His campaign for the Yale Corporation — the most aggressive in University history — has included mailings, e-mails, a speaking circuit and political endorsements, but now the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 has his supporters hitting the phones in his pursuit of a seat on Yale’s highest policy making body.
An estimated 40 or 50 Lee supporters, including undergraduates and graduate students, are calling alumni to spread the word about Lee’s petition candidacy. The costs of the calls are being covered by campaign donations, Lee said.
Voting concludes May 26 in an election featuring unprecedented campaigning and pitting Lee against Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86, the candidate nominated by the Association of Yale Alumni’s Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee. Former University Secretary Henry “Sam” Chauncey Jr. ’57, a prominent supporter of Lin, said he did not know of any organized phone efforts on her behalf.
Lin is not campaigning for her seat and said in an e-mail that she would prefer to let her accomplishments and experiences speak for themselves. She is not speaking to the media about her candidacy.
Chauncey and other prominent alumni recently sent out material denouncing Lee and praising Lin. Chauncey said if campaigning must occur, using a phone bank is perfectly acceptable.
“I wish there was no campaigning because I believe that running for the Yale Corporation is not the same as running for the Board of Alderman,” Chauncey said. “I don’t think we can afford to phone bank.”
Ted Wittenstein ’04, one of Lee’s student campaign coordinators, said phone banking was used successfully to get Lee on the ballot but added that this time there is more pressure involved in the effort. Lee only had to obtain about 3,200 alumni signatures to receive his place on the ballot, whereas Yale administrators are expecting a record number of voters from the eligible pool of 115,000 graduates in an election that usually only sees only about 20,000 alumni send in ballots.
Lee said in an e-mail that he and his supporters decided that phone banking was the best way to inform and educate voters about his candidacy.
“Current students have volunteered to call alumni to answer any questions that they might have about my candidacy,” Lee said. “Basically, students asked how they could help and we all agreed that calling and educating alumni about the issues was the best way.”
His supporters are either using their own cellular phones and operating on their own schedule or using the phones at Lee’s church. Lee said that no outside support was involved in the phoning effort.
“Everyone who is involved in making calls is either a current student or a Yale alum,” Lee said.
Sam Asher ’04, Lee’s other student campaign coordinator, said organizing the phone bank was a complicated effort.
“It is very difficult to get people there and to sort of set up the phones so that a certain account is charged,” Asher said.
He estimated that six or seven volunteers are at each phoning session and predicted the effort would continue throughout the next week and a half.
Wittenstein said volunteers were calling three days this week. Callers do not give alumni a scripted spiel about Lee’s candidacy, Wittenstein said, but instead try to engage them in conversation about the election. Volunteers call alumni who were in their residential college or attended their particular school at the University.
“It is exciting to talk to alumni both to hear their thoughts and tell them why you are excited to be part of it and what it means to you,” Wittenstein said.
Asher said the response from alumni has been mixed. While some alumni do not mind the conversations and are happy to learn more about the elections, others are disgruntled by the plethora of material unleashed this election year.
Peter Spendelow ’74 said most of what he knows about the election is from the two phone calls he has received from Lee supporters. He said the phone calls focused on ideas and were different from any political calls he had ever received.
“I’m used to political phone banking being fairly rapid — You are trying to get your point across and move on to other people,” Spendelow said. “That is not at all what this campaigner was doing.”