11/05/2010 01:16 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Lawrence Bacow, President of Tufts University, on the School's Evolution, Globalization, Social Impact, and Much, Much More

Recently, I sat down with Lawrence Bacow, President of Tufts University, to discuss, in-depth, the evolution of the institution, the internationalization of teaching and practice across the board, new degree programs and interdisciplinary collaborations, the importance of understanding the role of religion in domestic and international affairs, cultivating an ongoing commitment to public service and social change amongst students and faculty, and his own experiences at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) prior to his presidential appointment.

An excerpt of the interview is below, and the full interview can be found here.


Rahim Kanani: Speak a little bit about the student population and where they hail from, what attracts them to Tufts, and where they take their experience.

Lawrence Bacow: Let me start with our undergraduates. We have a substantial proportion of our undergraduate students who are international. When I say, "international," I mean a foreign citizen living abroad at the time of admission. But we also get a fair number of students who are U.S. citizens who are living abroad at the time of admission, children of ex-pats. We also get foreign citizens who are living in the U.S. at the time of admission as well.

The number bounces around from year to year, anywhere from a low of about 11% or 12% to as high as 16% or 18% of an undergraduate class.

In addition to those figures, about half of our undergraduates will study abroad at some time during their four years at Tufts. We have 10 programs that we run around the world, in places like Germany, Ghana, China, Chile, Spain, Japan, Hong Kong, and others. Our students also study abroad in other, non-Tufts programs as well. We encourage that.

Then we have a number of unique programs, like the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts, which offers a whole series of opportunities for undergraduates to engage seriously with the rest of the world around a set of issues and problems. In this picture over here are a group of Tufts undergraduates from the Institute for Global Leadership who are attending an energy conference in Abu Dhabi and meeting with the Minister of Energy. They were the only undergraduates at a conference that included the U.S. Secretary of Energy, with whom they met. Oil ministers of the major nations of the world, the heads of most of the world's major energy companies, and so on, were in attendance. The Institute for Global Leadership encourages Tufts undergraduates to engage with the world. We had the only undergraduate delegation at this conference.

We also have a thriving chapter of Engineers Without Borders. It's very difficult for engineers to study abroad because their curriculum is so tightly sequenced. But we found other ways to give our engineering students the chance to work abroad in concentrated efforts, to do so in ways that allow them to learn something and do something good for somebody else.

Rahim Kanani: And what are some examples of that?

Lawrence Bacow: We had a group several years ago that went to a village in El Salvador. First, they went down there as a diagnostic exercise to understand what the village's problems were. In this case, it was a problem with clean water. When they came back to Tufts, they designed a system of pumps and filters for treatment. They went back to help install this system and to teach people how to use and maintain it so that it would be sustainable.

We have other examples. Our Medical School, like many other medical schools, had people who went to Haiti after the earthquake. But now they've established a regular clinic in operation in Haiti. They've got students and faculty going regularly now. It's a regular rotation to Haiti, so it's not just episodic. It's a sustained commitment to work in a part of the world where we can make a difference.

Rahim Kanani: Has the admissions criteria changed over the years for the undergraduate program?

Lawrence Bacow: A couple of things have changed. As we've more sharply articulated what makes us special, what distinguishes us, I think we've been able to attract a group of students who better understand why this is their school of choice.

We've seen a dramatic shift in the quality of students who are applying and enrolling at Tufts. We've consciously tried to identify students who represent the kinds of people who are likely to be the leaders in the next generation. Every school wants to educate leaders. We've thoughtfully designed an admission process which tries to reveal the kinds of soft skills that don't show up either in a transcript or an SAT report: wisdom, creativity, and practical intelligence.

Our adaptation of the admissions process is a good example of where we've taken a different tack from our peers and acted like a more self-confident institution. There are a variety of things where we're off on our own. It's worked out quite well for us.

Rahim Kanani: And what about the student body at the graduate level, for example at the Fletcher School?

