Kurt Schmoke, the departing senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, sent a letter this summer to all eligible alumni asking for proposals to reform the process by which alumni seek election to Yale’s governing board. Since the selection process for Yale’s trustees has such weighty ramifications, a broad discussion among the Yale community is both welcome and necessary. I am disappointed that the trustees just started discussion over the summer and are now rushing to close the debate. We need to discuss this on campus while classes are in session.
Although Schmoke did not ask my opinion — I am not yet an “eligible” alumna with full access to participation in Yale affairs because I have to wait five years after graduation before I can vote in Corporation elections — I have come across some Yale history that compels me to make some recommendations. I propose that the ballots for alumni fellow of the Yale Corporation should be required to disclose:
1. Any funding from interest groups;
2. Any business relationships between the candidate and Yale University; and
3. Any business relationships between the candidate and other trustees on the Yale Corporation
One might say these requirements are unnecessary because the existing process for information disclosure is sufficient. In examining last spring’s Corporation race, we recall that the ballot prepared by University Secretary Linda Lorimer did disclose the fact that the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 received contributions from Yale’s unions. The current process allows the university secretary to exercise full discretion regarding whether to make any of the above disclosures. In Lee’s case, she chose to make the pertinent disclosure.
But in at least one other instance, she did not.
In 2000, Josh Bekenstein ’80 was nominated to run for a seat on the Yale Corporation. He ran against John Kane ’73 and Janet Yellen ’71, who won. Each ballot statement listed their extensive service to the University and other experience. Bekenstein’s statement, however, did not disclose that his company did business directly with Yale. Nor did it disclose that he had a long-standing business relationship with another of Yale’s trustees.
Bekenstein is the managing director and a founding partner of Bain Capital, one of the country’s leading private investment firms. Bekenstein’s ballot does not mention that Yale is one of Bain Capital’s key clients. According to the Directory of Alternative Investment Programs, Yale currently invests in at least two of Bain Capital’s funds, the $300 million Bain Capital Fund IV and the $500 million Bain Capital Fund V (the exact amount of Yale’s investment is confidential). The Yale Endowment Update for fiscal year 2000-01 cites Bain Capital as one of the investment firms with which Yale does business.
In 1986, Bekenstein arranged that his company invest in a corporate day-care provider, Bright Horizons Family Solutions. This day-care provider was co-founded by Linda Mason SOM ’80, who currently sits on the Corporation. After helping Mason with this financing, Bekenstein began his 16-year tenure on the Bright Horizons Board of Directors, a board that Mason currently heads.
Bekenstein’s trustee ballot did not disclose his business relationship with Mason any more than it disclosed his business relationship with the University. It mentioned neither his seat on Bright Horizons’ board of directors, nor his 16-year history of working closely with Mason. The ballot mentioned that Bekenstein was active with the Horizons Initiative — a charitable organization co-founded by Mason — but it did not draw the connection with Mason.
The same year that Bekenstein ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Corporation, he was appointed to the Yale Corporation Investments Committee, the group that manages Yale’s endowment. He still sits on this committee today.
Do any of Bekenstein’s undisclosed business relationships, either with Yale University or with one of Yale’s trustees, disqualify him from consideration as an alumni fellow of the Yale Corporation? Certainly not. But, alumni should be allowed to consider these business relationships when they vote. This information should be disclosed in the ballot. And the disclosure of this information should not be left to the discretion of the university secretary. It should be mandated, along with the other standard required information listed in the Yale Corporation Miscellaneous Regulations.
I agree with professor Gaddis Smith’s contention that the petition process should remain available as a way for all interested alumni to make a bid for a seat on the Corporation. I also agree with Schmoke that candidates’ interests should be divulged to voters.
Full disclosure of candidates’ funding from interest groups, financial ties to Yale, and business relationships with University trustees will safeguard the University’s reputation, protect the election process from abuse, and help alumni select a trustworthy and well-rounded governing body. I hope these comments further the ongoing debate, sparked by last year’s election, concerning Yale’s highest governing body.
Abigail Levine graduated from Yale College in 2002.