Alumni for Trustees election candidates share platforms, connections to Tufts

Candidates for 2019's Trustee elections, from upper left in clockwise rotation, Kenneth C. Fan, David B. Meyers, Sonja Bartlett and Lori Roth are shown.

Kenneth C. Fan (E ‘01, F ‘07), David B. Meyers (A ‘96), Lori Roth (J ‘86) and Sonja Bartlett (A ’90) are running for the Tufts University Board of Trustees after having been selected by the Nominating Committee of the Tufts University Alumni Council. The Daily spoke with the four candidates to learn about their stances on a variety of issues — alumni engagement, affordability and capital projects — and how their academic and career experiences might help them better address these issues. The candidates were also asked about the Board of Trustees’ transparency.

Kenneth C. Fan

Fan received his bachelor’s degree from the School of Engineering in 2001 and his master’s degree from The Fletcher School in 2007. Fan is currently a chief operating officer at eGenesis in Cambridge, Mass. According to its website, eGenesis is a life science company focused on using gene editing technology in cell and organ transplants. Fan has been involved with the university through the Tufts Alumni Council as an entrepreneur in residence and as a co-founder of Tufts Asian American Alumni Association.

As a co-founder of Tufts Launchpad | BioLabs, a lab space on the Boston campus with infrastructure for startups in the life sciences, Fan is running on a platform that emphasizes the integration of “innovation” across the alumni engagement, institutional policies, and academic programs.

Fan shared with the Daily that he believes his entrepreneurial experience will help him better serve as a trustee.

“Entrepreneurship is all about bringing new ideas to make the world a better place. [As an entrepreneur in residence at Tufts,] I recognized that there was a lack of support for early-stage biotech companies coming out of the university. An opportunity came up as the university tried to repurpose a space in downtown that had been underutilized,” Fan said. “I submitted a proposal to the university that would turn this space into an incubator for early-stage biotechnology companies, and Tufts Launchpad opened in 2018 which has become a nexus of entrepreneurial activities … I think that there are many areas in the university that can benefit from innovations.”

Fan cited alumni engagement as an area where he hopes to extend the spirit of innovation.

“[If elected,] I want to find ways to promote innovation across the university to strengthen our alumni engagement and involvement, especially our international alumni base, through new ways of thinking,” Fan said. “I have been very active in the alumni community, and I have helped the foundation of Tufts Social Impact Network and Tufts Asian-American alumni network [and] also organized Tufts Global Reach as a part of various committees in the Alumni Council. I would love to expand the institutional effort to reach out to a greater alumni base, especially internationally, to get the engagement beyond the scope that we have today.”

Fan also emphasized the importance of making a Tufts education more affordable and accessible, as the university’s cost of attendance continues to rise

“I think that [the rising costs of tuition] is a major issue that universities across the nation, including Tufts, face today … It has become especially challenging for low-income students to attend an institution such as Tufts, and we need to find ways to make Tufts more accessible and affordable to maintain a class with diverse backgrounds,” Fan said.

The issue of affordability, however, is multifaceted which requires institutional efforts to restructure its finances, Fan said.

“For me, the problem is not as simple as asking the university to stop the tuition increases … We have to look closely into the university’s income sources and find ways to strengthen our revenues to limit the tuition increases in the long run,” Fan said. “The question comes down to how we are going to increase our endowment by diversifying our income sources — better organizing our capital campaigns, technology licensing, etc. — while making the university more efficient in its expenditures through various innovations.”

When asked about the Board’s transparency, Fan said that while he plans on interacting actively with the Tufts community, he is careful about making a statement on the issue as a candidate.

“The Board of Trustees has to look after the interests of the entire university, not just those of [current] students,” Fan said. “[The gap between the university’s interest and students’ demand] is the area where I see the conflict … I personally believe in the idea of an open, transparent and accessible Board of Trustees to all constituents of the university, including the faculty and alumni … [As a resident of Somerville,] I will be accessible through various campus events on the Medford campus and through social media platforms.”

