Op-ed: Corporate Tufts needs to go

As universities like Tufts become increasingly ensnared in corporate practices, an ominous cycle develops: Workers face unjust conditions, community members demand action, and administrators deflect responsibility. The history of violence from which Tufts has built its capital, including the seizure of Massachusett, Pawtucket, Nipmuc and Wampanoag lands and the Royall family plantation, undergirds the system of racialized labor which now poisons the university. Today, worker exploitation — which we identify with the corporatization of Tufts — has eroded possibilities for solidarity among an increasingly vulnerable workforce whose labor keeps Tufts viable as a corporation. First, we will look at how exploitative corporate policies affect workers at Tufts. Then, we will look at the framework of the endowment which legitimizes administrative decisions. Lastly, we will provide our demands. 

As a consequence of the shift toward a corporate structure, Tufts has created more high-level administrative positions at the expense of workers, reallocating space on campus according to this new power structure. In 2018, while administrative space across campus increased, the administration reduced the size of the carpenter shop and the stockroom at 520 Boston Ave. This change made the area inaccessible for facilities workers, who felt disrespected by the higher-ups. As one worker wrote in an anonymous op-ed concerning the situation, “Tufts Management — who once embraced the community, students, and the environment — has now drastically changed and has followed suit with the rest of corporate America, only caring about the bottom line and not students, staff and its workers’ needs.” 

This shift toward managerial bloat has negatively impacted working environments beyond the spatial realm. According to the Tufts University Fact Book, from 2011 to 2019, there was a 23% increase in full-time operations managers while there was only a 5% increase in total full-time operations workers (including technical workers, skilled-crafts workers, and service-maintenance workers). Tufts left out this section of the fact book in their 2019–20 edition and their 2020–21 edition. As management has increased, so has its immunity to the increased complaints of abuse and disrespect from workers. For example, grounds supervisor Gregory Mellet was only recently fired despite intimidating and retaliating against workers for years. His dismissal was only possible due to union involvement, student involvement and extensive worker documentation. Similarly, numerous complaints of a hostile work environment have been brought against the current director of facilities, Gary Hill. 

Alongside the rise of top-down management, managers have started to rely heavily on outsourcing work, which accomplishes three main goals of the administration. First, outsourcing saves money, as the administration neither pays out-sourced workers full-time salaries nor gives them benefits. When Tufts outsourced its janitorial services to The University Cleaning Company in 1994, it saved the administration $500,000 that year and an estimated $1.5 million in the coming years. In 1998, 20 laid-off janitors struggled to obtain food. More recently, Tufts has started outsourcing snow removal in order to cut more costs. Second, increased employee turnover as a result of outsourcing suppresses efforts by workers to form connections and solidarity with each other, which is vital for both community-building and organizing for improved conditions. Third, Tufts stays out of contract negotiations between contracting companies and unions. The university refers to that neutrality as the reason it has no influence over problems outsourced workers face. 

So why, while University President Anthony Monaco boasts about the endowment growing during his tenure and Executive Director of Media Relations Patrick Collins celebrates the bloat in student population as a boon for the entire university, are the ones who take care of us continually being harmed in the name of cutting costs? The logic behind the university’s endowment offers some clues. Reckless risk-taking in the financial sector fueled by Wall Street deregulation, exemplified by the 2008 crisis, has made a casualty of university finances — with disastrous results for workers. Universities increasingly invest their endowments in expensive and unregulated “alternative” investments that, according to researcher Kelly Grotke’s writing in The American Prospect, “often lock up investor money for years, preventing … universities from accessing it during a crisis,” and tend to perform little better than cheaper, traditional investments such as index funds. Based on the university’s endowment report for the 2021 fiscal year, we estimate that 40% of Tufts’ endowment is held in investments of this type. Universities like Tufts thus shell out millions in “investment management fees” for endowments that actually hamper their ability to cope with financial hardship, while simultaneously claiming that outsourcing workers and squeezing their wages and benefits is a “necessity” when difficult times inevitably arrive. This is, in part, why universities across the country, including Tufts, have failed to draw upon these “rainy day funds” to protect their workers throughout the financial crisis precipitated by the pandemic. 

As more “rainy days” are inevitable, Tufts can still reverse these trends and create a university where students, workers and faculty alike are taken care of. We demand the following: 

  1. A clear chain of accountability for managerial oversight. 
  2. A clear report on hiring numbers by EEOC category, as well as a numerical distribution of outsourced workers. 
  3. That Tufts University affirms its commitment to job security and respect for all workers.
  4. A clear and comprehensive list of all Tufts investments, published annually, as well as the decision structure for these investments and the amount of investment management fees incurred. 
  5. A yearly forum open to all persons affiliated with Tufts University. At least three members of the Tufts administration deemed responsible for managerial oversight will commit their presence at this meeting. This forum will provide a venue for Tufts University workers and students to express grievances regarding administrative, managerial and worker relations. 

Author’s note: We are not the first group of people at Tufts to call for structural change in the administration. In summer 2020, a coalition of faculty members known as the Tufts Action Group made a comprehensive list of demands to address white supremacy’s structural hold on Tufts. In solidarity with their struggle, we have borrowed from this list for our own demands to address this recent trend of corporate behavior.


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