The end of the academic year is always a time of celebrations. No moment in the university calendar can match Commencement, when our extraordinary students complete demanding courses of study and move into the next phase of their lives and careers. Before this year’s graduates left Tufts, they had the chance to reflect on a remarkable address by former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens in which he challenged them, and all members of our university community, to find strength and compassion through service to others.
The weeks before and after Commencement were filled with myriad other celebrations, including many events to honor the particular accomplishments of members of our Tufts community—ceremonies to present student awards for academics, active citizenship, and athletics, the Alumni Awards to outstanding graduates, and the Tufts Distinction Awards recognizing staff and faculty contributions to the work of the university. We hosted a range of successful reunion activities. And two of our varsity athletic teams, men’s lacrosse and women’s softball, earned private “graduation” ceremonies since they would miss Baccalaureate and Commencement while competing in national championships. I certainly felt the year ended on a high note for Tufts.
This was of course an especially memorable year for me and my family. We deeply appreciate the warm welcome we have received from the community and have relished the many opportunities to get to know students, faculty, and staff on all three of our campuses, and alumni, donors, and community stakeholders off campus.
Alumni engagement makes especially important contributions to Tufts’ success, and I was grateful for the chance to participate in so many events with our graduates across this country and in Europe. One highlight was a trip shortly after Commencement to Turkey and Greece. The comprehensive Tufts in the World: Turkey program, organized by our International Board of Advisors, was a particularly compelling reflection of our commitment to a global perspective and engagement with the world’s most dynamic societies.
Our Board of Trustees always takes a close look at the financial health of the university at its May meeting, when it approves the final budget for the coming fiscal year. Tufts’ continuing tradition of careful stewardship, and the high demand for our academic programs, received a strong vote of confidence from the credit markets this spring when we successfully issued $250 million in taxable bonds, taking advantage of the historically low cost of capital. These funds will permit us to make important investments in deferred maintenance, business systems, and new and renovated facilities to support our teaching and research.
While we are fortunate to have a strong foundation for the future, there are clearly challenges ahead. The American economy remains sluggish. In our globalized society, instability anywhere can affect us all, and the long-term investment outlook is highly uncertain.
Our largest source of revenue is tuition, but we cannot simply rely on increasing student charges to address our programmatic needs. The Board and I share the growing public concerns over the rising cost of higher education, and take seriously our obligation to hold costs down for all Tufts students. My senior leadership team and I are developing plans for a thorough review of opportunities to gain administrative efficiencies and provide better services for our academic mission. Benchmarking has shown us that we already operate more leanly than many peer institutions, but we must do all we can to use our resources in a cost effective manner.
At the same time, we want to expand access to the university as broadly as possible, in line with Tufts’ historic principles. Our alumni and donors have shown their support for financial aid in the past, and we will be working intensively with them, starting this summer, to develop creative approaches to supporting undergraduate scholarships and fellowships in our graduate and professional schools. This initiative to support financial aid is one way the university is benefiting from the talents of Eric Johnson, who was promoted to Vice President for University Advancement this winter. We are fortunate to be able to rely on his leadership and dedication to Tufts, which have assured a seamless transition in the areas of fundraising and alumni relations.
I owe special thanks to Peggy Newell for her remarkable leadership of the Provost’s office this year. Peggy’s service as Provost and Senior Vice President ad interim was enormously important to my first year at Tufts. David Harris has now arrived from Cornell to assume the position of Provost and Senior Vice President. The chance to spend more time with him, since his appointment in March, has made me appreciate all the more what he will bring to Tufts as an intellectual and administrative leader.
While much was in transition this year, the university hardly stood still. Across all our Schools and administrative divisions, our faculty, students, and staff made remarkable contributions to teaching and learning, and research and scholarship. We continued to make an impact on society, exemplified by the launch of ChildObesity 180, an innovative national initiative spearheaded by faculty at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and chaired by Peter Dolan, Vice Chair of our Board of Trustees.
The excellence of scholarship and teaching at Tufts continued to garner national and international recognition. Notable awards this year included the 2012 Erasmus Prize, awarded to Professor Daniel C. Dennett of the Department of Philosophy in recognition of his ability to communicate the cultural significance of science and technology to a broad audience, and the Urie Bronfenbrenner Award for Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology, awarded by the American Psychological Association to Professor Richard M. Lerner of the Department of Child Development. Professor Leila Fawaz of The Fletcher School and the Department of History was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the government of France, while Professors Peggy Cebe of the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Karen Panetta of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
Our faculty are also leaders in their professions and the academy. Dean Deborah T. Kochevar of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine will assume the presidency of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges this summer, and Professor Simin Meydani, Director of the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging, was elected to become President of the American Society of Nutrition in 2014. Dean Emeritus Lonnie H. Norris received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Dental Education Association.
Our students and recent graduates have upheld a tradition of exceptional performance in such arenas as the Fulbright Fellowships and national competitions for excellence in individual disciplines. The appeal of a Tufts education to extraordinary students was reflected in this year’s undergraduate admissions results, as our acceptance rate for the Class of 2016 reached an all-time low of 21 percent. The School of Arts and Sciences completed a review of interdisciplinary programs this year, approved new undergraduate major and minor programs in Africana Studies and a new minor in Asian-American Studies, and launched a new Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. The School of Medicine announced plans for a new Physician Assistant degree program to help address society’s urgent needs for more primary-care providers and more affordable health care. The Cummings School opened a clinic at Worcester Technical High School that provides low-cost primary care for pets from underserved areas and training for veterinary students and technicians.
Tufts continues its strong programs in the arts, music, drama and dance. From innovative courses and academic programs to a range of co-curricular activities, I was dazzled throughout my first year by the inspiring performances of our outstanding students and faculty. Tufts was also able to bring to campus a stellar roster of public intellectuals and leaders to speak to our community this year. We heard from Bill Clinton, Father Patrick Desbois, Niall Ferguson, Governor Deval Patrick, Cornel West, Brian Williams, and Muhammad Yunus, to name just a few.
We launched a number of other important university-wide initiatives this year as well, including the Councils on Diversity and Campus Sustainability that I am leading. We rolled out plans for a series of faculty-led working groups on key interdisciplinary areas where we have particularly important opportunities to make leading contributions in research and graduate education. And in administration, our new Student Information System moved ahead on time and on budget, we started work on a long-awaited administrative system to support faculty research, and we developed a comprehensive risk register as a tool for proactive managerial decision-making. Scores of faculty and staff have contributed to a thoughtful self-study process in preparation for our evaluation for reaccreditation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges next spring.
Taken together, these initiatives position us well to begin work this fall on a university-wide strategic plan, an effort that will be led by incoming Provost Harris. In parallel, we will move ahead with development of a new capital plan driven by academic priorities. I will have more to say about both of these initiatives as the new academic year begins.
I am already looking ahead to an exciting and busy fall. One highlight will unquestionably be the opening of the Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center on the Medford/Somerville campus. The Tisch Center is an important manifestation of Tufts’ commitment to the values of health, wellness, fitness and athletics. It will deepen our residential campus experience, strengthen community within the university and impact the competitiveness of our varsity athletics and club sports. It also reflects the engagement and philanthropic commitment of our alumni and friends.
I hope that summer is off to a good start for all of you. Thank you again for your support this year. I truly believe that all of us are engaged in a collaborative endeavor of the greatest importance and value. University teaching and research have an incalculable positive impact on society. At Tufts, that impact is magnified by our robust traditions of active citizenship and civic engagement. I cannot imagine a better foundation on which to advance the values we share.