As public discourse erodes, Tufts expands civic education and research with major gift

$15 million from Jonathan and Lizzie Tisch will fund professorships, civic studies, student internships and fellowships at renamed Tisch College of Civic Life
Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch
Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch are helping Tufts students create an even better world (Photo: Alonso Nichols)
April 14, 2016

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Public Relations


Patrick Collins

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (April 14, 2016) -- Tufts University today announced that it will strengthen its role as a leader in civic education and research thanks to a $15 million gift from Tufts alumnus Jonathan Tisch and his wife Lizzie. Concurrently, Tufts' Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service has been renamed the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life to better reflect its focus on preparing students to tackle the most pressing challenges to democratic and civic life and on conducting research in the emerging field of civic studies.

The gift comes at a time when many would say civic and political discourse in the United States is in need of repair.

"We believe that higher education has a responsibility to act to help young people become agents for thoughtful advocacy, action and positive change. Jonathan and Lizzie Tisch share this belief," said Tufts University President Anthony P. Monaco. "Their generous support will enable Tufts and the Tisch College of Civic Life to help prepare every student for this important role, whether they're studying to be a physician or diplomat, an actor or an engineer, and will advance Tufts’ position as an intellectual center for studying civic life."  

Jonathan Tisch, who earned a B.A. from Tufts in 1976, has long advocated that individuals and corporations use the power of civic engagement to solve societal challenges.  The seeds of this commitment were instilled by his parents and reinforced during his Tufts experience.  

"Lizzie and I believe in the evolution of Tisch College and wanted to help ensure that it has a bright future, offering even more to the students at Tufts for decades to come," Jonathan Tisch said. "What we’re seeing here at Tufts is that young people today want to be engaged. They want to make a difference. Hopefully they will bring the experience and knowledge from Tisch College with them as they work with others to create an even better world."

The Power of Millennials

"In spite of a discouraging political process and a public discourse that often takes Millennials for granted, or ignores them, our research shows that young people are passionate about social issues, engaged as leaders in our communities and eager to be a part of something greater than themselves and leaders in our communities," said Alan Solomont, dean of Tisch College and retired ambassador to Spain. "This gift will help Tisch College to prepare students for a lifetime of effective engagement in civic and democratic life—something our society sorely needs."

Ten years ago, a gift of $40 million from Jonathan Tisch -- a business leader and philanthropist who is now vice-chair of the University's board of trustees -- endowed what had been the University College of Citizenship and Public Service as the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.  Over the past 15 years, Tisch College has emerged as a leader in education, research and practice to prepare young people to take action in their communities, in democratic institutions and in the world.  It is the foremost authority on youth voting and civic engagement in the U.S.

Building on this record of success, the new gift will support three key areas:

Endowed professorships in the emerging field of civic studies, which examines what defines civic engagement, what causes it and what results from it; these faculty will have joint appointments with Tisch College and other Tufts schools and departments

Ongoing research by Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, the nation's leading center on youth voting and political engagement, and the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, which is conducting a first-of-its-kind national study of college voting rates at 800 participating institutions

Student learning, ensuring that students of all socioeconomic backgrounds have access to experiences like the Tufts 1+4 Bridge-Year Service Learning Program that debuted in 2015, the Tisch Scholars leadership development program and Tisch Summer Fellowships.

Why "Civic Life"?

Tufts officials said that the term civic life reflects a belief that a healthy democracy depends on individuals engaging in civic activities—for example, voting, organizing, volunteering, and advocating for causes and communities—throughout their lives and whatever their profession.

"It doesn't matter what your politics are, as long as you are engaged in the civic life of your community," said Tufts alumna Deb Jospin, former AmeriCorps director and a member and longtime chair of the Tisch College advisory board. It’s important, she says, “to weave civic life and civic responsibility into everything you do, to make it an important part of your life, how you view the world and how you interact with the world."

Tufts University, located on three Massachusetts campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville, and Grafton, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university is widely encouraged.