The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, a city pastor, father of four and community activist, has launched a bold campaign to become the newest member of the University’s highest policy-making body.
Lee, pastor at the Varick Memorial AME Zion Church on Dixwell Avenue, hopes to become an alumni trustee of the Yale Corporation, and since early this month has attempted to secure enough signatures to earn a spot on the alumni ballot. Lee needs 3,250 signatures to be on the ballot, but has only gathered about 2,500 so far. The Yale alumni body numbers 120,000.
It has not happened — this way — since 1969.
The Corporation, which plans the University’s financial and academic future, consists of 16 trustees, 10 of whom are selected directly by a group of trustees within the Corporation. The remaining six members are elected by the alumni body and serve one six-year term.
Lee is eyeing one of those coveted six spots, despite the fact that his “pockets don’t run deep enough” to serve among the traditionally well-healed members, he said.
The problem: the pastor has six days left until the AYA’s Oct. 1 deadline.
Now Lee, a newcomer to Yale politics and administration, is asking for a one-month extension to help him get a spot on the ballot — and the Yale College Council passed a resolution Sunday night entreating the administration to do just that.
“You feel me?” Lee asked YCC representatives gathered in a Linsly-Chittenden classroom Sunday night after laying out his platform to them. “There is a blind spot at Yale — no one is responsible for the community interests.”
The AYA conducts an election each spring in which alumni vote for a new trustee of the Corporation. A special committee of the AYA typically chooses several candidates, but alumni can also reach the ballot by petition. Lee is bypassing that process with his signature bid.
Lee is asking the Yale administration to extend the deadline to Nov. 1 because he said the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks slowed his mailings to alumni and the efficiency of his phone bank efforts in New York City and surrounding areas.
A former football player at Syracuse University, the pastor said he believes the Corporation is lacking in local representation and diversity. Lee, who is black, said he knows several congregants who work for Yale that have been treated unfairly by the University — even displaced from their homes.
He knows it is unlikely he will find a place at the Yale Corporation table .
“Levin is probably laughing now but he won’t laugh after we get there,” Lee said.
Spirituality is not an unmovable obstacle for trustee candidates. The Rt. Rev. Victoria Matthews DIV ’79, a Canadian bishop, serves on the Corporation. Lee, for his part, has made no secret of his faith, a vibrant brand of Christianity.
“If we, locally, can find a way for all of God’s children to grow and prosper together — with no one left behind — then we can set an example for the world to follow,” he writes in his Web page, www.yalealum.org.
He said he supports having a student member serve on the Yale Corporation and increasing Yale’s monetary support of New Haven educational initiatives.
Lee addressed the Yale College Council Sunday night, asking for its support in helping him get an extended deadline. Dressed in a black suit and shiny gold tie, Lee’s appearance indicated a serious effort to look the part of a Yale Corporation member. The YCC passed a resolution in support of Lee’s request for an extension, but has not endorsed his candidacy at this point.
At the YCC meeting, Lee mentioned the power of Yale’s $10 billion endowment as a resource that should be used in such varied ways as helping New Haven, improving financial aid and aiding firemen working in the New York rescue effort.
Although his candidacy statement does not expressly state his support of unions, Lee said the upcoming contract negotiations between Yale and locals 34 and 35 are very important to him. Yale’s labor groups paid $30,000 for Lee’s petition mailing and are working the phones to drive support for his candidacy.
If Lee wins a Corporation seat through petition, he will be the second alumnus to do so. In 1969, William Horowitz ’29 earned a spot and became the first Jewish man to serve on the Corporation.
Administrators defend the candidates whom they normally select for the alumni ballot.
“I think with an alumni body of 120,000, we should look for candidates who are extremely accomplished in their fields,” Yale President Richard Levin said.
Levin said the University administration is not lacking for New Haven representation. Trustee Charles Ellis ’59 lives in New Haven and many of the Yale officers live in New Haven.
The last alumni trustee elected was Theodore Shen ’66, a successful Wall Street veteran and donor to the Yale squash program. This summer Levin appointed a new successor trustee, multi-millionaire and generous Yale donor Edward Bass ’68 of Texas, to fill a vacant Corporation seat.