A group of Yale alumni is campaigning for greater transparency in elections for the University’s highest decision-making body, the Yale Corporation.
The petition, which the alumni began circulating in December, calls for an amendment that would require election ballots to disclose the sources of candidates’ campaign financing, any business relationships the candidate has with the University or its subsidiaries, and any personal or business relationships with Corporation members. The group, which is currently soliciting support from Yale alumni, will keep the petition open for signatures until May 20.
The petition, which Alumni for a Better Yale has endorsed, currently has 37 founding signatories and 184 signatures. Alumni for a Better Yale is a progressive group that also officially endorsed Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 in last year’s Corporation race. Last year, the election ballots revealed that Lee received funding from Yale’s unions.
Abigail Levine ’02, one of the founding signatories, first proposed the changes outlined in the petition in a Yale Daily News column last September.
“I would expect that a petition like this would elicit at least a response from the Corporation and I would hope that they would take the petitions seriously and apply it to the Corporation election process,” Levine said.
In June, former Corporation member Kurt Schmoke ’71 formally sought alumni feedback on the “politicization” of last year’s election between Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 and Lee. Senior Corporation fellow John Pepper ’60 said the majority of the 1,000 alumni respondents advised against “radical change” to the procedures.
“I think we went through a really exhaustive process a year ago in rethinking the election process,” Corporation member Len Baker ’64 said. “I think everybody thought that process was a pretty good one … The overwhelming wishes of the alumni [were] that we should leave the election process as it is.”
Levine said she asked Levin about the petition at an event in Palo Alto, Calif. Levin responded by saying he could be open to the petition’s suggestions, Levine said.
Levin was not available for comment.
“Based on what President Levin said, it looks like we should get about 1,000 signatures to show that a comparable number of alumni are supporting this as the number responded to Kurt Schmoke’s request [for alumni feedback],” Levine said.
Jacob Remes ’02, a member and former student coordinator of Alumni for a Better Yale, said he signed the petition because he feels troubled that alumni are unaware of the connections between Corporation members and candidates.
“Is the Corporation there to be a social club for the elite of Yale alumni to cement their business relationships or is it there to run the University?” Remes said. “And if it’s there to run the University, why does it seems like so many — of its members are of the same group and so interconnected with each other?”
Emeritus history professor Gaddis Smith said he thinks the petition is unnecessary because candidates often emphasize their relations with Yale in their election campaigns.
“You’ve got to be an insider to begin with and the more involvement you’ve had with Yale, the stronger your qualifications [for a position on the Corporation],” Smith said. “[The petition] is a gimmick. It’s something of an annoyance — to try to exploit a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Smith said there is no constitutional mechanism for submitting a petition to the Corporation, nor is there a mechanism for deciding how to treat such a petition.
“It isn’t one of those things where if it has 1,000 signatures, something must happen,” Smith said.