Biographical / Historical
The Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life was founded in the year 2000, after deliberation by a team led by President DiBiaggio on how best to prepare students for “lifetimes of active citizenship.” Originally called the University College of Citizenship and Public Service, the school was renamed in 2006 as the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service after a $40 million gift from Jonathan Tisch. The College was renamed the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life in 2016, to better indicate the school’s objective of “encouraging civic engagement in all parts of life.”
The University College of Citizenship and Public Service arose out of Tufts’ long history with the Civic Education Foundation and the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation. In the early 1950s, President Wessell took notice of the Civic Education Foundation and the Civic Education Project. By 1954 the Foundation had come to an agreement with Wessell to relocate the Project on Tufts campus, and update its name to the “Tufts College Center for Civic Education in Cooperation with the Civic Education Foundation.” It was designated to be separate from the university, so that it could function independently of any specific faculty or department, yet have the ability to “interact freely” with all parts of Tufts, as well as the surrounding community.
During this time, the Lincoln and Therese Filene Foundation also showed growing interest in contributing to the Tufts community. In the mid-1950s, the Foundation endowed the Lincoln and Therese Filene Professorship in Citizenship and Public Affairs, and worked with Tufts student Richard Dorsay to create the Leonard Carmichael Society, a student community service organization. In 1961, the Filene Foundation provided funds for the Tufts College Center for Civic Education to become the Lincoln Filene Center for Citizenship and Public Affairs. The Filene Foundation also allocated funds for the Lincoln Filene Center building to be built as an extension of Braker Hall. With this new construction, the Civic Education Foundation was able to run its operations from Tufts, and found that the location was ideal for close communication with the university.
Though the Center was intended to be a nonprofit organization independent of the university, the trustee bylaws from 1962 to 1975 referred to the Center as a part of the university, causing the Center to reassert its independence in 1973, with changes to the bylaws completed in 1975. The Center merged with the Tufts Center for Public Service in 1988, due to financial problems with the Center that also resulted in the disbandment of the Civic Education Foundation. However, though this event marked the Lincoln Filene Center’s official integration into Tufts, Tufts continued to expand the Center’s programs under its initial name.
In 1998, President DiBiaggio began to investigate with a team how to best incorporate active citizenship into the Tufts curriculum. Inspired by the Tufts Public Service Council, DiBiaggio proposed the University College of Citizenship and Public Service, and worked with Filene Center director Badi Foster to strengthen the Lincoln Filene Center’s involvement. The aim of chartering the school was to advance the work already done by the Tufts Public Service Council and the Lincoln Filene Center. Though proponents of the College did not set out to replace the Lincoln Filene Center, they sought to build on the Center’s initial mission of civic engagement and involve more of the Tufts community. The trustees approved the establishment of the University College in November of 1999, and it started its first academic year in the fall of 2000.
The College has received numerous gifts over the years for support. The College initially relied on a gift from Tufts alumni Pam and Pierre Omidyar to develop the college and its curriculum. Jonathan Tisch made gifts to the school in 2006 and 2016 respectively, resulting in the College updating its name to reflect his involvement. Rob Hollister served as the first dean of the college, appointed by the trustees in the spring of 2000. He stepped down from this position in 2011, leaving Nancy Wilson to serve as Dean ad interim. In 2014, Alan Solomont was named Dean of Tisch College.
Tisch College offers numerous programs to fulfill its mission of incorporating active citizenship into the Tufts curriculum. In its early years, the College sponsored the Omidyar Scholars program, a program where undergraduate students received leadership training to promote societal awareness and civic participation. Additionally, the College has sponsored an honor society for graduate students and a bridge-year service program for incoming undergraduates. The College also houses the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, and the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education, two organizations dedicated to researching civic engagement and participation.