You know what I haven’t written about in a while? The Yale Corporation. Interested? Maybe? Do you even know what the Corporation is?
Two weeks ago, the News interviewed 35 students; only three “could identify the Corporation as the University’s governing body.” Even if you’ve heard of it, ignorance about the Corporation runs deep. According to a 2014 Yale Politic poll, a third of students think that professors currently serve on the Corporation, and more than 10 percent believe that students are Corporation members. As if.
In reality, the Corporation is the unaccountable, mostly unelected body that makes so many of this University’s major decisions. From bestowing honorary degrees to expanding Yale abroad to choosing the University’s president, the Corporation wields considerable power. Yet the Corporation does not include students, staff or faculty among its ranks. Virtually no students, staff or faculty have any contact whatsoever with the Corporation; Corporation members don’t care what you think.
I am writing today about the near future, about a time when the Corporation will not be able to operate in this manner. I am writing of the coming revolution against the Corporation. This revolution will be bloodless, but it will not be passive. Indeed, it is already in progress.
Obviously, my vocabulary here is a little hyperbolic, but the days of the Corporation’s disconnected, unelected, secretive dealings are coming to an end. Allow me to explain.
One might expect the Corporation to consist primarily of academics and university officials. In reality, though, a majority of Corporation members have virtually no experience working in a university; instead, they are chairpersons, board members, CEOs — utterly unqualified to run a non-profit university. They include the former CEO of J.P. Morgan, the current managing director of Bain Capital and more of that ilk. Men and women who make their living off the backs of poor people.
Here’s the thing to know about the Corporation: Its members act in their own self-interest. Curious about this University going to Singapore, a country that criminalizes homosexuality and ignores freedom of speech? Well, when that decision was made in 2011, three current or former Corporation members “had direct monetary ties to Singapore or its sovereign wealth fund,” in the words of The Politic. In the 1980s, the Corporation repeatedly refused to divest from apartheid-era South Africa. At least four of its members had financial ties to that country.
And this brings us to divestment from fossil fuels. On Thursday, Feb. 26, members of Fossil Free Yale met in the snow outside of Woodbridge Hall to protest the Corporation’s lack of transparency. “Who is the Yale Corporation?” one banner read.
The other large banner displayed shadowy silhouettes representing members of the Corporation — inside the figures were phrases such as, “putting profits over people” and “ignoring student voice.”
“This is more than divestment,” FFY spokesman Tristan Glowa ’18 told the News. “It is protesting the way [Corporation members] are divided from the student body.”
As long as those in charge refuse to address issues important to students, FFY coordinator Lex Barlowe ’17 told me, “we have plans to escalate our actions.”
Several current or recently departed members of the Corporation, including Charles Goodyear ’80 and Paul Joskow GRD ’72, have direct financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. This degree of craven self-interest among our decision-makers is unacceptable, and people are starting to realize it.
The very next day, on Friday, Feb. 27, nearly 100 students gathered in front of Woodbridge to protest the student income contribution. This protest, organized by Students Unite Now, sought to highlight the burdens of forcing students on financial aid to work, while their wealthier peers can avoid such labor.
This protest did not explicitly address the Corporation, as FFY’s did. But it was an implicit challenge to the decisions of the Corporation, which, in its February meeting, decided to hike up by 4 percent the tuition of a school that has $24 billion endowment. Decisions made by robber barons — and not by students, those actually affected by the decision — look like this. And students are starting to protest.
That’s the point: Students are starting to protest the Corporation. If the student income contribution increases or the Corporation refuses to move on divestment, more protests are inevitable. I believe that the Yale Corporation’s model — that of an unaccountable, secretive cabal of self-interested CEOs, utterly divorced from the community they claim to serve — is unsustainable.
The history of the American university is a history of democratization — students have claimed rights, won concessions, demanded the creation of new academic disciplines and methods of assessment and torn down discriminatory strictures. Students have always been at the forefront of battles for progress.
The Corporation just can’t go on like this. We won’t let it.
Scott Stern is a senior in Branford College. His column runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.