If anything is certain in this year’s bizarre Yale Corporation election, it is that the Rev. W. David Lee’s DIV ’93 highly unorthodox candidacy has forced the Yale community to reflect upon both the role of the Corporation in the University affairs and the nature of individual trusteeship. As the year winds to a close, students, alumni and administrators should take this opportunity to decide what was truly problematic — as opposed to simply unprecedented — in the race, and how best to prevent such difficulties from surfacing in the future.
First, this year’s election illustrated how many alumni still view the Corporation as a closed, elitist body protecting Yale’s old-guard interests. The Corporation is indeed closed — agendas and discussion stay secret for 50 years — but it is no longer elitist in the ways it used to be. The Corporation today includes trustees, both male and female, in fields ranging from ministry to medicine to venture capitalism and of many different ethnic backgrounds — its senior fellow is Kurt Schmoke, a black former mayor of Baltimore.
The need for clearing up these misunderstandings between the Corporation and Yale’s alumni base should be among the first lessons drawn from this year’s tumultuous election. Soliciting more input from alumni and better publicizing decisions and the parts of discussions that need not be kept confidential are examples of ways in which the Corporation can better keep alumni informed of and involved in its deliberations.
There is also, of course, the issue of election procedures. An overriding structural change is necessary: the administration should contract out the logistical tasks involved with running the election to an outside party, just as it recently delegated the ballot-counting to the independent Mellon Corporation.
It seems natural that the Yale administration and the Association of Yale Alumni — arguably the bodies most fit to evaluate the merits of any Corporation candidate — should have the right to publicize their views of candidates. But in order to do so without creating a perceived conflict in procedural matters, it must find an independent body to run the election. Hiring the Mellon Corporation to count the ballots is a good start, but Yale must remove itself entirely from procedural control if it wants to be appear objective.
Finally, there is the question of campaigning. Lee argues convincingly that without a campaign he would not have been able to voice his unique ideas for the Corporation. While the notion of trustee candidates with a vision for the body is refreshing, there should be better — and less expensive — ways for candidates to explain their views. Instead of having the secretary of the University write biographies of candidates on the ballot, candidates should be given space to articulate their goals and objectives to all voting alumni. This would give electors far more important information about the desirability of a prospective trustee than a mere list of past employment and board service.
As the News has written from the start, Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 should win this election. But the victory of a chosen candidate should not relieve the AYA and the University of their responsibility to reform a process that Lee has single-handedly rendered outdated.