I loved Mory’s. I loved the wooden tables carved with the initials of generations of drunken Yalies. I loved the photos of lettermen, hokey but happy, smiling while sitting on their fake versions of the Yale Fence. I loved stumbling, after Green or Purple Cups filled with God-knows-what, into the “Harvard room” and finding some classmate or alumnus. I loved wondering whether it was true that only presidents of Yale and America can order a Black Cup.
Mory’s wasn’t always formal and members-only. A bunch of rowers stumbled into Moriarty’s bar one 19th-century day. They loved their dive so darn much that they and their successors refused to let it close when the owners died. If Mory’s re-opens, it will probably re-open as a normal restaurant, not a membership association, restoring itself to old status, more Yorkside than Yale Club.
When alumni opened Mory’s as a membership association, they threw together bylaws no one really imagined to be democratic. I’ve trekked up to Wexler-Grant School to vote in Ward 22 Democratic primaries, and I even vote for Yale College Council elections — but I somehow never got around to voting for Mory’s trustees. The whole thing seemed rigged; I think I once saw a governor nominated to succeed himself — and he sat on the nominating committee! One hardly could imagine a “change” candidate, and I certainly was never canvassed. If I had been, I would have suggested, for example, that Mory’s return to what brought students in the doors a hundred years ago — cheap beer, late at night, offered on credit.
But we all signed up without complaining, considered ourselves loyal Yalies for doing so. We didn’t rock the boat. It’s no accident that the push to allow women members at Mory’s didn’t come from the trustees, though some of their constituents surely favored it. (It didn’t come from the picketers, either. The Connecticut Liquor Control Commission threatened to revoke Mory’s license.)
Mory’s needed to change. Dues-paying undergraduates and recent alumni kept checkbooks open and mouths shut, except to wolf down the Welsh rarebit. We and the Mory’s governors do Yale no favors by being potted plants. We do our alma mater no favors by the same.
Dear mother Yale is starting to ask seniors for unrestricted gifts, and we all should give, but not without restrictions. We do Yale a better service as actively involved alumni, expressing our opinions and targeting our gifts.
For example, some friends and I intend to target our senior gifts to Directed Studies. The small classes and focus on the Great Books were foundational for my education and represent what I think college ought to be. I encourage all my classmates to find their own directed studies — small centers of excellence that they want to encourage the University to support.
All alumni should do the same. I like to know that the alumni are looking out for me, not their careers or the latest fad. Woodbridge Hall does a great job, but graduates and their representatives on the Yale Corporation balance the administration. For example, they can reward high standards and helpful programs with targeted donations.
Active alumni can ensure that Yale remains intellectually diverse, academically excellent, and without the speech codes that plague some universities. We may have been passive members of Mory’s, but we must be active alumni, and we should uphold the activism of our predecessors.
As we should target our donations, so should we target our votes. Yale’s board of trustees, called the Yale Corporation, has six members elected by the alumni, called alumni fellows. (The other active members are appointed by the Corporation.) Alumni fellows are nominated and elected through a complex system of slating and votes that all but the most dedicated (and well-financed) alumni find difficult to break. But even this small modicum of alumni democracy keeps the Corporation honest and responsive to student and alumni concern.
(At Harvard, by contrast, alumni only have rights on the board of overseers, which can confirm but cannot institute university policy. They are now in the midst of a heated election campaign, in which two up-starts are challenging the Alumni Association slate.)
When local minister W. David Lee DIV ’93 broke the slate and ran for Corporation by petition, hyper-conservative forces raised the alarm. They closed ranks around Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86, designer of the Vietnam War Memorial. Everyone, including Lee, acknowledged that Lin would be a great trustee. He announced that his first move on the Corporation would be to arrange Lin’s appointment. Panic ensued anyway, and he was creamed. Most alumni didn’t bother to vote. (Only one Yalie has ever won by petition: William Horowitz ’29, who thereby became the Corporation’s first Jewish member.)
Maybe Lee wouldn’t have been a good trustee. I’ve never met the man, and I don’t know. But having been educated by Yale to be citizens and to be leaders, we owe our dear school all of our faculties of judgment and government, not just our cash.
Michael Pomeranz is a senior in Silliman College.