As I stood in the Alumni Rose House Monday morning next to the Rev. David Lee, a 1993 graduate from the Yale Divinity School and pastor of New Haven’s oldest African-American congregation, I was truly inspired. Gazing across the table at the nearly 4,700 alumni signatures supporting Lee’s candidacy for the Yale Corporation, I began to realize the significance of Lee’s virtually guaranteed spot on the ballot for Yale’s most powerful policy-making body. Groups of community leaders, workers and students are joining to form a coalition that hopes to improve this wonderful University more.
This coalition not only believes the Corporation could be more attuned to community sentiment if it were more open and accessible to the general public, but is also taking the initiative to campaign actively for Lee, who believes in these ideals and represents the local community. Yale’s unions coordinated a petition to alumni, and members of United Students at Yale telephoned alumni to encourage their support. This was a coalition in action.
Lee talks passionately about New Haven’s double-digit poverty rate, its public school crisis, and the need to improve Yale’s financial aid further. And although Yale has taken great steps in the past few years to improve its relations with New Haven, as Lee points out, the Corporation should be a conduit through which people in the community, be they students, workers or local clergy, can express their views and better influence the decision-making process.
Currently, no member of the Corporation is so integrated into New Haven that he or she can represent the views of the community. Charles Ellis ’59, although living in New Haven since his marriage in the summer of 2000 to University Secretary Linda Lorimer, is a long-time resident of Greenwich, Conn., where he founded the internationally renowned consulting firm Greenwich Associates. President Levin, a member ex officio of the Corporation, does live in New Haven, but as president of Yale University, he interacts with the New Haven community first and foremost as a Yale administrator. Lee, however, is a life-long resident and moral and cultural leader in this city. Although members of the Corporation can attempt to gauge local community opinion on issues such as labor and education, the Corporation would have a more accurate view of these opinions if it contained a community leader who regularly interacts with both residents of New Haven and Yale’s administration.
Furthermore, Lee can further diversify the composition of the Corporation, not just racially, but economically. As pastor of the Varick AME Zion Church on Dixwell Avenue, Lee has surrounded himself with individuals from all economic backgrounds and can provide a local, working-class perspective on Yale policy. President Levin has said Corporation candidates should be “extremely accomplished in their fields.” Lee has clearly distinguished himself as a community leader and one of the best pastors in the state of Connecticut.
Lee’s platform should definitely resonate with students. A Corporation member who is easily accessible to students and a strong proponent of a student voice can be invaluable in communicating our concerns directly to those responsible for making policy. As the Yale Daily News reported yesterday, “If elected, Lee said he plans to push for student representation on the Corporation.” As Lee sets his sights on the challenge of becoming elected, I hope that more students realize the importance of his campaign and get involved.
Yale has dedicated its tercentennial to celebrating its commitment to democracy, and the growing coalition of students, workers, and community leaders that has rallied around Lee’s campaign is a living example of democracy in action. This weekend, this same growing coalition of students, workers and community leaders will form a candlelight procession to the Yale Bowl for Friday evening’s festivities, and we hope to unite with the community and mourn the lives of those lost in the attacks of Sept. 11. Those events, as horrible as they are, can neither crush our spirit nor stand in the way of things we want to accomplish.
This is one of the greatest institutions in the entire world, and no one loves it more than I do. Here we employ the most world-renowned professors, develop vaccines for AIDS, and train the future leaders of this country. Through more student and general community influence in the decision-making process, this University can be even better.
Ted Wittenstein is a sophomore in Berkeley College. He is a Yale College Council representative and a member of United Students at Yale.