Global Leadership Finds a Local Home

This past July, Tufts announced their decision to disband the Institute of Global Leadership (IGL) and rehouse select IGL programs under the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. The decision shocked students involved with the IGL and led to student and alumni backlash. However, this choice also represents the integration of two values of Tufts: thinking about global issues and civic engagement.

The decision to dissolve the IGL came from the Office of the Provost after a regular, quinquennial review of all university programs and institutes. The IGL houses a total of 28 programs related to internationalism, including its flagship program, Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC), a year-long course curating a conference related to global affairs. The IGL’s programs also include student-led research groups such as the Middle East Research Group (MERG), the South Asian Regional Committee (SARC), the Latin American Committee (LAC), and the Alliance Linking Leaders in Education and the Services (ALLIES). 

Tisch College, on the other hand, houses research, scholarship, and student-facing programs regarding civic engagement. Tisch runs the Civic Studies department and research hubs such as the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE). They also are home to many student-led clubs and activities involving civic engagement, political discussion and participation, and critical community service. 

The disbandment of the IGL came as a shock to many students involved in its programs, who discovered the news through a July 2022 TuftsNow article. Senior Carolina Hidalgo-McCabe, a former EPIIC student and president of MERG, said, “It was very unexpected for me, at least as a student. And there was no information that came out with it. It was just a TuftsNow article that just all of a sudden got sent around… I was so confused as to why this would be announced this way… Why weren’t we being let in on this?” Beyond the confusion about how Tufts shared the news, students were also confused about the reason for the dissolution. Sophomore Seif Zrelli said, “Transferring [IGL programs] to Tisch College should be a solution to a problem, except I don’t see the problem… And maybe we don’t know enough as students.” Provost Caroline Genco wrote in a statement to the Tufts Observer, “While some IGL programming continued to have an impact—the institute was facing other challenges, such as a mission that overlapped with other university entities (Tisch College in particular), difficulty growing enrollment, insufficient infrastructure and marketing resources due to its lack of an academic ‘home,’ and additional issues around funding predictability and governance.”

Since the announcement, many students and alumni have questioned how these programs would be integrated under Tisch College and whether or not they would be. While in the July 2022 TuftsNow article Tufts assured that EPIIC would continue to be offered through Tisch, it was uncertain what the future of the positions of IGL faculty and of student-led programs such as MERG, LAC, and SARC would be. Junior Arjun Bagur, president of SARC, said, “The IGL is SARC’s sole institutional home, [because] we are not TCU-recognized. [We reacted with] a mixture of shock [and] confusion [to the announcement].” After the release of the TuftsNow article, students and alumni came together to save the IGL and its core programs. This initially took form through a 200-person Zoom call that included both students and alumni from around the world. Hidalgo-McCabe explained, “We sent hundreds of emails, alumni held their donations, [and] alumni used all their connections to sway the university. No matter where we were, no matter what timezone, we came together and we showed the power of the IGL.” 

For 35 years, the IGL has provided students with opportunities to engage in international relations and global issues through research, scholarship, travel, and internships. Zrelli, reflecting on their opportunity to conduct research in Cyprus with MERG, said, “[As] an international student and a low-income student here, some of the opportunities that the IGL gave me and is giving me today I could never just expect.” According to Heather Barry, the associate director of the IGL, programs such as MERG, LAC, and SARC were started by students seeking to learn about regions not fully represented in the Tufts academic curriculum. Alumni also recounted their positive experiences with the IGL. Daniel Mandell (A ‘05), a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow in Tokyo, remarked on how the IGL impacted his life trajectory: “The programs that IGL put on, demonstrated that I, you, whomever, can actually make a difference.” 

In a September town hall meeting, Provost Caroline Genco and Dean Dayna Cunningham of Tisch College confirmed that, despite student fears, many of the student-led programs, including MERG, LAC, and SARC, would still receive funding from Tisch College. Cunningham said, “I want to be very careful to capture, preserve, lift up, and support all of the strengths of the IGL. I want to make sure that we are working very collaboratively with the staff of IGL so that actually their knowledge base becomes our knowledge base. And their strengths become our strengths. So for me, this is building strength on strength.” In a written statement to the Observer, Provost Genco explained, “[Tisch’s absorption of the IGL] is an opportunity to further extend Tisch College’s mission and work in the global sphere.” 

Cunningham elaborated on how Tisch College and the IGL’s missions will complement each other and add nuance to questions about active citizenship. She said, “[Tisch] asks the question, how do citizens strengthen, uphold, and advance democracy and the responsiveness of their government to their wants and needs? In the context of IGL, that question becomes more complex and more interesting. In some ways, it becomes: How do citizens connect with citizens across borders?” 

Despite their fears about the IGL’s dissolution, students also acknowledged potential avenues for growth for both the IGL and Tisch College in their futures as a united front. Zrelli said, “Tisch College is also a great community and a great alumni network… maybe [IGL students] will have access to more opportunities [under Tisch College].” Zrelli also acknowledged that “[the absorption of the IGL] is also going to make Tisch College more global and international because in [their] opinion Tisch is very domestic [focused].” Hidalgo-McCabe echoed these statements, noting the importance of collaboration between members of both organizations. She stated that under Tisch she hopes that “[the IGL will] still be able to do the research and work that we do and that Tisch will be able to do the work they do and that [they] can teach Tisch stuff and Tisch can teach them stuff.” 

However, despite the promise that Tisch will continue to run IGL programs as usual, students still have doubts about its transfer to Tisch College. Zrelli said, “I think putting them under [Tisch] might cause… almost like economies of scale, which is when a company is too big and it’s too much bureaucracy.” 

In order to ease the transition of IGL programs to Tisch College and build a relationship between the two distinct communities, Taina McField, the associate dean of strategy at Tisch College, and a group of IGL students will be assembling a student working group that will inform the future of how many of these programs will operate in their new academic home. Hidalgo-McCabe, who is a Tisch Scholar in addition to an IGL student, plans on being involved in the student working group. The question of how Tisch College will integrate the IGL expands beyond how their respective missions will collaborate with each other, but also how to restore trust between these two communities. Hidalgo-McCabe said, “I bridge these two worlds that are coming together right now. And it’s like what does it look like? What is Tisch going to do? What is the university going to do to earn the respect back of an institute that the Tufts University provost office tried to disband?”