In less than two weeks, the Yale Corporation may dramatically change the structure of the University.
The Corporation — the University’s highest governing body, composed of 15 distinguished alumni and three ex officio members — will consider the creation of a dean of the faculty of arts and sciences on Feb. 21 and 22, its next meeting on campus. The creation of such a position would be the first major change in the structure of faculty governance at Yale in half a century, shifting significant responsibilities away from the deans of Yale College and the Graduate School.
But few students have anything but the murkiest understanding of the Corporation’s mission, structure or membership. Although it is responsible for the long-term vision and viability of the institution, the Corporation maintains a minimal presence on campus. Many students are even unaware of the Corporation’s existence.
In the coming months, according to senior administrators, the University will introduce efforts to increase dialogue between students, faculty and the members of the Corporation.
“There is a particular interest among the Corporation, the faculty and students for increased interaction,” said University President Peter Salovey. “We are working out ways to encourage that.”
THE MEN AND WOMEN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Although the Corporation’s members and responsibilities are laid out in full on the Yale website, most students remain oblivious of the group’s mission.
Of 45 students interviewed, 16 were aware of what the Corporation is and only nine were able to name a member.
Twenty-three of the 45 students had never heard of the Corporation. Several confused the Corporation with the Yale Investments office, which is responsible for managing the University’s endowment.
The Corporation is composed of 18 members charged with preserving the assets of the University — its people, buildings, reputation and money — so it can function in perpetuity. President Salovey reports directly to the Corporation.
Functionally, the Corporation includes of 15 volunteer members as well as three additional members: the University President, Governor of Connecticut and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut. Of the 15 volunteer members, 10 are termed “successor trustees,” selected by the Corporation itself and typically serving two six-year terms. The other five are “alumni fellows,” and are elected by the alumni body, usually for one five-year term.
In the past 18 months, the Corporation has been tasked with seeing some of the most significant institutional change at Yale in decades. Last year, it had the responsibility of choosing a new University president for the first time in 20 years.
“The election and subsequent inauguration of Peter Salovey as the 23rd President of Yale last year was one of the most important contributions of the Corporation to the institution and its future,” said Kimberly Goff-Crews, University secretary and vice president for student life.
The group makes its way to campus four to five teams each year, according to Goff-Crews, and invites select deans, chairs and faculty members to participate in discussion sessions at these meetings. It also meets annually with the leadership of the Yale College Council, the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate Professional Student Senate.
Yale College Council President Danny Avraham ’15 said he expects to meet with the Corporation in March, but does not know what they will discuss.
Corporation members sometimes take part in various Master’s Teas and talks. Still, there is no consistent University-wide venue for Corporation interaction with students, beyond the annual meetings with student government representatives.
Some students believe that the Corporation should be more accessible to students.
“If they govern the school, then yes,” said Zobia Chunara ’16 when asked if the Corporation should be more accessible.
Still, Corporation Senior Fellow Margaret Marshall LAW ’76 suggested that the Corporation is not out of touch with current students, as many of them have children or grandchildren at Yale. She further added that all the fellows attended either Yale College or one of the graduate and professional schools.
“We do have some relevant student experience of our own,” she said.
Excluding Salovey, the average Corporation member was last a Yale student 35 years ago. No member has been a student within a quarter century, with the youngest member, E. John Rice, having graduated in 1988.
TALKING OVER TEA
“There is plenty of information publicly available about the Yale Corporation,” Marshall said. “Any student who wants to know about us can find our biographical sketches, the Corporation’s bylaws, our working practices, and so forth, on the Yale website.”
But a new effort to increase interaction between students and the Corporation may prove more effective in helping students understand the body that bears ultimate responsibility for the University.
Citing demand on both sides, Salovey said the University is in the process of developing events called “University teas” to increase communication.
“It’s my goal that around each [Corporation] meeting there be activities, events or conversations that increase the amount of faculty interaction with the Corporation and student interaction with the Corporation,” Salovey said.
The teas, according to Marshall, will begin this month and serve as a forum in which Corporation members hear from students on a range of issues.
“We never know precisely what we will hear from students, but we are always eager to hear whatever is on their minds,” Marshall said. “I don’t anticipate that any topic will be off limits and I expect that in any meeting with undergraduates we will hear about a range of issues — from academics to residential college life to student services and resources.”
Members of the Corporation, while representing different industries, are prominent in the corporate world. Among current members are PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi SOM ’80, former J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. CEO, Chairman Douglas Warner III ’68, Chanel CEO Maureen Chiquet ’85 and Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes ’74. Of the 10 successor trustees, eight are current or former heads of major corporations.
Students said they would be interested in participating in the conversations, particularly if it allowed them to voice their opinions about Yale.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Esther Portyansky ’16 said.
The University’s initiative, though, is less a new idea than a reversion to an old standard.
A CHANGE IN RANGE
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Corporation met on campus eight or nine times each year, according to longtime administrator Henry “Sam” Chauncey ’57, who served as secretary of the Corporation for two decades. Whenever the group met, Chauncey said, its members would also meet with students and faculty in small settings not unlike those now being implemented.
During the 1960s, these meetings became mandatory for Corporation members.
“I would call the masters of the colleges and say, we want you to randomly select eight students to meet with a Corporation member for breakfast Saturday morning,” Chauncey said.
Members were encouraged to stay in the guest suites of residential colleges to further facilitate interaction with the student and faculty bodies, he said. Masters would often arrange small social gatherings for students and Corporation members. Nowadays, members typically stay in nearby hotels.
Involvement with students is not the only thing that has changed in the Corporation’s attitude, over the years. Chauncey suggested that the primary difference between the Corporation in the 1960s and now is actually not its move away from students. Rather, it is a shift in overall vision.
In the past three decades, he said, corporate America and universities — the worlds that most trustees co-exist in — have shifted focus from long-term plans to short-term decisions, and the Yale Corporation is no exception.
“There is a societal change in which trustees of institutions in the past had a little longer-term view of things than today when we want everything done tomorrow,” Chauncey said.
Chauncey added that in the past, the Corporation often included members experienced in the trusteeship of nonprofit institutions to a degree that would not be possible today. J. Richardson Dilworth ’38 LAW ’42, a prominent lawyer, served at one point on the boards of five universities.
“Instead of saying ‘has the Yale board of trustees changed,’ the real question is ‘has society changed,’” Chauncey suggested. “[This has made a difference in] how trustees approach the issues in front of them.”