'This is what we need; if you're interested, we invite your help.' We need funding for projects that address Tufts' priorities. We need endowed chairs, and we need student aid. Buildings help only if they attract the faculty and students we need."

In order to secure resources, Bacow said, the university will have to build an organization for the next capital campaign, reach out to alumni in ways the university has not done in the past, redeploy existing resources in new ways and "tell our story much better."