We are a university in transition. We have a new president and provost, a new focus on science and math, a new “Yale” across the sea. There are far more new professors than ever before. These massive changes have gotten me thinking — who is making the decisions that shape a changing Yale?
The answer, interestingly, troublingly, is the Yale Corporation. The Corporation, Yale’s governing body, embodies every conspiracy theory we have about those in power — a distant, shadowy group of people, wielding immense authority, making decisions behind closed doors. But it is sadly uncommon for Yalies to look behind the curtain and see the Yale Corporation for what it truly is. To understand the Yale Corporation is to be deeply unsettled and more than a little incredulous.
The Yale Corporation is, in the words of its own website, “small” and “unusually active.” It is, indeed, unusual for a university the size and prominence of Yale not to have a faculty senate or other body representing the interests of professors. Instead, we have the Corporation, made up of just 19 individuals, including the University President, ten Successor Trustees, six Alumni Fellows and, bizarrely, the governor and lieutenant governor of Connecticut.
Because of the way it is structured, the Yale Corporation is not in the least way accountable to the students, the staff or the faculty — those most affected by its decisions. The ten Successor Trustees choose their own successors. The Corporation chooses the University President, so that’s another spot about which we have no say. I suppose Connecticut residents elect the governor and lieutenant governor, but that’s hardly a real check on Corporation membership, and the state executives are only ex officio members anyway. Finally, the six Alumni Fellows are elected, not by students or faculty, but by alumni — and, as if to make sure they’re as out of touch as possible, eligible voters must be at least five years out.
The men and women who compose the Corporation are remarkably unrepresentative of modern Yale. The Corporation has almost twice as many men as women. Even more appalling is the fact that more than three quarters of Corporation members are white. White men alone are a majority.
In a Yale that claims to celebrate diversity, to be striving to recruit the underprivileged and the marginalized, this is troubling. In a Yale that is behind on its stated goals for minority hiring, that just appointed a new crop of white administrators to its highest positions, this is hardly surprising. And this brings us to larger concerns about the Corporation. It is too autocratic, too out of touch and too secretive.
When Yale decided to partner with the National University of Singapore, building a new university bearing the “Yale” imprimatur in a country that smirks at free speech, criminalizes homosexuality and makes drug use a capital offense, it did so without any vote or approval from the faculty. The decision was made instead by the Corporation. When Yale decided to appoint a new President, students and faculty had pathetically little say in the appointment. In both these cases, there had been a couple poorly publicized meetings to discuss the decisions, but we have no idea how much, if at all, these meetings mattered, because all the decisions were made in private.
The Yale Corporation plays the dominant role in choosing Yale’s administrators, its policies and goals, who gets honorary degrees, whether or not there will be new residential colleges and on and on. These meetings are not open to the public or to members of the Yale community. Meeting times are not set in stone, nor are there adequate mechanisms for the Yale community to communicate concerns to the Corporation. Whereas in decades past President Kingman Brewster ’41 actually sat down with students and mandated that every Corporation member eat frequent lunches with undergraduates, we have never seen most members of the Corporation, much less met them or given them our suggestions.
We are a university governed by an unelected, unrepresentative, unconnected and unknown body, meeting in private. This has to change.
We can debate all the problems we want, but progress will be difficult until the institution at the root of so many problems is changed. If students or faculty members have an opinion on new appointments, new colleges, the grading policy, recruitment initiatives or anything else, that opinion should be heard. Short of disbanding the Corporation entirely and creating a more representative more in-touch body, several reforms can be enacted. Current members of the Yale community, not far-removed alumni or the Corporation itself, should vote on all members of the Corporation. Corporation meetings should be open to all members of the Yale community.
We are a changing university. It is time for a change.
Scott Stern is a junior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.