David B. Meyers

Meyers received his bachelor’s degree from the School of Arts and Sciences in 1996 with degrees in English and political science. Meyers is currently publisher and executive editor at The Firewall, a “digital news publication focused on efforts to improve American democracy at the local, state, and national levels,” according to his candidate statement. At Tufts, Meyers served as editor-in-chief at the Daily and, according to this year’s Alumni Election ballot, was the recipient of a Senior Award in 1996. Meyers has been engaged with the university as the president of the Alumni Council, Chairman of the Alumni Council Strategic Planning Committee, entrepreneurship in residence and a cabinet member of the Brighter World campaign, the university’s $1.5 billion campaign launched in 2017. With his extensive leadership experiences at Tufts, Meyers is running on a platform that would enhance the university’s finances, capital projects and alumni outreach.

Meyers shared with the Daily that he believes the university’s affordability is the single most important area that Tufts can improve, as the university’s estimated cost of attendance reached $73,500 for the 2018–2019 school year without a financial aid package.

“I think that the financial implications of pursuing a higher education is weighing heavier and heavier on families across the nation. It is no secret that Tufts is one of the most expensive schools in the country to attend, and I would love to engage in discussions about how we go about rethinking what it costs to attend Tufts,” Meyers said. “I am not necessarily saying that we need to cut the tuition because there are so many factors that go into play in paying for a Tufts education … I want to engage with people to learn about what is it that Tufts does well in terms of its finances and whether the university is spending its budget in the right places, in the right programs.”

Meyers also said the university should improve on-campus housing not only to improve the students’ residential life but also to foster a more dynamic community.

“I believe that dorms need to be upgraded across campus … Many dorms at Tufts have been around for decades and decades with minimal upgrades — they all need enhancements,” Meyers noted. “It is critical to create more social spaces [in] dorms as well to keep students from wandering streets at night or going off campus constantly. Better dorms will translate into a more dynamic culture on [Medford] campus and the student body’s higher satisfaction.”

Meyers added that the university should continue its capital projects to meet the student body’s demand.

“The new Science and Engineering Complex (SEC) is now up and running, but I think that there are many academic spaces on campus that need to be improved upon as well. Overall, I think that the university needs more spaces for labs and other science programs, not just for those who are majoring in science degrees but to a greater student body who might be taking those courses for the distribution requirement … Buildings at Tufts need to be modernized for the way students think and work today,” Meyers said.  “I am also aware about the university’s plan to enhance its swimming pool and ice hockey facilities. If these facilities can be secured, Tufts will be even more attractive for a large segment of high school students who are looking for a variety of athletic opportunities.”

In regards to the student body’s increasing demand for the Board’s transparency, Meyers said that while the Board is not a public institution, the university should work to bridge the gap between the university and students in terms of what a Tufts education means.

“The trustees meet essentially three weekends every year. Because meetings do involve the university’s shared responsibility, those meetings cannot be open — [the Board] is not a public organization. There are some discussions that bound to happen behind the closed doors,” Meyers said. “That said, I do see where the student body’s frustration is coming from, and I would encourage the university leadership to discuss ways to bridge the gap in terms of their respective understandings of ‘transparency,’ and I’d be happy to be a part of that.”

Lori Roth

Roth received her bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations from the School of Arts and Sciences in 1986 and received her MBA from Northwestern University in 1990. Roth is currently senior managing director at Ashley Capital, one of the leading real estate investment firms in the nation. At Tufts, Roth served as chair of the Alumni Council and has served as the alumni representative on the Trustee Administration and Finance Committee since 2016. Roth is now one of the directors of the Alumni Council. Outside of Tufts, Roth spoke to the Daily on her experiences as a college mentor and Benefit Committee member with the East Harlem Tutorial Program. With her background in finance, real estate and mentoring, Roth is running on a platform that would expand the financial-aid program at the university.

Roth shared with the Daily that Tufts should join other private universities’ growing efforts to offer “no loans” financial-aid policies to its undergraduate students.

“I would absolutely love to work toward making Tufts a ‘debt-free’ university,” Roth said. “I have done college mentoring over the past several years, and I have a student mentee at Vassar College who will graduate with no debt through the university’s grants, work-study and a variety of other ways … It requires a lot of work to get there, but I think that Tufts is in the right direction to achieve that goal.”

Roth told the Daily that the university should continue its efforts to make the university more affordable as tuition continues to increase.

