The Board of Trustees wields a great deal of power in determining the future of Tufts; according to its website, “the Board appoints the President, who leads and manages the institution; approves the University’s mission and purpose, institutional policies and changes in academic programs; guards the University’s finances; and sets an example of generous financial support.” Despite being appointed, not elected, the trustees have incomparable influence over long-term decisions concerning the university.
While there are three student representatives to the Board who offer their insights at meetings, they do not have much say when it comes to decision-making, as pointed out by former student trustee representative Nathan Foster.
“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,” Foster (LA ’18) said in an interview with the Daily last year.
The Board of Trustees should make itself more accessible to students and find ways to actively include the student body when making decisions about how to spend our tuition dollars in ways that impact our community and future.
The Tufts Community Union Senate currently has three of its members attend the Board meetings, acting as student representatives. Each of the representatives sits on a different committee: one on Administration and Finance, one on Academic Affairs and one on University Advancement. Connor Goggins, the student representative on the Administration and Finance committee, said his committee oversees finances including money spent on construction, renovations and department funding. Goggins, a sophomore, told the Daily that while he gets information that is privileged due to his role, he is not allowed to attend the general meetings and is only allowed to sit in on the meetings of his own committee. Further, Goggins said he did not have much of an input in these meetings, which run on a tight schedule and leave little time for student feedback. According to Goggins, this makes it difficult for the representatives to push for a student voice.
Given that these committees make the rules, divide up the money and set long-term plans for Tufts, students have a right to provide their input. After all, they are just as much stakeholders of the university as administrators, faculty and staff. Even if the Board of Trustees cannot let students vote on every allocation decision, it should at least be transparent and willing to answer questions and solicit input from students before, not after, decisions are made.
Goggins said that years ago, the Board would have a meeting in the winter that the student representatives would attend in order to provide their input, but that these meetings no longer take place. At these meetings, he explained, student representatives would give a presentation to their committee, detailing the changes students wanted and providing the rest of the Board with a clear idea of what the students were thinking about the direction and policies of the school. Goggins added that the timing of this meeting was helpful, as fall meetings occur too early in the semester for students to have concrete, comprehensive lists of changes, and the spring is too late for such changes to have an impact.
We believe the Board should make sure that the voices of student representatives are heard on a consistent basis. It should revive winter meetings with student representatives in attendance. But we also feel that one meeting between three students and dozens of trustees is grossly insufficient. The trustees should publicly schedule meetings with students so that the student body can at least express its views — an effort that would require no sacrifice on the part of the trustees given that they would still have voting power that student representatives currently do not. An insular, unelected body cannot govern for everyone, especially without even hearing the concerns of the people.