In the coming week, the 17 members of the Yale Corporation will gather around the oval table in Woodbridge Hall.
The Corporation, which gathers on campus four to five times each year, is responsible for the biggest decisions at the University, ranging from the selection of a new University president to the construction of two new residential colleges.
But what they discuss at any particular meeting is a secret. University President Peter Salovey, who is a member of the Corporation, is the only administrator authorized to speak on decisions reached during Corporation meetings, and the Corporation’s minutes are kept sealed for 50 years.
Even the exact dates of the Corporation’s meetings are kept under wraps.
KEEPING THINGS QUIET
While high-level University administrators and Corporation members maintain that they have made efforts to increase the Corporation’s visibility and accessibility in recent years, faculty and students interviewed are split between when an appropriate level of privacy crosses over into excessive insularity.
University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews said the University has pushed for more accessibility in recent years, most notably through meetings with students during the presidential search, Master’s Teas and University Teas, organized like master’s teas but hosted by Office of the Secretary. Goff-Crews added that the Corporation has annual meetings with the leadership of the Yale College Council, Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate.
Salovey echoed the sentiment, adding that it is not uncommon for department chairs and other academic administrators to interact with Corporation members around the annual meetings.
Sociology Department Chair Richard Breen, however, said that in his one and a half years in the position, he has had no interaction with the Corporation, adding that “department chairs rarely, if ever, do that.”
Meanwhile, Salovey cautioned against ignoring the distinction between necessary confidentiality and insularity.
“For as long as I’ve been at Yale, the schedule of meetings and the agendas for the Yale Corporation have been confidential,” Salovey said. “The members of the Corporation take their responsibility as Yale’s fiduciaries very seriously, and I think they would feel that they can play that role more effectively if they can raise any issues that’s on their mind without concern about a public reaction.”
Corporation Senior Fellow Margaret Marshall LAW ’76 said the Corporation’s policies on confidentiality are no different from those of the governing bodies of other major universities.
Both GSA Chair Joori Park GRD ’17 and GPSS President Gregg Castellucci GRD ’17 said they felt their meetings with the Corporation in December were productive and provided an open line of communication. Both also highlighted the Corporation’s approval of new graduate housing on Elm Street as an example of the group’s willingness to respond to student voices.
But YCC President Michael Herbert ’16 said that considering Yale’s size, student interactions with the Corporation are in fact very minimal.
“I think it would be disingenuous to say student voice plays a big part in the Corporation’s dealings,” Herbert said. “We meet with them once a year for a couple of hours. I don’t think that constitutes active engagement between students and the Corporation.”
Still, Herbert added that he does not see increased access to the Corporation as a major concern within the student body. He said he does not see students approaching the YCC with complaints about the Corporation’s lack of visibility.
Of 35 students interviewed, only three could identify the Corporation as the University’s governing body. Others either did not know what the Corporation was or said it was responsible for managing the University’s endowment.
Additionally, no students interviewed said they knew how to directly contact the Corporation to voice an opinion or concern.
“I think [the fact that students don’t know about the Corporation] says that there’s a lack of transparency, and when you don’t have transparency, you don’t have accountability,” Sukriti Mohan ’17 said.
Outside of student government leadership, Goff-Crews said University and Master’s teas provide an opportunity for students to have an informal conversation with Corporation fellows. Four University Teas have taken place since the series launched in February of last year — one each with fellows Marshall, Joshua Bekenstein ’80, Indra Nooyi SOM ’80, and Charles Goodyear IV ’80 — and 11 fellows have participated in University events outside Corporation meetings in the past year.
Aaron Gertler ’15 said that when he attended the University Tea with Marshall last February, he sought to gain a better understanding of how the Corporation makes such significant decisions without being immediately tied to the student body.
“There’s a part of me that wants the administration and the Corporation to be 100 percent open at all times,” Gertler said. “I wonder about whether the person on the Corporation who most represents students’ interests is accessible enough to students, and are their concerns communicated to the Corporation?”
Twelve faculty members interviewed unanimously agreed that the Corporation should be accessible, but cautioned that total visibility would disrupt the Corporation’s professional obligations.
“A degree of informal accessibility while they’re visiting at Yale does seem like a good idea,” said English professor David Bromwich. “That isn’t the same as total transparency, and needn’t militate against the need for confidentiality in their proceedings.”
Mathematics professor Roger Howe agreed that transparency is generally the best option, especially when it comes to ensuring the Corporation understands enough about students and faculty to inform their decisions.
But, Howe said, this still might not be enough to ensure the Corporation remains in touch with the University at large. Howe pointed towards the Corporation’s awarding of million-dollar bonuses to Vice President for Global and Strategic Initiatives Linda Lorimer and Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson “at a time when the provost was telling the faculty that the time of budget stringency, which impacted departmental operations and life in many negative ways, was not over.”
Still, Director of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs James Levinsohn said members of the Corporation have contacted him for meetings over the past few years, and their conversations on the activity of the Jackson Institute had been productive.
Discussions surrounding the Corporation’s lack of accessibility seem a far cry from the later half of the 20th century when the dates of all Corporation meetings were published and fellows stayed in residential colleges during their time on campus, according to longtime administrator Henry “Sam” Chauncey ’57, who served as secretary of the Corporation for two decades. Chauncey said there was a “rule” that every Corporation member had to meet with students or faculty whenever on campus, usually over breakfast or lunch on the weekends.
But, as Chauncey’s successor and former Dean of Students John Wilkinson ’60 GRD ’63 put it, the University has grown significantly in recent decades, perhaps making it more difficult for members of the Corporation to remain as involved.
“As an administration gets bigger, it becomes less efficient, it moves more slowly, and it can’t be as responsive because there are too many spokes in the wheel,” Wilkinson said. “It may well be that the place is not as responsive as it used to be.”