Corporation used to consensus, but majority rules

As the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 has campaigned for a spot on the Yale Corporation, supporters have emphasized the value of having a local voice on the University’s highest governing body, and opponents have warned against electing as a trustee a man whom they say is beholden to special interests.

But both Lee and Yale President Richard Levin said that one trustee cannot disrupt the Corporation’s business and must work with other members to achieve his goals.

Lee said that if he defeats famed architect Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 to earn a spot on the Corporation, he plans to work within the rules at all times.

“From the very beginning, it has been said from my position that I just want to be able to have the voice from the community at the table and we can enter into that dialogue that shapes and redirects how we do things,” Lee said. “I think it would have a powerful impact because it is a different perspective.”

Levin said resolutions, adoptions of new policy, and major expenditures require a vote, “but typically what happens is that it is a unanimous vote.”

A situation similar to a Senate filibuster, Levin said, has never happened.

“This is like 17 people sitting around a table,” Levin said. “We don’t actually have formal rules of parliamentary procedure because it isn’t a party. It’s a collaborative body.”

Levin said that if one fellow’s agenda differed significantly, there would be discussion.

“Not everyone agrees on everything the University does. I am sure we could handle disagreement,” Levin said, adding that disagreement is frequent. “The trustees have different points of views and different ideas.”

He said Corporation members usually talk their way through disagreement and reach a consensus, but sometimes the settle issues through a majority vote.

Lee said he has no idea how his agenda would differ from the rest of the trustees’.

“I know it’s going to sound cliched, but I can’t answer it unless we are in the room,” Lee said. “It really would take listening to the other perspectives around the table and allowing their voice to impact [me].”

At the typical meeting — which the Corporation bylaws require to be opened by prayer– the entire Corporation convenes on Saturday for a formal meeting.

Lorimer said the meetings are basically conversational in nature.

But Lorimer was quick to add that much of the Corporation’s business does not require a formal vote. Levin, she said, uses the Corporation as a starting point for discussions about ideas and proposals.

“In that way the Corporation is particularly useful to the University as wise counselors who can give guidance as issues and ideas are being formulated in the early stage,” Lorimer said.

Corporation member Janet Yellen ’71 said much of the Corporation’s actual work takes place in the committees. Committees typically meet on Fridays to cover material in their own deliberations and in turn may make recommendations to the full Corporation.

Lorimer said a committee might have a proposal for a particular course of action and would vote if they found it appropriate to recommend it to the Corporation. The chairman of the committee would subsequently present the matter and review it with the entire corporation.

Levin said he and the new senior fellow, who will replace the departing Kurt Schmoke ’71, will decide which committee Lin or Lee would join. Committee assignments are rotated every year, and Levin said a person serves on two or three committees, typically with trustees serving on the same committee for a few years and changing during their tenure.

Levin said trustees are asked their preferences for committee assignments but that they do not necessarily receive their first choice.

“I have to balance their interests with the needs of the University,” Levin said.

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