Lawrence Bacow: Fletcher's reach is extraordinary. Usually half the students come from abroad. You'll find Fletcher alumni in the embassies of literally every nation in the world. You'll sometimes find them as the heads of state. One interesting illustration of this was when the Dean of Fletcher and I went to Beijing a couple of years back. At the time, we had 12 Fletcher alumni who held ambassadorial rank in Beijing.

There were four who were from China: the Chinese Ambassadors to North Korea, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand. In addition, there were eight from different countries who were their country's Ambassador to China. What did they all have in common? They were all Fletcher alumni.

Rahim Kanani: What is it about the Fletcher School that draws and sustains this kind of interest and talent?

Lawrence Bacow: In addition to being the foremost and the oldest school of international relations, Fletcher is in some ways a microcosm for the rest of the university. We are one of the smallest major research universities in the country. Fletcher competes with the APSIA schools. APSIA stands for Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs. It includes the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, and the Kennedy School at Harvard, among others. Fletcher is the smallest of the APSIA schools. There is an intimacy, and a sense of community, at Fletcher. There's a closeness in the working relationship between students and faculty at Fletcher which is unusual. I would say that almost exactly the same thing is true for the university at large.

Rahim Kanani: And how has the curriculum at Fletcher evolved over the last decade?

Lawrence Bacow: The big change that's occurred at Fletcher has been in two areas. Although the school is formally the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, it's not a law school, but we did add a formal LLM program in international law a few years back. The other innovation in the Fletcher curriculum is a new Master's in International Business. Historically Fletcher provided diplomats to the world. Fletcher is also heavily represented in the world of international development.

But Fletcher has also sent many alums into the private sector. A lot of these graduates have done extraordinarily well. For example, Walter Wriston, whom most people give credit to for founding the modern Citibank, and its long time CEO, was a Fletcher alum. Lots of other Fletcher graduates have similarly made their mark in the business world. What's been interesting is that as the world has become flatter, and as we've seen the globalization of business, the demand for people with a skill set which reflects a global view of the world in business has increased.

This is why, a couple of years ago, we created a Master's in International Business at Fletcher. We don't have a business school at Tufts. However, we made an investment in the Fletcher curriculum to strengthen our offerings in international finance, international business, and marketing, and to create a new Center for Emerging Market Enterprises. at Fletcher. There's been real curricular innovation there. There's been some very interesting scholarship there as well. To strengthen our offerings in international business, we just recruited a fabulous faculty member from the Business School at Columbia, who had a chair at Columbia and now holds a chair here at Fletcher. .

It's a really interesting place right now. It always has been, but there has been major curricular innovation.

A number of years back, we also created a new master's program in humanitarian assistance, which is a collaboration between Fletcher and our Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. Unfortunately, the world needs people who really understand how to respond to the kinds of issues and problems that one encounters, whether it's Haiti or Pakistan right now, or the Asian Tsunami. It's not just natural disasters like that, but also international relief efforts in places like Sudan and Afghanistan where there's civil strife.

Rahim Kanani: Explain a little bit about the intersection between business, law, and diplomacy, given this curricular innovation of the Master's in International Business at the Fletcher School.

Lawrence Bacow: They intersect in multiple places. Let's say you're a multinational who is interested in developing a major new manufacturing facility in the developing world. One will need financing certainly; one would be concerned about the enforceability of contracts or agreements. So you're concerned about the structure of the legal system there. It will inevitably be the case that anything of scale will require governmental approvals and may require parallel infrastructure investment on the part of the government. Inevitably, to get something done, one is going to need to draw from finance, law, business, and diplomacy. The success of the enterprise may be a function of being able to properly manage currency risk, or repatriate resources. One of the biggest business risks may in fact be political risk in investing in certain parts of the world. One's ability to intelligently assess political risk is actually something which we teach at the Fletcher School. In fact, it's the core competency of the Fletcher School, but not something that one would necessarily find in a typical business school program...

The full interview can be found here.

Future interviews include Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister, Drew Faust, President of Harvard University, Malcolm Rogers, Director of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, and more. Please follow me on twitter to be notified of their publication.