The Beginnings of EPIIC

The beginnings of the EPIIC program stem back to the Experimental College. The ideas that eventually served as the foundation of EPIIC began as ACOIL and the Symposium Project! Benji Cohen (A11) dug into the history of EPIIC this summer.

The Symposium Project

The Background: In the fall of 1985, Robyn Gittleman had an impromptu meeting with an academically curious Tufts student who wanted to promote intellectual life outside of the classroom. This conversation resulted in the creation of the Advisory Committee on Intellectual Life (ACOIL), which, as Robyn told the Tufts Observer, would create forums and discussions that were “intellectually challenging.” ACOIL was made up of three student representatives and Robyn. One of the committee’s first acts was to place national newspapers at “neutral locations on campus,” which ACOIL hoped would inspire off-the-cuff conversations between students about current events.

The Class: ACOIL’s first semester-long program was a seminar on International Terrorism and Political Violence led by Sherman Teichman and taught through the ExCollege. Robyn told the Observer that the class incorporated in-depth readings and brought in guest speakers with an expertise in terrorism. From the beginning of the fall semester, the class aimed to illuminate the basic issues and develop a keen understanding of terrorism, and then put their work toward a full-day symposium in the spring.

The Simulation: In November 1985 Sherman devised an eight-hour terrorist skyjacking simulation exercise for his students. On a Saturday morning, students reported to Braker Hall where they were confronted with the fictitious, albeit quite timely (a TWA flight had been hijacked in June 1985 by Hezbollah), news that a plane travelling from New York to Rome had been taken over by an extremist group called the Revolutionary International Phoenix. As the Tufts Daily reported, students played a variety of roles, which included the terrorists themselves, the American government, and the negotiating team. Sherman noted that that exercise helped students understanding “the frantic feeling of helplessness” and the “confusion that arises during crises not only intellectually, but emotionally. It’s an exercise of your entire brain.”

The Symposium: From February 28 – March 1 a collection of distinguished public intellectuals, academics, and policymakers descended on Tufts to participate in the culminating symposium sponsored by the ExCollege. The guests included: Dr. Michael Klare, ExCollege instructors from 1975 and defense correspondent for The Nation, Professor Martha Crenshsaw of Wesleyan University, and Tim Russert. The Boston Globe and the New York Times wrote expansive write-ups about the conference, and both publications noted the lack of consensus from the experts on how to deal with terrorism. The Tufts Daily estimated that 600 Tufts students and faculty attended the event.

Legacy: The Symposium Project taught through the ExCollege continued annually through 1990-1991. Topics ranged from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip crisis to the United States’ drug policy. In 1991, Sherman created Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) and moved the program to the Tufts Institute for Global Leadership. The current framework of EPIIC continues to resemble that first ExCollege seminar.