In all of the discussion surrounding Corporation candidate Rev. W. David Lee, we are missing the most important point. The focus of this debate should be how to make Yale better — not richer, more reputable, or more expedient. Those are all good things, but Yale as a leader in academia needs to think about its responsibilities in broader terms.
To realize this, we have to reconsider the actual makeup of this University. What is Yale? It is, of course, an educational institution, but it is also a community that includes undergraduates, graduate students, workers, faculty, administration, the Yale Corporation, alumni, and New Haven.
Lee’s candidacy addresses the question of defining Yale. Though a Yale Daily News editorial (“Lee’s bid for Corporation seat flawed,” 10/10) made frequent mention of “Yale’s interests,” it never acknowledged that Yale — a complex and diverse community — might contain a consequently complex and diverse set of concerns. The article certainly identified the primary interests of the current Yale Corporation as “the University’s academic excellence and financial stability,” but the Corporation is not the entirety of Yale. In fact, it is only nineteen people.
Anyone, then, whose goals for Yale reflect a more comprehensive cross-section of its community, would serve the best interests of the University. Thus far, the Rev. Lee has demonstrated this breadth of understanding by reaching out to a broader section of Yale than any other corporation member.
His direct petition to the alumni is only part of this effort. He has also shown himself to be responsive to student issues, having approached both the Yale College Council and the News. In addition, he works closely with Yale workers and is attuned to the vital role they play in the functioning of this University. Not only is he the Reverend of Varick Memorial AME Zion Church, the oldest African-American church in New Haven, but he is also a leader in the movement for economic justice that is making New Haven jobs, good jobs, and New Haven schools, good schools.
Addressing the concerns of these various groups is the central aspect of Lee’s platform. To do so, he advocates democratizing the policy-making procedure at Yale. And he is not the only one. The YCC and other groups around Yale are also considering this idea. Whether concerning financial aid, labor relations or the release of AIDS drug patents, a more diverse governing body will take the first steps toward such a democratic ideal.
This is not an endorsement of the Rev. Lee. Given that none of the other candidates have been announced, it would be foolish to support or condemn his candidacy. At the very least, additional candidates in any election only further the democratic process and never detract from it. Through raising issues not normally addressed by Yale’s highest governing body, Lee challenges us to see beyond the traditional focus of Yale policy.
Sam Asher is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a Yale College Council representative.