The start of the new academic year is always an exciting time on campus. As we begin, I offer a special welcome to our new students and faculty, whose talents, drive, and dedication are truly the foundation for our continuing success. Tufts’ attractiveness to exceptional students and faculty is a critical benchmark of institutional vitality. This year we are pleased to greet an unusually large, and impressive, cohort of new faculty, especially in the School of Arts and Sciences. Most of these new members of our community are filling vacancies left by recently-retired faculty members, in a process of faculty renewal that is likely to continue for the next few years.
This year’s new arrivals also include two new senior leaders: Provost and Senior Vice President David R. Harris, whose appointment I announced in March, and Linda Snyder, who will arrive from Dartmouth College to serve as our Vice President for Operations early next month. David and Linda will play central roles in our upcoming efforts in strategic and capital planning.
We will be launching our strategic planning effort early this semester. It will build on many of the initiatives put in place last year—including the Councils that are developing recommendations to advance diversity and inclusion and sustainability on our campuses, both of which made significant progress over the summer. The strategic planning effort will take a university-wide approach toward the central issues we face in teaching and learning, research and scholarship, Tufts’ impact on society, and the strategies, technologies, and resources by which we will advance our mission. It will offer a unique opportunity to address the university’s challenges and opportunities proactively in a holistic framework.
As we begin the strategic planning process, we are fortunate to have in place the thoughtful, comprehensive self-study that has been developed in preparation for the institutional reaccreditation evaluation by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges next March. We will share the final draft of the self-study with the community for comment later this semester; it will provide a valuable basis for both strategic planning and capital planning.
Achieving our goals in teaching, research, and engagement with society requires appropriate physical infrastructure and information systems. I encourage you to read Patricia Campbell’s recent message to our faculty and staff outlining the significant progress we have made in construction, deferred maintenance, and the development of new business systems. In the coming year, we are poised to make further progress in all these areas in the context of a new capital plan. One project that will have a particularly important impact on the campus community is the implementation of our new Student Information System. Students, faculty, and staff should be on the lookout for updates on the SIS rollout.
As we look ahead, it is heartening to know that we can move forward from a strong financial starting point despite the difficult economy. Thanks to prudent management by our staff and faculty, the university ended the fiscal year with a surplus appropriate to the size of our operating budget. The external environment, however, remains challenging, with justified concerns over the cost of education. We began intensive research over the summer on our costs and potential administrative efficiencies, reviewing our own work to date in areas such as procurement, learning from peer institutions, and surveying best practices. Going forward, we will be asking faculty and staff to engage actively in our assessment of these issues. At the same time, I am working closely with University Advancement and our generous donors to ensure we have the financial aid resources to support our students and broaden access to a Tufts education.
We also continue our work to strengthen and support the university community. The opening of the new Steve Tisch Sports and Fitness Center on the Medford/Somerville campus is a powerful tangible symbol of our commitment to health and wellness for students, faculty, and staff. The Tisch Center is already transforming the experience of our student athletes and the many others who make use of its fitness facilities, and Human Resources will be launching a new wellness initiative for staff and faculty later this year. We are grateful to Steve Tisch and the many other alumni and friends whose philanthropy made this exciting project possible.
Another year of wonderful events and activities for the Tufts community on campus and around the world has already begun. The fall exhibits at the Tufts University Art Gallery opened last week, and this weekend the Music Department hosts a remarkable festival of North Ghanaian music and culture at the 2012 World Damba Festival. I will be continuing to meet Tufts alumni and families in this country and abroad and personally look forward to seeing many of you at these events. It is a pleasure and privilege for me to serve an extraordinarily dynamic institution. I wish all of you a good academic year, and thank you for your commitment to Tufts.