4 candidates campaign in Trustee Election, university works to boost turnout

Ballou Hall on May 5, 2016. (Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily Archives)

The Tufts University Alumni Association sent ballots for two open Alumni Trustee seats on the Tufts University Board of Trustees as well as nine open seats on the Tufts University Alumni Council to Tufts alumni by email last Thursday.

The voting period will end March 31 and results of the election will be announced at the Alumni Council meeting on April 7, Ed Ellison (A ’83), executive director of the Office of Alumni Relations, said in an email to the Daily.

The Board of Trustees is the governing body of the university, making decisions on university issues ranging from tuition hikes to facilities, and is composed of 40 members, 10 of whom are Alumni Trustees who are directly elected by all of Tufts’ alumni for terms of five years.

This year the seats currently held by Laurie Gabriel (J ’76) and Hugh R. Roome III (LA ’74, F ’77, FG ’80, FG ’80) are being contested by four candidates: Sonja Bartlett (LA ’90), Kenneth C. Fan (E ’01, F ’07), David B. Meyers (LA ’96) and Lori Roth (J ’86), all who had been selected to run for the position from a larger field of candidates by the Nominating Committee of the Alumni Council in December. 

The Alumni Council is a group of around 250 alumni which organizes activities and provides career services to alumni, according to its website.

Sixteen candidates are vying for nine seats, though the seats are divided up by school and are elected separately. For instance, eight candidates are in contention for six seats allotted to the School of Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering.

All four candidates for Alumni Trustee told the Daily in interviews they accepted nominations so that they could keep giving back to Tufts, a school they love.

When I was asked if I would be interested in being nominated to be alumni trustee, I jumped at the opportunity because it would allow me to have another great opportunity to volunteer on behalf of alumni everywhere,” Meyers, the immediate past president of the Alumni Council who works in media, explained.

Roth, senior managing director at Ashley Capital in New York City, sais she saw this as a chance to bring her involvement to “the next level,” building upon her experience as a non-voting alumni representative on the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee.

“It just felt like I could ass a lot of value, help promote the university and help it do what it is trying to do in terms of fulfilling its mission,” she said.

For Fan, a biotech entrepreneur living in Somerville, motivation to run came from his passion for Tufts and a desire to help foster innovation at the university.

Nomination for the post came as a surprise for Bartlett, a former TV news anchor, who was nominated by one of her mother’s friends, a Tufts alumna, who did not inform Bartlett.

“This place is very near and dear to me and if this the best way to give back, why not try?” Bartlett said. “So if they’ll have me, I’ll be happy to give back in this way.”

Ellison said that the office of Amluni Relations, working with the Alumni Council to organize the election, sent out approximately 69,000 email ballots, representing around 60 percent of Tufts Alumni.

The annual election has historically been met with low response rates, averaging between 5 and 6 percent in recent years, Stephen Wermiel, the current president of the Alumni Council, said in a January interview with the Daily.

Ellison said that the Office of Alumni Relations instituted several changes during last year’s election to remedy this, including increased presence on social media and stressing the importance of each vote. The subject line of this year’s ballot read “Tufts’ future may hang on a single vote. Yours.”

Ellison said that weekly reminder emails will be sent to alumni.

After instituting these changes, the response rate ticked up last year to 9.9 percent, according to Wermiel.

Despite these efforts, John Jackson (A ’72) had not noticed the ballot email when interviewed on Saturday, saying that the alumni get numerous emails from the university and that he only responds on occasion.

“I think we’re often under-informed, especially if you don’t keep in touch with the alumni community,” he said.

However, Jackson praised the democratic nature of the process and said that he will vote.

Nathan Foster (A ’18), who had been nominated for Alumni Trustee but was not selected to run by the Nominating Committee, was less optimistic about the election.

“I think a lot of alumni feel like this election doesn’t mean much. Unfortunately, there is some truth to that,” he wrote in an email to the Daily.

Foster said the ballot selection process that took place late last year was much more important than the vote, and that the giving history of the candidates weighs heavily in the process. Furthermore, he said that the candidate statements offered little information on candidates’ positions about important issues.

“For a school that prides itself on its democratic values, the solution should be simple. Make the election an honest-to-goodness election. People will vote if they feel like it counts,” he said.

Ellison said that the response rate at Tufts is better than that of other schools with similar processes and stressed the uniqueness of Tufts’ election.

“I know of few other higher-ed institutions that allow the alumni body to elect any of their trustees,” he said. “This election provides Tufts alumni with direct representation on the governing board of Tufts University.”

The candidates for Alumni Trustee have been working to drum up support by reaching out to other alumni over the past week. To do this, candidates Meyers and Fan have placed their emphasis on social media.

I think a lot of people talk about how good of a reach Facebook has nowadays,” Fan told the Daily in an interview. “It’s been a wonderful platform to get the message out to my friends and their network, and it’s been really easy for them to share the post as well.”

Meyers said he too would be using Facebook as well as LinkedIn and may try being active with using Twitter.

Bartlett said that the campaign reminded her of campaigning for Tufts Community Union Senate her sophomore year, and that the same group of her mother’s friends who nominated her were hard at work getting the word out.

Roth said she has been sending out emails and calling friends, touting her many years of alumni service.

Nicholas Fallah (LA ’18) said when he initially saw the email, he mistook it as spam or another fundraising appeal but said that he intends to vote after taking the time to weigh the positions of the candidates.

“I think it’s important that given how important the Board of Trustees is, we as alumni should do our best to make sure our values are represented in who we elect to it,” Fallah wrote in an email. “Especially among more recent alumni, we have an idea of the present state of campus and the student body and can take that into account in our votes.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article unintentionally omitted a section of the original print article. The article has been updated to include the entirety of the original article. The Daily regrets this error.


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