Among the Yalies heading to the polls Tuesday was University President Richard Levin, who was spotted at the Ward 10 polling station in East Rock on Tuesday afternoon.
Like many voters, he kept his choices to himself. But he’s not just being coy.
“Absolutely not,” he said when asked to disclose his choices in the election.
Levin and the University’s other officers — who include Provost Peter Salovey and Yale’s seven vice presidents — have long agreed not to disclose their votes in local, state or national elections. Nor do they make campaign contributions. Levin conceived this unwritten policy when he became Yale’s president in 1993, he said, and the other officers signed on.
Staying politically neutral allows the officers to represent the University to whichever local politicians are ultimately elected, six officers said.
“To serve Yale’s interests best, officers have to work with whomever is in power,” Levin said. “For us to endorse candidates does not best serve the University.”
Mayor John DeStefano’s deputy campaign manager, Ben Shaffer ’09, said he was unaware of the Yale policy and does not know what political influence a University officer’s endorsement might have. DeStefano campaign manager Keya Jayaram could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Whereas Levin strives for political neutrality, previous Yale presidents have not been so circumspect, said Gaddis Smith ’54 GRD ’61, emeritus professor of history and Yale historian. In the 1920s and 30s, many University administrators were outspoken about their conservative beliefs. And in the 1960s, former University President Kingman Brewster famously denounced the Vietnam War.
But in the past 30 years or so, University officers have shown a greater reluctance to voice their personal opinions, Smith said, perhaps to avoid offending prominent alumni or other potential donors.
But that doesn’t mean Yale’s top administrators do not have political opinions.
Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65 has always voted in New Haven elections, he said, and between 1985 and 1989, contributed several times to the campaigns of Maryland Democratics Benjamin Cardin and Barbara Mikulski (now the state’s U.S. senators) when he lived in Baltimore. Similarly, Salovey said he has cast a ballot in every primary and general election since moving to New Haven in 1981.
There is a distinction between officers’ roles as private citizens and University representatives, Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer said.
“All of us have our own preferences, but we don’t want our personal sentiment to be confused with institutional position,” she said.
The policy also helps the University to avoid misunderstandings in its international relationships, Lorimer said. As a private university, Yale is independent of the American government, and the officers do not want the University’s partners around the world to believe otherwise, she said.
Smith, too, said he sees the benefit of Levin’s decision.
“It’s a prudent policy,” Smith said. “I don’t even know if President Levin considers himself a Republican or a Democrat.”