Task Force looking into university communication, co-curricular programs

Armando Marin, Online News Editor

The Undergraduate Experience Task Force has begun to examine how to improve communication throughout campus and analyze co-curricular programs, such as Housing and Residential life and its operations.

Senior Sean Saxon serves on the Task Force and is on the subcommittee charged with analyzing the co-curricular experience, how academics intersect with learning outside the classroom. Saxon said some of the subcommittee’s major goals include strengthening and defining the mission of the Honors Program, connecting faculty with students and centralizing academic advising and career services.

Saxon said one of his major concerns is organizing communication between various Tulane departments.

“I think Tulane really struggles communicating in terms of how we disseminate information,” Saxon said. “Is it through email or on the calendar? Everyone does it in a different way, and I’d like to standardize that so everyone is on the same page.”

Residential life is one of the major components of the co-curricular experience. Other universities use a variety of methods to bring education into residence halls. The University of Maryland uses a program called “College Park Scholars” that places students on residence hall floors based on their academic concentration to encourage interdisciplinary study. Other universities have themes corresponding to all residence hall floors, such as leadership, the arts and social innovation.

Porter said Tulane lacks this type of integration in the residential experience, especially in residence halls that are not living-learning communities, such as Sharp Hall and Monroe Hall.

“One thing that is beginning to emerge is we’ve not intentionally connected the residential experience very well to the academic experience,” Porter said. “Other campuses were more forthright in the effort to say they wanted faculty aligned with residence halls or having residential floors that mirror academic disciplines.”

President Michael Fitts announced the formation of the Undergraduate Experience Task Force at the University Senate meeting Nov. 10. 

The Task Force has worked since December to analyze ways to improve the undergraduate experience at Tulane and includes three students and 11 members who are faculty, staff and administrators. At the end of April, the Task Force will report its findings and ideas to Fitts.

Executive Director of Public Relations Michael Strecker released a statement from President Fitts concerning the Task Force. 

“A life-changing and life-deepening undergraduate experience lies at the heart [of] Tulane’s mission and purpose,” Fitts said. “The undergraduate Task Force is charged with studying every aspect of undergraduate life and improving it.” 

Aspects of student life the Task Force will look at includes student access to interdisciplinary study, the Honors Programs, living and learning housing opportunities, counseling services, extracurricular activities and undergraduate engagement. 

Dusty Porter, vice president for student affairs and co-chair of the Task Force, said ensuring students have the tools to succeed beyond graduation is also critical.

“We are looking for ways to foster a positive student experience where, by virtue of moving through their undergraduate education, students are graduating with the right kinds of skills that are going to be important to them in their future careers, professional interests and graduate school,” Porter said. 

Porter said the Task Force is only making recommendations to Fitts and that Fitts must decide what to do with the recommendations moving forward.

“[The Task Force] should be thinking about these aspects as pieces of a puzzle without getting too much into what [the recommendations] would look like, who’s going to do it and how do we know when we get there,” Porter said. “The President will have to look at our recommendations, consult with his cabinet, the board of trustees and others about what programs he sees have real feasibility in trying to move forward with our recommendations.”

Porter said, however, that members of the Task Force may be able to implement their own initiatives after researching the various areas.

“Some of the next steps might be right in front of us without waiting for someone to tell us to do something,” Porter said. “By virtue of talking about it, some of us might say ‘let’s get going on some of these ideas.’”

Saxon said the process of improving the undergraduate experience will not be a quick or easy one.

“I think everything we’re talking about in the committee are big ideas,” Saxon said. “It’s obviously not something that’s going to be fixed in a year or a semester. It’s going to be a multistep process. [Fitts is] laying down the groundwork for a master plan for an undergraduate experience.”