As alumni decide whether to cast their vote for the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 or Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 in this year’s Yale Corporation race, some say the election has sparked a new interest in a process that had previously been remarkable only for its banality.
“I’ve been out 30 years and this is the first board election I’ve been interested in,” said Peter Costanza ’72, an attorney with a legal services firm in Boston that serves prisoners. “Regardless of who wins I think it’s a good thing for the University.”
The ballots were sent out to about 115,000 alumni in mid-April and are due by May 26. University Secretary Linda Lorimer said she expects more alumni than usual to vote in this year’s highly unorthodox race for a seat on Yale’s highest governing body.
In the past, alumni said, voting in Corporation elections involved reading short blurbs about candidates in black-and-white pamphlets and making a choice from a list of similarly qualified candidates with similar goals. This year, alumni have received glossy mailings, e-mails, and phone calls counseling them why they should vote either for or against Lee.
“I found myself looking for the ballot in the mail,” said Sarah Cogan ’78. “That’s not a bad thing.”
Cogan, who is a partner at a law firm in New York City, said she was struck by how expensive the materials seemed.
Lee has received over $50,000 for his campaign and a group of alumni opposing him has shelled out about $80,000 for a countercampaign.
“I am actually a huge fan of Maya Lin and there was no doubt in my mind who I was going to vote for,” Cogan said. “But I’ve been a little surprised about the concerted effort to make sure that Lee loses.”
Sherard Edington DIV ’90 is a pastor at Old Hickory Presbyterian Church in Tennessee. Edington said that as a pastor, he admires Lee’s bid for a Corporation seat.
“Often the pastor is thrust into the role of advocate for those in the community who have no voice,” Edington wrote in an e-mail. “Labor unions have been an issue at Yale for decades. Maybe the issue needs to be addressed by a voice on the Corporation.”
Robert Hendricks ’58, who lives in Arizona, said he did not have a particularly strong reaction to the initial mailing Lee sent out. But after learning more about Lee’s candidacy, Hendricks said he was “disgusted” that Lee received funding from local unions and did not disclose the source of his funds in the initial mailing.
“He has no intention to represent Yale’s best interest if he becomes a member of the Corporation,” Hendricks said. “He’s an absolute down-to-earth liar.”
Costanza, the prisoners’ rights lawyer, said he supports Lee for the very reasons alumni groups cited as reasons to oppose him.
“Having someone on the board with community perspective about what it ought to do is a good thing rather than a bad thing,” Costanza said.
Some alumni said the barrage of campaign materials from the two sides has just confused them. Mary Clark ’82, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., said she is considering abstaining from the vote this year.
“I have not filled it because I do not know who to vote for,” Clark said. “I do not know how to evaluate the claims on both sides.”
William Torbert ’65, a professor at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College, cast his vote for Lee. Torbert said he thinks it would be “stunning” if Lee won the election, given the strength of the opposition.
But Torbert said that unless Lee’s candidacy is crushed so overwhelmingly that it leads to resentment in the New Haven community, he sees the developments of this year’s race as primarily positive.
“Never in my 37-year history since graduating have I known so much about Yale,” Torbert said.