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At The Helm

At The HelmIn a series of interviews published last week, Tufts President Lawrence S. Bacow talked about his priorities for Tufts and his thoughts about higher education.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.25.02] In the eight months between Lawrence S. Bacow's first day as Tufts' President and his inauguration last week, the University's leader spent a great deal of time learning about his new home. As the first phase of his presidency nears a close, Bacow held a series of interviews with the media last week where he outlined his vision for the 150-year-old institution, and talked about the future of higher education.

"We have grown enormously in stature as an institution and today are recruiting the very best students and the very best faculty," Bacow told WBUR -- Boston's National Public Radio station. "One of our biggest challenges will be to insure that we have the resources going forward to be able to compete effectively."

Competition for the best and brightest, says Bacow, is shaping Tufts and higher education alike. In a sit-down interview with Boston Globe columnist Charles Stein, Bacow discussed the impact of competition on colleges and universities nationwide.

Asking Tough Questions

"[With over 20 years of experience as a university professor and administrator, Bacow] knows something about competition, and he has some interesting things to say about the curious nature of competition among colleges," reported the Globe. "At the heart of his observations is a question: Is the competition a completely healthy one or does it sometimes drive colleges to do things that may not make sense for society as a whole?"

At Tufts, Bacow said the University is recruiting top students from around the world. As they consider a top institution, they want an excellent learning environment.

"College consumers, for instance, want smaller classes and more student-faculty contact," reported the Globe. "Both are a plus for education but they require more staff, which drives up costs. Costs also get pushed up when colleges build fancier dorms, upscale cafeterias, and gyms that look like health clubs."

To help address rising costs, Bacow has focused on increasing the University's resources.

"My highest priority will be to increase the resources we have to attract the very best students, faculty and staff to Tufts," he told the Boston Metro, in an interview last week.

Bacow also raised questions about how effectively recent trends to "commercialize" education are working and whether popular "measuring sticks" for comparing colleges are giving applicants the best information.

"What does yield [the percentage of accepted applicants who chose to enroll] have to do with the quality of education we are delivering?" he asked during his interview with the Boston Globe.

"Like any good academic and good economist, Bacow is raising some provocative questions about our society," reported the Globe. "They are questions worth thinking about."

During his first year at Tufts, Bacow has already begun looking for answers to these long-term questions about competition and the future of higher education.

Setting Tufts Apart

Great students and great faculty, says the University President, are the key components of a top university like Tufts. But what sets Tufts apart are its core strengths.

"Tufts is among the more international universities at a time when global perspective has never mattered more," he told the Metro. "We are among the most student-oriented universities. We have a strong and sustained commitment to public service. And we have a unique tradition of working collaboratively across schools and disciplines."

This combination of strengths is increasingly popular among high school applicants who continue to apply to Tufts in record numbers.

"Tufts is more than holding its own in the marketplace," reported the Globe. "Applications to the school are up 70 percent in the past six years. More than 10 students apply for each available spot."

The 14,301 applications submitted this year weigh close to 6,000 pounds and stack nearly 20 stories high.

A Small City

"We are a microcosm of the world we inhabit," Bacow told the Medford Transcript, describing the University's community. "I always describe (Tufts) as akin to a small city, which is roughly 11,000 people. We have a police department, we have a hospital, we have public housing and we collect our trash. Everything that happens in a small city happens here."

Sharing its borders with five other cities -- Medford, Somerville, Boston and Grafton in Massachusetts and Talloires in France -- Tufts is also working hard to use its resources to help its neighbors.

One of the largest employers in Somerville, Tufts not only provides jobs to hundreds of local residents, but also supports the local economy, Bacow told the Somerville Journal.

"Tufts purchased $1.35 million worth of goods and services from city businesses," reported the Journal.

The University is leading a collaborative effort to clean the Mystic River, which runs through the local towns and is one of the largest sources of "open space" in the heavily developed area.

According to Bacow, the University also earmarks funds for local schools, programs, charities and projects.

And two weeks ago, Tufts students continued its nearly 40-year tradition of Kids' Day -- a day-long carnival for local children and their families.

"The six-and-a-half hour Kids' Day linked 400 student volunteers with hundreds of local kids for a day of fun," reported the Journal. "Activities included a puppet show, carnival rides, game booths, face painting, cookie decorating, a magical chemistry demonstration, and a collection of children's stories called the Traveling Treasure Trunk show."

Residents and their youngsters have high praise for the annual event.

"It's so good to have activities like this for kids," said Somerville resident Manjul Chawla. "They really enjoy it."

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