Alumnus Nathan Foster launches trustee campaign rooted in advocacy, accessibility

Nathan Foster (LA '18) poses for a portrait outside of Tisch Library on Sept. 18, 2018. Madeleine Oliver / The Tufts Daily

Nathan Foster (LA ’18) recently launched a campaign to become an alumni trustee. If elected, Foster would be the most recent Tufts graduate to sit on the Board of Trustees — among the current alumni trustee representatives, the most recent graduate did so in 2001.

Foster’s campaign platform draws from his experience last year as a trustee representative.

“Last year, I was a student trustee representative, and I worked a lot with issues surrounding tuition and affordability,” Foster said. “I tried to raise awareness about how significant a problem this is and how Tufts needs to be more accessible to people who have come from lower-income or even middle-class backgrounds.”

According to Foster, he chose to run for alumni trustee because he wants to make Tufts more democratic and fair. He plans to use his campaign, and hopefully his position, to advocate for broad reform to the Board of Trustees, as the Board is ultimately the deciding body on many critical issues for students.

“The Board of Trustees makes all the decisions that matter for us,” Foster said. “They decide on tuition prices, they build new buildings … all of these really important decisions that affect the thousands and thousands of people who are part of Tufts. I think that we should have a say.”

According to Tufts Community Union (TCU) Vice President Adam Rapfogel, student trustee representatives are the only undergraduate students who are privy to the Board of Trustees’ decision-making process.

“The trustee reps are basically the only students who see into the Board of Trustees,” Rapfogel, a senior, said.

Rapfogel explained that trustee representatives are students appointed to the role by the TCU Senate. Their responsibilities include attending weekly Senate meetings and serving as a student liaison to the Board of Trustees.

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of public relations, explained that in addition to the three undergraduate trustee representatives, Tufts graduate schools and faculty have representatives on the Board of Trustees.

“This year, a total of 19 trustee representatives, including students and faculty from the undergraduate, graduate and professional schools, as well as alumni, will be appointed to the three major committees of the Board of Trustees: the Academic Affairs Committee, the Administration and Finance Committee, and the Committee for University Advancement,” Collins said.

Peter Dolan (LA ’78), chairman of the Board of Trustees, stated that the idea behind the trustee representative positions is to to provide Board members with essential insight on the student experience at all of Tufts’ schools.

“Feedback from students is essential to our success as the governing body of the university, and that’s why my fellow trustees and I encourage students to utilize the student representatives to weigh in on matters concerning the institution,” Dolan told the Daily in an email.

Foster recounts that during his time as a student trustee representative, many members of the Board were interested in hearing his perspective. However, Foster still feels as though he had to fight to make his voice heard.

“I presented a short memo on affordability and tuition to the Board of Trustees at the last meeting I was at, but it took a lot of effort … to be heard,” Foster said. “Not necessarily expecting to have your voice heard in the position makes it very difficult for [student] trustee representatives in the way the position is currently constructed to really participate in governance and to really give their perspective.”

Dolan acknowledged that the Board of Trustees often is not able to enact as many student suggestions as it would hope.

For a variety of reasons, we’re not always able to support every idea or proposal that comes before us, but we take every suggestion seriously and appreciate the thought and commitment that go into them,” Dolan said.

In his campaign to increase student participation in governance, Foster has proposed the creation of a “student trustee” role, which would be distinct from student trustee representatives. These would be undergraduate students elected to become a part of the Board for a specific term.

“I think there should be student trustees. I think there should be some sort of election and then students run for the Board of Trustees in two-year terms, rather than one-year terms,” Foster said. “And they should be present for all discussions. Trustee representatives don’t sit in on executive sessions, where things that are deemed too sensitive for students are discussed.”

Foster is not the only member of the Tufts community advocating for increased student representation on the Board of Trustees. Kayleigh Milano, a junior, is a member of Reform the Board, a student advocacy group fighting to increase student, faculty and staff accessibility to the Board of Trustees.

“There are many changes we want to see,” Milano told the Daily in an email. “For example, we would like the Trustees to provide publicly available email addresses and make all meetings open to [trustee] representatives.”

According to Milano, Reform the Board is working to inform students about the Board of Trustees’ strong influence in dictating the Tufts student experience.

“For this semester, our goals are to educate the student body about the role of the Board of Trustees and to build a coalition of people who care about this issue,” Milano said. “In the long term, we hope to give students, staff and faculty formal decision-making power by adding student, staff and faculty seats to the Board itself. We are the people who get to experience the real effects of the Board’s policies — effects they may not even be aware of — and we should have a role in making the decisions that govern our lives while we call Tufts our workplace and home.”

According to Foster, it’s this idea that students should have a say in the decisions that affect their lives that is motivating his campaign for alumni trustee representative.

“For the four years we are here, Tufts decides so many aspects of our lives … There [are] all these decisions made about who even gets to be in this space in the first place, who gets to feel more welcome in this space and what your opportunities are afterwards,” Foster said. “I think that ultimately the Board of Trustees affects all of us, and it makes total sense that we should have a voice in the decisions that are made at that level.”