AYA criticizes Lee in letter to alumni

Continuing the onslaught of literature in this year’s highly controversial Yale Corporation election, the Association of Yale Alumni Board of Governors expressed concern about the candidacy of the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 in a strongly worded letter mailed Friday to about 115,000 alumni.

Although AYA Executive Director Jeffrey Brenzel said the letter is not an endorsement of Lee’s opponent, Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86, the Board of Governors exclusively praised Lin and raised specific objections to Lee’s campaign.

Board of Governors Secretary Michael Kashgarian MED ’58, who is also a Yale biology professor, said the board considered giving Lin an official AYA endorsement but decided against it.

“There was a concern that our responsibility was to provide information and that we did not want to get involved in quote ‘campaigning,'” Kashgarian said.

Ted Wittenstein ’04, one of Lee’s student campaign coordinators, said he did not think the letter was fair.

“Regardless of one’s opinion, I think it is unfair for the alumni association to use alumni contributions to attack the personal credibility of the petition candidate,” Wittenstein said.

In the letter, the AYA board said it was concerned about the financial support Lee has received from Yale’s two largest unions, his unprecedented campaign, and other aspects of his candidacy.

“The AYA’s Board of Governors is concerned about the strong and unexplained disparity between Rev. Lee’s past public statements about Yale and those now being made in campaign mailings to alumni,” the letter said. “We are also concerned about Rev. Lee’s expressions of deep commitment to the Yale-New Haven relationship despite his lack of past involvement at any level with Yale’s many initiatives and engagements with the city.”

The letter is the second recent mailing from the AYA about the Corporation election. In March, Board of Governors chairwoman Maureen Doran NUR ’71 sent a letter to alumni warning them to expect unsolicited campaign materials and directing them to an AYA-sponsored Web site featuring information about the election.

Brenzel said the AYA spent $40,000 to mail the most recent letter to all alumni eligible to vote in the election, while the first mailing cost about $20,000 or $25,000. Lee estimated that he has spent $55,000, and former University Secretary Henry “Sam” Chauncey ’57 told the Yale Daily News that his group of pro-Lin alumni has spent about $80,000.

Lee said in an e-mail that he was surprised the AYA sent out the most recent letter because he had taken special care to disclose his supporters, including the unions.

“I wanted to make sure that no one casts their ballot without understanding who stands beside me,” Lee said. “Given this, I was surprised that the AYA decided to break with tradition by mailing out extra materials in addition to the ballots.”

Brenzel said the board sent the letter to educate Yale’s alumni.

“People will have to see it as they think best, but the board felt that it was their responsibility to make alumni aware of their concerns,” Brenzel said.

Kashgarian said Lee’s petition candidacy has negatively affected the election process.

“This year the process was disrupted, if you will, by the active campaigning of Rev. Lee,” he said. “It makes it a most unusual and most unorthodox [election] for alumni trustee.”

Lee Ferry DIV ’81 said he first learned of Lee’s campaign through mailings sent by the AYA and the pro-Lin group, Alumni for Responsible Trusteeship. He said he did not receive any of Lee’s mailings.

“I just found it offensive,” Ferry said, adding that he thought the AYA was being hypocritical by campaigning. “My reaction was to immediately write a check to Rev. Lee.”

This election has featured many notable firsts, with Lee running the most substantial campaign in Corporation history and the AYA Alumni Fellows Nominating Committee selecting only one candidate for the first time ever.

The election will continue until Commencement, and Yale President Richard Levin will announce a winner the following weekend.

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