Nathan Fletcher has held numerous positions in an illustrious career: Marine veteran, director for Qualcomm, and as many political science students at UC San Diego know, college professor.
But come November, you may see him in another capacity: Professor Fletcher is running for County Supervisor for District 4 of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.
The 41-year-old announced his candidacy in July 2017. He seeks to replace longtime Supervisor Ron Roberts. His platform includes working toward tuition-free community college, pursuing a “Housing First” solution to homelessness, and establishing a county-wide Human Rights Committee. He has the official endorsement of the California Democratic Party, though the position is nonpartisan.
When asked why he is running, Fletcher answered, “If you’re motivated to serve others and make a difference and have a positive impact, you realize that you do that best by elected office.” He is dissatisfied with how the County of San Diego has performed in recent years and wants to guide the county government in a more active, progressive direction.
Fletcher has previously served two terms in the California State Assembly from 2008 to 2012. Elected both times as a Republican, he became an independent in 2012 during his first bid for the San Diego mayorship.
His departure from the Republican Party was nationally publicized. Fletcher had often gone against party policies, especially for social and environmental issues. His most prominent split came in 2010, when he spoke before the Assembly in support of Senate Joint Resolution 9, which called upon the federal government to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy.
He became a Democrat in 2013 and made his second bid for the mayorship following the resignation of Bob Filner, securing the endorsement of both Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Fletcher was appointed the inaugural Professor of Practice at UCSD in 2013. Recalling his appointment, he admitted to feeling uneasy. He had long wanted to teach but was concerned about taking on a professorship without an advanced degree.
“I was a Marine,” he said. “And if someone said, ‘I want to be a Marine, but I don’t want to go to boot camp,’ we’d be like, ‘Nope.’ We all went through it.”
But the Professor of Practice position was designed explicitly for accomplished professionals without an academic background. The position allows Fletcher to use his practical knowledge of various political processes to engage with students, both by lecturing and by helping them to connect with the political world outside the university setting.
“I spend a lot of time mentoring students for career options,” he said. “One of the things I think maybe we can do a better job of in higher education is helping prepare you for those pathways into careers. And so I do a lot of extended office hours and I do a ton of introducing students to organizations or elected officials or political parties to get them internships into careers in politics.”
His classes usually bring in speakers who represent various political entities. The speakers describe their group or official and tell students about opportunities to get in touch with and work with them. Often, the speakers themselves are former students of Professor Fletcher, who acquired internships and jobs under his tutelage.
In helping his students, Fletcher tries to direct them to organizations that match their political tastes as closely as possible. He even offers students extra credit for working a political internship.
“If you’re a fairly conservative student, then I have a good relationship with [California State] Senator Joel Anderson—I’ve sent I-don’t-know-how-many interns his way. If you’re a more progressive student, you can go here. If you care about the environment, you can go there. [I can gauge] what your interest is, and then [help in] opening the door.”
However, Fletcher keeps his current candidacy out of the classroom. He does not discuss his campaign and only mentions it at the beginning of the quarter as a disclaimer. He also forbids students who are currently enrolled in his courses from helping his campaign in any capacity.
“I wouldn’t want any student to feel like someone got an unfair advantage [or to] feel like they had some obligation [to assist my campaign].”
During his five years at UCSD, Professor Fletcher has taught courses that cover topics ranging from California politics to the keys to successful, and unsuccessful, campaigns. Last quarter, he taught POLI 102D, a course that explores the history and effects of the Voting Rights Act.
Fletcher’s experience campaigning and engaging with different kinds of people manifests itself in the classroom. He often paces the room while he talks, sometimes resting a leg on an empty chair in the front row. He incorporates current events and pertinent videos into his lectures. He takes the time to work through a student’s question, even if it requires a more candid answer.
For instance, one student asked a guest speaker whether he truly believed in his candidate or whether he merely worked for them. Fletcher then discussed the difference between believing wholeheartedly in one’s candidate and believing in the general direction that the candidate represents, and that political workers must often confront this difference. He then offered a piece of advice: Although every political worker will experience a crisis of faith in their career, the remedy lies in supporting those who advocate for the values that they cherish the most.
Fletcher’s students are receptive to the combination of his engaging and animated lectures and the outside opportunities he introduces.
“Having Nathan Fletcher as a professor is honestly unlike any other instructor at UCSD,” said Caroline Siegel-Singh, Sixth College Associated Students Senator and second-year political science student. “He’s really passionate about the courses he teaches and is genuinely invested in the well-being [sic] and professional development of his students…I really think the way he teaches makes his classes perfect for second or third years looking to gain real-world experience in the field of political science.”
Regardless of the result of his current campaign, Fletcher intends to continue his professorship. If he wins the seat, he will try to teach at least one or two quarters per year.
“I enjoy being on campus and I enjoy the students,” he said. “And I like helping to open those doors and create those pathways and feel like I’m kind of mentoring the next generation.”
Ryan Maher is a Staff Writer for The Triton.