The End of an Era
On November 15, 2011, every member of the Tufts student body, as well as all of our parents, received an email from the Tufts administration that reiterated the decision by President Emeritus Larry Bacow to ban the infamous Naked Quad Run. The email was an explicit warning—students were reminded of the consequences of participating in NQR—suspension—and parents, many of whom were hearing about the event for the first time, were drawn into undergraduate life on the Hill in a way that many of them—and us—have never before experienced.
Sending this email to parents is a new tactic in tackling the NQR prohibition and student life issues more generally; enlisting parents to guilt, cajole, or exhort their children into submission to the new university policy is an unprecedented approach to managing a student body of young adults. The message also made reference to the Committee on Student Life, a body of eight faculty members and two students elected by their peers, empowered to determine the consequences for participating in the now banned NQR. This email seems to be a harbinger of larger changes occurring in the Tufts climate.
Prior to his departure, President Bacow personally met with many students who were TEMS’d to discuss the consequences of binge drinking. President Bacow, who had long been vocal about his discomfort with NQR, announced near the end of his decade-long tenure that the run would be banned. This decision was met with the full support of incoming president Anthony Monaco. And like Bacow before him, President Monaco, it seems, is continuing the legacy of personal involvement in matters related to alcohol abuse. Students who requested Anthony Monaco as a friend on Facebook and tweeted or posted something about parties or consumption he deemed troubling found themselves reading emails addressed to their Tufts accounts or meeting face-to-face with the new president to discuss their indiscretions. These events indicate increasingly tenuous boundaries between students’ private lives and the proper jurisdiction of the university.
The email titled “Naked Quad Run” sent to the student body by Bruce Reitman, Dean of Student Affairs, cites dangerous drunkenness and concerns about safety as reasons for the event’s cancellation. The message, also addressed to students’ parents, openly states, “any student who is apprehended defying the ban will face a one-semester disciplinary suspension from Tufts, which would make him or her ineligible to return for the Spring 2012 semester.” This statement carried marked increase in tone and severity from those of previous semesters, which allowed participation and threatened excessive drunkenness with Pro-1 status.
The decision to email our parents is seemingly without precedent. Many of us have gone home to hear complaints from Mom and Dad that they are out of the loop as far as college goes. The university does not email them the ubiquitous safety alerts nor many of the other announcements we find in our inboxes. By law, our parents cannot see our grades or even course schedules without our explicit consent. In a Tufts Daily article from April 2009, Reitman is quoted as saying that unlike other institutions, “coming back to Tufts was not only like coming home, but coming back to a place where you can treat students like colleagues because they’re very special and never will let us get nonchalant, and that’s a great thing.”
Emailing our parents seems inconsistent with the notion of students as colleagues. Perhaps it indicates disingenuousness or a change in Dean Reitman’s opinion of students. Or perhaps, as Reitman suggested in an interview with the Observer, it indicates that, for better or worse, the administration views NQR as a special case. Reitman, said of the decision to email parents because NQR “is important enough, different enough, dramatic enough… that I would rather some people feel that it was heavy handed than other people feel they were not informed and be shocked, surprised, or angry not having any notification and [suspension] just happen.”
Dean Reitman elaborated on the logic behind his views on the NQR cancellation: “Public nudity on campus [back in the 1960s] was not something that typically resulted in suspensions. This is a different kind of activity; this one is absolutely dangerous.” Reitman spoke of “the number of families that I have had to call over the years whose sons or daughters were in comas and we weren’t sure if they would live until morning, I remember every single one of those calls because I had to tell them that. There was no more worrisome night, and it merited some response.” Dean Reitman—an alum himself, having graduated in the class of 1970—began his working career at Tufts in 1983 as an associate dean of students. In 2001, he became the Dean of Student Affairs. He is responsible for the students of Tufts University and acts as the link between student interests and the myriad university organizations
More than previous university decisions, the NQR email has raised some disquieting questions about how university policy is made. The Committee on Student Life, a body of eight faculty members chosen by their peers and one grad student and three undergraduates chosen in ECOM elections, has broad jurisdiction over university policies regarding student life, and as the NQR decision highlights, can have deep impact on our lives as students. In response to the NQR email and in reference to this committee, on the night of November 16, a spoof email was sent by an unknown number of Tufts students to a broad swath of Tufts undergrads. The email, written by a pseudonymous Barry Krakow, designated showering as dangerous and worrisome and joked that “The Super-Secret Student/Faculty Committee on Un-Tuftsy Activities” would consider a ban and impose the same penalty as Reitman’s previous email. Although farcical, this email gives voice to a growing discontent among Tufts students about the increasingly restrictive policies of the current administration and the less-than-transparent means by which policy impacting the entire student body is determined.
According to Dean Reitman, “The CSL really is the most senior voice who governs this campus in terms of student life. And student members are filled by elections for the open spots each year.” The faculty on the CSL is appointed by the Committee on Committees, an administrative mechanism composed of faculty members that govern all the committees at Tufts. When asked about an overseeing body for the CSL, Reitman discloses that, “there is not one that is discussed in any of the governance documents.” He goes on to lay out the ways in which a student could bring a grievance to the committee, by bringing it before the faculty and emailing the committee president, but he admits that the CSL is “usually the appeal body and the final court kind of thing.”
The administration has always played a significant role in student life, but this particular incident has brought their involvement to light in a different way. In recent weeks, the inboxes of students and administrators alike were inundated with parents’ messages ranging from confused (“Of course you’ve never taken part in this naked run….right?”), to concerned, to comical. But beyond the sometimes awkward Thanksgiving dinner-table conversations that ensued lay broader issues of interest to us all. The unprecedented decision to email parents about NQR, like President Bacow calling in TEMS’d students to Ballou or President Monaco’s personal emails to indiscrete Twitterers and Facebook-status-updaters, raise questions about what Tufts University is. It is both a community and an institution; the two are distinct but not mutually exclusive. Though we’ve come here to study, this is where we live, the center of most of our universes for four years. University policy is filled with ambivalence about whether we are autonomous adults—“colleagues,” to quote Dean Reitman—or wards of the institution. Where can the line be drawn between what is the legitimate jurisdiction of the university over our private lives, and what is an invasion of our privacy and our liberties? What marks the separation between our academic lives and our social lives?