I must be losing my mind. For the second year in a row, I sought and obtained an appointment to the ExCollege Board. I mean, everyone knows that “board meetings” always become “bored meetings.” Who could possibly want to sit through more meetings than they absolutely have to?
I could. In fact, I always look forward to my ExCollege board meetings.
They are one of the few times when I know I’m having a direct positive impact on the learning opportunities offered to my fellow students. In fact, the ExCollege Board is the only board I’ve encountered in which faculty and students to work together to guide an academic department, and student participation on the board is part of what makes the ExCollege special.
The first time I applied to be a board member was at the end of sophomore year. I was pleasantly surprised when my application was met with an invitation to interview. Like most jobs, the interview was a little stressful. Think the Spanish Inquisition with snacks and tricky questions from Professors. Fortunately, I survived the ordeal—it was the brownie bites that saved me, I’m sure—and happily joined the board as a junior.
The actual work of the board varies from routine to fascinating to downright entertaining. One of the first tasks every semester is to decide which courses are so under-enrolled that they must be cut. After that, we invariably end up discussing what kind of signature event the ExCollege should offer during the semester. Ideas considered last semester included a panel on the role of computers in the classroom and an engineering competition.
What fascinates me most is not what we end up picking, but how we arrive at our selection. We always end up debating the ExCollege’s role within the university.
Are we supposed to be planning an event that nobody else would offer? What about the responsibility of the traditional academic departments to offer educational events about contemporary issues? Should civic engagement play a role in our events? How responsive should we be to demands by students or student groups? Should we seek to promote course offerings in subjects and topics underrepresented in the curriculum? And what about having fun?
Certainly, we’re not an extension of the Office of Campus Life, and our job isn’t to provide undergraduate entertainment. At the same time, the ExCollege board has often preferred to sponsor events that allow students and faculty to interact in a more informal setting. Does that necessarily entail a certain amount of frivolity?
It’s a tricky balance to strike, with many competing interests, but one widely liked option has been student-faculty trivia night, which we have sponsored for the last several years. While not the most academically rigorous events ever planned, the trivia nights enhanced the academic community in a non-traditional way by building bridges between the students and faculty. That’s an excellent outcome in my mind.
Speaking of trivia, another downright entertaining part of being a board member is the odd jobs that are sometimes asked of the student members: coming up with irreverent questions about former presidents of Tufts for flyers advertising Professor Gittleman’s inauguration lecture; or, for the sake of sportsmanship, participating on the ExCollege staff team in the most recent student-faculty trivia night—if you missed the play-by-play in The Daily, our team, Already Disqualified, emerged victorious. Finally, the most entertaining (and important) part of being a board member is selecting courses for the coming term.
It’s both an art and a science. While the more mathematically inclined members of the board push for a more quantitative, automatic process, most members of the board still loves the somewhat irrational tradition of haggling and lobbying over six or seven contentious rounds of elimination balloting. It’s a cumbersome process, but much of our time is spent considering not just the courses, but also the important underlying educational questions.
For instance, the board often questions whether we should prioritize offering a wide and equally distributed selection of courses or whether we should pick the courses that will appeal to the largest number of students. Sometimes the opposite situation occurs, when there is a course that the board feels it should offer even if there is relatively limited student interest. In one case, it was the student members of the board who stuck with a course on David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest through five rounds of voting despite the likelihood of a very narrow audience. In the end, the students convinced the faculty to “ship” the course, and it was a huge hit with the bibliophiles on campus.
In another meeting we considered what really constitutes a course that we should sponsor. Once upon a time I was surprised to see a stalwart professor of hard-science ride to the rescue of a class on mountain climbing. Against considerable resistance, the professor convinced the board to accept the course, and with some additional guidance, it was a roaring success. Students learned about applied ecology and physics while acquiring useful climbing skills. This exemplifies what makes the ExCollege so valuable to Tufts. The ExCollege provides unique educational opportunities and added value to a liberal arts education.
As a second semester senior, I can definitely say that I have enjoyed my time on the board, but there’s still plenty to do. That’s where you underclassmen come in. If you’ve taken an ExCollege class or two (or three) and want to get more involved in the ExCollege, then APPLY TODAY! You’ll be glad you did.