As the former secretary of the University and advisor to three Yale presidents, I worked with the Yale Corporation for over two decades. In addition, I started Yale’s first community relations office in 1972, and, until recently, I had lived in New Haven for almost 50 years. Thus, I have read with some interest the Yale Daily News coverage — editorial and opinion, and other articles — regarding the Rev. W. David Lee and his petition candidacy for election as a Yale trustee.
I would like to make three points. First, Alieta-Marie Levesque and Sam Asher ’04 are wrong about the make-up of the Yale Corporation. Second, they, and others, have an incorrect view of trusteeship. And third, Lee portrays himself in different ways in different places.
Levesque has suggested in a letter published Oct. 16 (“Lee’s ‘interests’ sorely needed on Yale Corp.”) that the Corporation consists of “elder, rich, corporate leaders.” She holds that Lee would bring youthful energy, a sympathy with the average worker, and a focus on the local community. Asher, in a guest column on the same day (“Responsive trustee missing on Yale Corp.”), indicated that Lee would bring needed diversity to the Yale Corporation as an African-American and a minister leading the way for economic justice in New Haven.
These writers overlook important information about the Corporation and about Lee. With respect to the makeup of the Corporation, the trustees of the last few decades have been extraordinarily diverse, something to which I can attest personally. Of the 18 current trustees other than President Richard Levin, three are African-American and four others are women. Last year, the alumni elected the first Asian-American trustee.
Besides a venture capitalist and the CEO of a public company, the Corporation includes a minister, a physician, a professor, an environmentalist and a judge. One trustee spent his early career teaching in Harlem, while another spent hers launching the largest refugee relief effort in Cambodia. To mention these facts about current trustees does not even scratch the surface of the diversity I have known in this group over time. Levesque’s and Asher’s characterizations of the Yale Corporation are just plain wrong.
In my view, there are three criteria for trustee selection. First, trustees should be recognized leaders in their field and bring deep experience and mature judgment. Second, they should have a deep respect for the mission of the University and a willingness to devote the substantial amount of time required for service. Third, and most important, they must be stewards of the entire University and not be partial to any one constituency or special interest. For example, a graduate of the Law School is not on the Corporation to represent the interests of the Law School, and a doctor is not on the Corporation to push the Medical School’s agenda.
In addition, we must understand that trustees must balance the needs of any given time against the needs of the future. For example, if earlier trustees had given in to the pressures to spend unwisely on the problems of their days, we would not have the financial aid that is available today.
With respect to Lee, I do not know him. I have been concerned, however, by the reports of statements recently attributed to him. The New Haven Register reported that in advocating for the grant of a building to house an unfunded charter school, Lee shouted at the mayor of Hamden, “We will tear you limb from limb because you are messing with our children.”
The News reported that at a recent Yale College Council meeting, Lee indicated that he expects an uphill campaign because his “pockets don’t run deep enough,” and that President Levin “is probably laughing now, but he won’t laugh after we get there.” These are not the remarks of a person with “deep experience and mature judgment.”
The News and Register have also reported that Lee acknowledges that union organizers are financing his campaign. In that regard, the official monthly newsletter for Yale’s unionized employees, “Working Together,” quoted Lee addressing a rally last April in these words: “Yale has met its Waterloo in the Federation of Hospital and University Employees. It is indeed our time!”
It strikes me as disturbing that the petition materials sent to Yale’s alumni did not reflect the tenor or content of these public statements, but instead portrayed Lee as a candidate focused on fostering close, amicable relationships between Yale and New Haven.
When I consider the modest efforts my office made in working with New Haven 30 years ago, it is extraordinary what New Haven and Yale have accomplished, working together, since Richard Levin became president. To my knowledge, Lee has no record of promoting this kind of cooperative work.
When I give fellow graduates my opinion about Lee’s candidacy, I will suggest that he is not qualified and that he fails to understand what it means to be a trustee.
Henry Chauncey Jr. ’57 is a former Yale University Secretary.