University President Richard Levin has spoken eloquently of Yale’s self-interest in strengthening New Haven. If Yale is to attract the best students and the best faculty, then the community surrounding Yale must be stronger and more attractive. The respective futures of town and gown are intimately intertwined and cannot be separated. They will struggle, or they will thrive, together. All concerned want both to thrive, and I am committed to building bridges that will make this possible.
My dream as a child, growing up in the projects of Ansonia, was to attend Yale. When this dream became real, I struggled with the tensions between where I came from and where I was. One night, my aunt called me, frantic on the phone. My cousin — like a brother to me — had been shot in New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood. I remember leaving my aunt’s side after we identified the body and then going back up to the dorms to spend an anguished evening with two of my best friends at Yale. I asked them how we could stay up here and ignore the tragedy occurring in the streets just a few blocks away. I decided then and there that I had to do whatever I could to bring Yale and New Haven together.
My experience in the community does more than equip me to know which Yale initiatives will or will not work. It also makes me accessible to the students and faculty at Yale. After all, if I am elected, anyone can visit a Yale trustee simply by coming to church on Sunday! I have only one “campaign promise”: If elected to the Yale Corporation, I will remain willing to meet and discuss any Yale issue with any group of concerned members of the Yale community. Over and over again, students at Yale have told me how groundbreaking is this seemingly simple promise.
Let me be even more clear: If the alumni elect me as their trustee, I will act solely to serve the long-term best interests of Yale University in that capacity. I believe these interests will be best served when one of Yale’s 16 trustees is equipped with the local community and pastoral experience that I would bring to the position.
Yale’s financial investments have seen tremendous return over the past decade, in part because Yale had access to the expertise of trustees like Charles Ellis ’59, G. Leonard Baker ’61 and Holcombe Green Jr. ’61. In like manner, I hope that my service on the Corporation would enable Yale to reap untold rewards from the local initiatives it pursues.
I also have much to learn. Protecting and preserving the future of the entire institution is a great responsibility. Fortunately that responsibility does not fall upon any one person, but upon the entire assembly of trustees. Since the future of New Haven is such an intimate and important part of Yale’s future, however, I believe that the entire board is weakened so long as experience from the local community remains absent.
The Yale community is certainly fortunate to also have so distinguished an alumna as Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 willing to serve as trustee. Yale University now stands to benefit no matter who wins the election. Regardless of the election’s outcome, however, we should not lose Lin’s service. There are soon to be two seats vacated on the Corporation: one elected seat, David Gergen’s ’63, and one appointed seat, Kurt Schmoke’s ’71. Therefore, I encourage the members of the Yale Corporation to consider appointing Lin in the event that I win the election. That way, Yale can have the best of both worlds, and we can serve together as trustees.
I was surprised to discover that some believe that Yale’s interests are at odds with New Haven’s, and that a Yale alumnus cannot offer his local experience and roots in service to his alma mater. From their perspective, if you are from the community, you cannot also be from Yale. Fortunately, I know that the majority of Yale alumni do not share this viewpoint.
I would like to thank U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 for his endorsement of my candidacy. It is an honor to receive support from one who was instrumental in encouraging the petitions of William Horowitz ’29 to join the Corporation. In 1964, Horowitz petitioned unsuccessfully to join the Corporation; in 1965, his second petition was successful, and he became Yale’s first Jewish trustee. Horowitz’s efforts played a key role in the positive transformation that Yale underwent during the 1960s.
Since then, Yale — and the Yale Corporation –have changed dramatically, opening up to accommodate the best from every segment of our society. Nevertheless, today there is no trustee who brings the experience of growing up in the Greater New Haven area and living in the local community. Yet New Haven is one of the University’s highest priorities, as Levin has emphasized from his inauguration in 1993 to his statement in this week’s Bulletin and Calendar. To be successful, Levin needs resources from the community on the board of trustees, and should the alumni elect me, I would be happy to serve.
The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 is the pastor of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church and a candidate in this year’s election for alumni fellow on the Yale Corporation.