In the wake of last May’s heated Yale Corporation election, possible changes to Corporation bylaws regarding candidate campaigning may be announced in late September following the solicitation of alumni feedback.
Responses to a June letter by departing Corporation senior fellow Kurt Schmoke ’71 will be announced following deliberation at this month’s Corporation meeting, University Secretary Linda Lorimer said.
The letter, which received over 1,000 alumni responses, expressed concern about the “organized campaigning” that characterized this year’s election between petition candidate the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 and eventual winner Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86.
In the letter, Schmoke thanked alumni for the opportunity to serve and asked if other alumni shared his concern about what he called the “politicization” of the Corporation election process.
“I would like to see people of diverse interests — alumni with diverse interests — to put their names forward as candidates for the Corporation, but I would not like to see those elections take on all the negative aspects of political campaigns that we have in our country,” Schmoke said in an interview Monday. “And if we could strike some balance there so that we can encourage diversity of points of view while also discouraging interest groups from using money to campaign, then I think we will achieve something good for the University.”
Lee said he thought Schmoke’s letter was an implicit criticism of him and his campaign.
“[The letter] slaps what I was trying to talk about — partnership — in the face,” Lee said. “I just was disappointed they would take the only [vestige] of democracy in that process away from the alumni.”
While Lee said he has faith that the alumni “will see through it,” he added that he is not on the Corporation and therefore cannot take part in the decision to change Corporation election procedures.
Lorimer said the letter originated “in light of last spring,” but she declined to comment on Lee’s role in bringing forth the re-evaluation of campaigning, only saying the election “was certainly unprecedented in terms of campaigning.”
Lorimer said that she and current senior fellow John E. Pepper ’60 personally read through all the responses. She declined to predict the outcome of the responses and referred questions to Pepper, who could not be reached for comment.
Professor Gaddis Smith, an expert on Yale history, said it would be difficult for the University to prevent or restrict campaigning.
“That’s a tricky thing because it begins to infringe on freedom of expression and it could be easily misinterpreted as an effort on the part of the establishment to stifle opinion,” Smith said. “My own sense is that there is not likely to be heavy repeated campaigning.”
Smith also said he supports maintaining petition candidacies.
“I think the petition route ought to be maintained because that opens up the possibility of election to the Corporation to a much wider group than the nominating committee may choose in its unchallengeable wisdom to pick,” Smith said.
Vocal Lee supporter Abbey Hudson ’03, who identified the Corporation as “exclusive,” also said that campaigning would be difficult to define.
“What we saw this last election was really good in increased turnout and increased participation … which is a good thing,” Hudson said. “So if they are saying they wanted to eliminate [campaigning], I don’t know why anybody would want to do that.”