The Rev. W. David Lee’s DIV ’93 recent bid for an alumni seat on the Yale Corporation shows a clear disregard for the responsibilities of that office. With a great deal of press and excitement, this local New Haven minister appeared before the Yale College Council, United Students at Yale, and various unions to seek their support. He hopes “to bring a fresh voice to the board and true partnership between the community and Yale.”
The reverend fails to realize that the only thing a trustee should represent is Yale itself.
The 19 members of the Corporation are directly responsible for all that occurs at the University. Our $10 billion endowment will be used or misused by those in command. The Corporation’s members must have a clear vision of the goals of Yale, and this must be their primary concern.
Ironically, the reverend seeks to lead the University, but he fails to delineate any clear platform that does not place Yale as the antagonist in its relation to New Haven. Noting that “Yale is now the dominant employer in a town wrestling with a double-digit poverty rate, public schools in crisis, high asthma, infant mortality, and AIDS rates –” he calls for using the endowment to attempt more communication with the community and, by extension, to ameliorate these conditions.
Indeed, not only are these the only issues he discusses, but his campaign shows a clear bias. Yale’s various labor groups paid $30,000 for his mailing, and, while he does not openly claim the support of these groups in his literature, he acknowledges the importance of upcoming contract negotiations to him.
And, of course, the support of the ubiquitous union spokesman Antony Dugdale reveals the extent to which he will be representing individual factions if elected.
In all his platform, the reverend never notes his understanding of the myriad issues affecting the University, yet no one questions the nobility of his cause.
Most interesting is his claim, one voiced by students as well, that the Corporation fails to listen to the needs of the students themselves.
This is not the first time this claim has been levied against the Corporation. Indeed, in 1871, a group of graduates pioneered the Young Yale Movement to make the University more accountable to its alumni by demanding the creation of alumni trustees.
According to Brooks Kelley’s history of Yale, the Young Yale movement began when a number of “talented graduates,” led by William Graham Sumner ‘1863 and William Maxwell Evarts ‘1837, decried “faculty for being aloof from the student body.” Let the reverend not consider himself at the same level as Sumner or Evarts, though.
The difference between the reverend and these alumni was that their primary interest was Yale. Their concern for the University was not related to the political machinations of the city but to the academic and social life of the campus. For that reason, alumni have played a strong role on the Corporation, the hope being that those who have graduated from Yale have sufficient vision to maintain, instead of drastically change, the University.
The Yale Corporation is not the New Haven Board of Aldermen. A trustee should not be representing New Haven but the interests of Yale itself. And, no, forcing the Corporation to subsidize the socioeconomic recovery of the city does not live up to the goals of a research university.
If the reverend wants to act on behalf of the city he would be better off withdrawing his candidacy and attempting an aldermanic bid. Wards 1 and 7 could use some political excitement now and then.
Justin Zaremby is a junior in Calhoun College. His columns appear on alternate Tuesdays.