The week before the 132nd playing of the Harvard-Yale football game, the University cancelled its fifth annual alumni fundraiser, citing recent campus racial controversies.
The Harvard-Yale participation challenge, in which both universities compete to see which can garner the most alumni donors, has typically run during the 10 days leading up to The Game. In the past, Yale has secured donations from thousands of alumni through the competition: 3,870 in 2014, 3,999 in 2013 and 1,010 in 2012, according to the event’s Facebook page. University spokesman Tom Conroy said on behalf of the Yale Office of Development that the event’s organizers — both the Yale and Harvard College alumni funds — agreed to call off the fundraiser due to intense national scrutiny of recent campus events, which include heated discourse among students about the racial climate at Yale. Funds raised by Yale through the challenge, though often modest, traditionally go toward the University’s annual fund.
“Given the current volume of discourse on social media and in the press, the leaders of both the Yale Alumni Fund and The Harvard College Fund felt that, in order to enable our communities and conversations to focus on the issues impacting our students, this was not the best time to send numerous and broad solicitations,” Conroy said.
Harvard’s Office of Communications did not return a request for comment about the cancellation.
Many Yale graduates have spoken out against recent student demonstrations, leading to questions about how national perceptions will affect alumni donations. An open letter to University President Peter Salovey from the Committee for the Defense of Freedom at Yale — a coalition of students, faculty and alumni — garnered 485 alumni signatures as of Thursday night. The letter denounced the student protests and called on the administration not to accept the demands of Next Yale, a student alliance that marched on Salovey’s house last week to present a list of measures the University should take to improve the racial climate on campus.
But another letter written by alumni expressed support for student demonstrators and had received 2,047 signatures as of Thursday night.
On Tuesday, Salovey sent out a campuswide email outlining numerous policy changes in response to the demonstrations, many of which were listed in the demands of Next Yale. The measures include additional funding for Yale’s cultural centers, more mental health resources for students of color and reforms to undergraduate financial aid policy.
Yale alumni interviewed held various opinions regarding the fundraising campaign’s cancellation.
“I’m not surprised that they would want to cancel [the fundraiser] because I imagine that [administrators] are aware that a lot of alums are upset,” Rek LeCounte ’11 said. “Especially now with the statement [Salovey] sent out, I would be very surprised if there was any way they could have gotten to their goal given the way things played out.”
LeCounte said the cancellation was likely a “face-saving” measure by the administration to avoid an embarrassing loss to Harvard in the competition, which Harvard won last year. LeCounte added that alumni on both sides of the issue are frustrated by the way students and administrators have dealt with recent controversies.
Rebecca Steinitz ’86, who authored the letter in support of the student demonstrations, said the University considers the impact its decisions have on donations from all alumni, but added that older alumni typically have more resources than younger alumni do.
According to a 2013–14 report from the Office of Development, older alumni typically give more money and contribute at a higher rate than younger alumni.
Greg Lawler ’63 said alumni opinions may vary by age group, adding that there has been more sympathy and understanding for students on campus from recent graduates than older ones. He said that while he personally does not believe alumni gifts will be significantly impacted by recent events, administrators probably acted in this way because they believed donations would drop.
In fiscal year 2014, giving to Yale College through the Yale Alumni Fund raised more than $20.3 million.