When the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee announced the selection of Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 for the Yale Corporation ballot last week, it put forth a renowned, distinguished candidate to contend for a spot on the University’s highest policy- making body.
But by selecting only Lin to face the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 — whose name will appear on the ballot after his successful petition bid — the committee has made its nomination process look suspiciously subject to external influence and contradictory to the purpose of alumni fellow elections.
The Corporation seats 10 successor trustees, who designate their own replacements, and six alumni trustees, who are selected through a vote of Yale alumni. The Association of Yale Alumni’s nominating committee — which is made of AYA governors, a Corporation member and several top Yale administrators — plays the vital role of selecting candidates for the ballot.
In the last decade, the committee has picked two candidates twice, three candidates five times, four candidates twice and five candidates once. This year, however, for reasons that no one at the AYA or the University has adequately explained, the committee chose just one candidate for the first time in history.
Of course, the committee’s rationale is hardly mysterious: It considers Lee — a local minister with strong union ties who got on the ballot by collecting signatures from 3 percent of the alumni — a serious threat to win the election, and it fears the possibility of anti-Lee alumni splitting their votes between multiple committee nominees.
As we have said before in this space, a vote for Lee would be a misguided one — the minister’s ties to special interests make him an unworthy candidate.
But even though the committee obviously agrees, it should let the alumni uphold that sentiment in the election, rather than making an implicit endorsement — which is just what the unprecedented nomination of a single candidate amounts to.
In 1985, the last time a petition candidate made the ballot, the committee nominated five candidates for the election.
The entire point of having alumni trustees is to enfranchise University graduates in the Corporation election — the alumni body first gained a voice in trustee selection in the 19th century when many graduates rebelled against the practice of automatically seating six state senators on the Corporation.
If a group as small as the alumni nominating committee tries to direct the outcome of the election when it disapproves of a petition candidate, then the position of alumni trustee loses significance and the Corporation may as well comprise all successor trustees.
In the end, Lin remains an ideal choice for the Corporation: She brings the rare combination of diversity, distinction and direction that all trustees should strive to embody. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that she would lose the election no matter how many candidates run, and she should hardly be threatened by someone as unqualified as Lee. But through its decision to select only Lin, the AYA’s nominating committee has denied the alumni the chance to prove that true.