Op-Ed: Nathan Foster, running for alumni trustee

I graduated in May. Now I’m running for a position on the Board of Trustees.

My name is Nathan Foster, and I am running for alumni trustee to help create a fairer, more democratic Tufts. The Board of Trustees is Tufts’ governing body, ultimately responsible for everything from tuition hikes and the construction of new buildings, to tenure and promotion policy for professors. The vast majority of trustees — three-quarters — are appointed by the Board of Trustees itself. The remaining seats are reserved for elected alumni

As a result of this selection process, the Board of Trustees tends not to reflect the diversity of economic background, racial identity or lived experience of the full Tufts community. This has a real effect on how Tufts, a multi-billion dollar institution central to the lives of thousands of people, governs itself. Representation matters.

I support finally addressing the tuition crisis, treating and paying workers fairly and giving professors an environment conducive to high-quality teaching and research — something that can’t be accomplished with shiny new buildings alone. But it’s not enough to simply support these things. I am backing reforms to make Tufts more democratic by adding students, workers and professors to the Board of Trustees as full voting members. Many institutions, including Cornell University and Howard University, already do this.

Tufts was my home for the past four years. I met my best friends here; my career trajectory, sense of self and worldview have been fundamentally shaped by this wonderful, flawed school. I first began examining the structures that make Tufts the way it is as a junior, when a friend and I filmed a fifteen minute documentary for community television examining tuition, social class and how Tufts, one of the most expensive colleges in the country, got this way.

In becoming a student trustee representative my senior year, I learned that the Board of Trustees is the institution most responsible for shaping Tufts, despite a general lack of knowledge among the students of how the Board functions. As a trustee rep, I researched admissions and the budget, obtained the release of previously private data on the economic composition of the student body and presented a plan to begin addressing the tuition crisis to the Board of Trustees. The plan was well-received, but I do not know if it was implemented.

Nonetheless, the experience taught me that trustees really do care about their job. In particular, they take seriously the responsibility to look out for Tufts over the long term.

At the same time, the Board of Trustees is extremely inaccessible to most students, workers, professors, community members and even alumni. This has a real effect on the Board’s ability to serve the entire Tufts community.

For example, as a trustee representative, I learned that the full cost of attending Tufts will exceed $100,000 per year in less than a decade. This is more than just guesswork. It was confirmed to me that indefinite increases of around 3.5 or 3.6 percent a year are baked into long-term financial planning — enough to exceed $100,000 in nine years. I was not told where all those students willing to pay $100,000 a year are going to come from.

Additional tuition increases will have a real impact on countless low-income and middle-class students, primarily by denying them the opportunity to come here in the first place. In the documentary, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences James Glaser said that a select group of students are rejected each year solely for their financial status, due to a limited pool of financial aid.

The increases also pose a danger to Tufts as an institution. By assuming that the bottom line will be supported by $100,000 tuition, Tufts makes itself dependent on the willingness of students to pay that much.

Students with a real voice in the decision-making process likely would question these assumptions. The value of student trustees is not just that they will advocate for students; they are good for the institution. The same is true of faculty and staff trustees. Tufts is nothing if not its people. Bringing their knowledge and expertise to the table will help ensure workers and professors are treated fairly, and it will improve Tufts as a whole.

When difficult decisions do need to be made, it is better that they be made with broad community buy-in.

As a young alumnus with close relationships with current students, faculty and staff, I will bring a fresh perspective to the Board of Trustees. As a former trustee representative, I have the experience to hit the ground running and contribute constructively to the Board’s work. If you are a part of the Tufts community, I would deeply appreciate your support. I am hoping for both individual and group endorsements. You can learn more on my Facebook page or website, nathanfortrustee.com.