NEW YORK — As the elevator stopped on the 20th floor of New York City’s venerable Yale Club yesterday afternoon, solitary pairs of alumni — as diverse in race as they were in age — trickled into the club’s Grand Ballroom to hear about one New Haven minister’s vision for the University’s future.
Each of the New York-area graduates had received an invitation from the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, the man who has turned Yale’s traditionally relaxed Corporation election process into one full of vigor and controversy. Lee is one of two candidates for a seat on Yale’s highest policy-making body in a race that has pitted town against gown, alumnus against alumnus, and Lee against renowned architect Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86.
The small group of about 75 — a number dwarfed by the proportions of the ballroom’s Georgian architecture — was a case study in the evolution of the University, as aging club members sporting J.Press Yale neckties brushed elbows with casually dressed recent graduates of the Yale Drama School and members of New Haven’s black clergy, who have no Yale affiliation.
Lee spoke before the crowd only briefly, choosing instead to converse with the alumni over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres — paid for with money from his Corporation campaign.
Even though some of the Yale graduates — each a potential voter — were hesitant to declare outright their support for Lee, the overwhelming majority were confused — some even angry — about what they perceived to be a University administration-backed campaign against the New Haven minister.
Norman Oder ’83, who dropped by the event on his way home from work, said he was disturbed by the number of mailings he has received.
“I’m concerned about Yale’s apparent overreaction and paranoia,” he said. “It seems to be more of an anti-Rev. Lee thing than anything else.”
Others criticized Lin’s silence regarding the election. Charlotte Abbott ’89 had nothing but praise for Lin, but said it was time for the architect to speak out.
“Being a good architect doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be a good Corporation member,” she said. “I think it’s a good time for her to enter the race for real.”
As they sat at one of the 11 elegant tables that lined the edges of the room, Quincy Long DRA ’86 and Kathleen Dimmick DRA ’85 quietly discussed the highly critical mailings. Dimmick, who said she barely knew about the campaign until she received a letter from the Association of Yale Alumni last week, said she was intrigued by the unprecedented level of campaigning that has marked this year’s election.
“We were curious to see the man who all the furor was over,” she said, referring to Lee.
At the next table, the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson DIV ’81, an influential member of New York’s black clergy, sounded like Lee himself when he spoke of a “great divide” between the University and New Haven.
“On the one hand, you have this enormous resource pool in the University, and on its doorstep is a public education system that struggles to give kids even basic education,” said Richardson, who is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
Richardson defended his fellow graduate’s decision to accept $30,000 from Yale’s labor unions last year, a move that earned Lee criticism from pro-Lin alumni and from the AYA.
“Whenever poor people — black people — decide to stand up and speak for their rights, they’re not often the people with the big checks,” he said.
But some of those present were not swayed by Lee’s vision.
“I’ve followed this election, and I’m interested to hear what Rev. Lee has to say, but I’m disturbed by his background and some of the things that he’s said,” Tom Trowbridge ’64 said.