Red Star: Democracy at Tufts

We’re running up against the hard limits of student activism in the fights over affordable housing and tuition. The administration — despite not releasing revenue estimates or a university development plan, and without consulting students — routinely raises the cost of attendance by thousands of dollars. Such hikes are defended by claims that cost overruns and new expensive buildings justify never consulting the people who live here.

This is a symptom of a broader crisis of inflation in higher education, in which universities behave as a combination non-profit, landlord and corporation to generate as much revenue as possible. Sure, administrators might mouth platitudes about liberal arts and civic life, but when it comes to the things that affect all of us, Tufts isn’t a democracy.

But it’s time for Tufts to be one.

Thousands of people live and work at Tufts. We have our own police force, education system and energy infrastructure, all of which should be governed by the students and workers. It wouldn’t make sense for Boston to be ruled by a council of a few dozen people who lived there 30 years ago, and it doesn’t make sense for Tufts to be governed that way.

The board asks you to pay $70,000 for forced triples, classes you have to apply for and the wonderful convenience of having no say over your living conditions. Yet the deficit remains, costs are exploding and Tufts is thousands of beds short. The administration’s solution has been to kick faculty out of their homes to make way for a tiny number of juniors and seniors and add 400 more students to the student body in two years.

The forms of democracy partly exist; there are the Tufts Community Union (TCU) and Faculty Senates which get to register discomfort with policies that happen anyways. The higher administration and the Board of Trustees retain decision-making power. These unelected, self-perpetuating structures haven’t solved the university’s problems. Their response to student, faculty and worker concerns is usually contempt or indifference. They should be replaced by a single senate composed of students, faculty and workers, empowered to make decisions about development, administration and policy because of its democratic legitimacy, not its selection by a sliver of the alumni.

To build democratic governance the student body would have to organize itself, hold a referendum to dissolve TCU and form a new senate. We would need student strikes, mass demonstrations, coalition building with workers, faculty and the residents of Medford and Somerville, the occupation of key buildings and mass meetings to determine what our new Tufts would be. This may seem like an impossibility, but student strikes in Quebec and in Europe have won political gains and galvanized resistance. One day we may tear aside the curtain of impossibility and make Tufts our school. A democratic revolution is possible here, but it will take mass organization well beyond what we’ve seen in the past few years. The Board of Trustees will meet in February and May. Will you meet them?