Bearing fruit

Task force has enriched the undergraduate experience

In the nearly three years since the Task Force on the Undergraduate Experience issued a list of recommendations for improving the intellectual and social climate at Tufts, the majority of those suggestions have come to fruition—and some have quickly become valued parts of life on the Medford/Somerville campus.

“Tufts has made remarkable progress in carrying out the recommendations in the task force report,” said Gilbert Metcalf, professor of economics and the task force chair. “Perhaps more important than the specific accomplishments—and there have been many—is the way the Tufts community has embraced the ideals and vision of a Tufts education that the task force put forth.

“The strategic planning exercises in Arts & Sciences as well as in Engineering were deeply infused with ideas from the report,” he said.

Some of the recommendations were enacted immediately after the task force issued its final report in May 2003. Other innovations are more recent. Some, including a series of public service internships, have received funding through the $100 million gift to Tufts last November from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, A88, and his wife, Pam, J89.

While many of the recommendations are now off the ground, “there are still quite a number in the works, and there are some that are not going to happen,” said James Glaser, dean of undergraduate education, who is facilitating implementation of the project.

Vertical deans
It is expected that that the recommendation to establish a “vertical deans” system will go into effect this fall, Glaser said. Under this configuration, a specific dean will have continuous responsibility for a class from matriculation to commencement.

Among those recommendations that will most likely not be enacted are the creation of a “college system”—a system of four colleges within which academic, social and cultural programming can take place—because of limitations presented by the infrastructure and geography of the Medford/Somerville campus.

In addition, the institution of a “need-blind” undergraduate admissions policy, while a high priority for the administration, is dependent on future fund-raising.

“While the task force’s mandate was to look at undergraduate life, it is clear that improvements in undergraduate life also depend critically on improvements in resources for our graduate programs and faculty,” Metcalf said. “While the upcoming capital campaign will need to aggressively attract support for important task force recommendations, such as need-blind admissions, it will also need to fund more endowed chairs for faculty, endowed research funds and other faculty support.”

Among the task force’s achievements:

Fostering internship opportunities. A $100,000 fund has been created from the Omidyar gift to support summer internships with nonprofit organizations or in the public sector.

Tisch Library café. The Tower Café in the Dranetz Tower has proved enormously popular. During the 2004-05 academic year, there were 84,000 transactions at the café register; traffic to the library increased by 40,000 visitors.

Improving students’ oral communication skills. Glaser used a pilot project for a web-based tool known as “Web Diver” in a political science course. Web Diver allows a teacher to record, analyze and provide feedback on oral presentations by students. The goal is to employ Diver in more classes.

Expanded undergraduate research symposium. This year, the annual symposium will move from the weekend to a weekday in the hope of attracting more participants. The 2006 symposium will take place on Friday, March 10, at noon at Braker Hall. See

More residence halls dedicated to first-year students. There are now three first-year dorms, and demand from incoming students still exceeds supply.

Summer-session scholarships. The Omidyar gift will provide money for approximately 25 students with high financial need to attend summer school.

Automated administrative functions. The advent of online registration, grading, room reservations, transfer-of-credit and degree certification has decreased the time faculty members spend on administrative tasks.

Helene Ragovin is a senior writer in Tufts’ Office of Publications. She can be reached at