“I am very passionate about the university’s financial-aid program, and I think it aligns with the university’s core mission. I was happy to see projects like [the] Tufts Alumni Association First Gen Scholarship raising awareness and resources on the issue,” Roth said. “[Overall,] I think that there needs to be a bigger push [for] the university’s financial program … Enhanced financial aid would broaden the horizons of the community by bringing students who would not be able to attend the university otherwise … That is why I have donated to the university’s financial-aid resources and have been engaged in various fundraising events.”

On top of the university’s financial-aid program, Roth added that her experiences in finance and real estate would add a valuable perspective to the Board, especially as the university takes on a number of capital projects across its four campuses.

“Tufts has done a great job in the past 20 years in terms of improving all of its four campuses, particularly the Medford campus, with the addition of [Tufts Collaborative Learning and Innovation Complex] and the Science and Engineering Complex,” Roth said. “I think that many universities [including Tufts] are in an arms race to have the best facilities to attract more students and meet their demands … As the university has a number of capital projects, I think my experiences in real estate and finance can help the university [in] making more informed decisions.”

When asked about the Board’s transparency, Roth said the university already has mechanisms in place to ensure the student body’s representation.

“Even in [non-Tufts] corporate boards and [not]-for-profit boards, I don’t know how much transparency there can be made in terms of making the information available to the public … There are certain things that have to be held a little bit closer [through the Board of Trustees],” Roth noted. “That said, the fact that alums can participate in different committees and get reports about what went on in the committee sessions, the fact that students are represented on these committees, and the President issues reports add a level of transparency. [That said,] I am a firm believer in [the institutional] transparency, and I would like to know more about the issue and the student body’s demand.”

Sonja Bartlett

Bartlett received her bachelor’s degree from the School of Arts and Sciences in 1990 with a degree in international relations. According to the ballot, Bartlett worked at CNN Financial News & Money Line as a producer and television journalist and is currently an independent video producer and communications strategist. Bartlett told the Daily that she is running with an “open mind,” hoping to give back to the Tufts community.

“In my candidate statement, I wrote that ‘I bleed Brown & Blue.’ And that is absolutely true — as a second-generation Jumbo, I believe that Tufts education changed my life,” Bartlett said. “For the first time in my life, Tufts taught me how to love to learn, and I was inspired and humbled by incredible people around me … I felt as though my brain was on fire, and Tufts ultimately led me to decide to become a journalist … I owe so much [of my personal and career development] to Tufts, and I would  love to give back to the community through my service.”

According to Bartlett, she believes alumni engagement through stronger alumni networking and career services is critical to the university’s success.

“Alumni happiness translates into their higher participation in community events and fundraising which make[s] a private non-profit institution such as Tufts to be sustainable,” Bartlett said. “Working in the Marketing Committee, I was struck by how much alumni engagement efforts matter … People’s perception of an institution such as Tufts rests largely on how its alumni sees their alma mater help their transition into the next stage of their lives. Engaged and successful alumni are critical to the university’s fundraising events, capital projects and financial-aid programs.”

Bartlett told the Daily she believes in the value of engaging with the Tufts community first-hand if she were elected.

“The world has changed a lot with the advent of social media and a variety of digital channels, but I believe in the value of talking to people face to face. Personally, I have learned this through the boards that I have been on that no matter how long you sit in a boardroom, you are not going to learn anything about an institution until you are on the ground,” Bartlett said. “Every time I visit Tufts, I always meet new people and learn something new … [If elected] I want to share these stories with the greater Tufts community, fostering an engaged alumni community and strengthening our intellectual community.”

When asked about the Board’s transparency, Bartlett considered both the student body and the administration.

“The [Board of] Trustees’ transparency is a tricky issue. While transparency is an important component for an institution such as Tufts, I also see that the boards need to have the ability to speak freely in their meetings to get some important work done, often with some sensitivities and nuances around them … In that sense, I see where the university is coming from. On the other hand, I also understand that transparency is important in fostering a healthier community as a journalist,” Bartlett said. “[Considering these,] I think that the community needs to put faith in the chairman of the Board, generally speaking. The chair of the Board is supposed to speak for the board’s stance and positions, and that’s usually the way that it works best [to ensure both transparency and efficiency].”


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