As part of a new initiative to increase the Yale Corporation’s visibility on campus, Corporation Senior Fellow Donna Dubinsky ’77 joined a group of Jonathan Edwards College students for lunch Thursday to discuss what steps the Corporation can take to increase its transparency.
The event will be the first of a series of Corporation lunch meetings this semester, as the trustees seek to improve communication with students. Last year, many students complained of a lack of transparency from the Corporation, which deliberates mostly behind closed doors. But today, University President Peter Salovey and other members of the Corporation will meet for an hourlong breakfast with 30 undergraduates recommended by the Yale College Dean’s Office.
“Those of us who don’t live here on campus and aren’t part of the community on a day-to-day basis benefit from hearing from people who are,” Dubinsky told the News after the lunch. “What are they thinking? What are they feeling? What are they concerned about? That informs us as we go about our job.”
Thanks in part to the Corporation’s new emphasis on outreach, members of the body will speak with these undergraduates — many of whom have been soliciting input from the wider student population throughout the week — in one of the most open meetings since protesting students stormed Woodbridge Hall in 1968.
Still, only seven undergraduates attended Thursday’s lunch, which was open to the entire Jonathan Edwards community, and several of them said they were more interested in Dubinsky’s career as an entrepreneur than in her role within the inner workings of the Corporation.
“I saw that she was doing something with machine intelligence, and I really found that fascinating because I’m an [electrical engineering and computer science] major,” said Shogun Mahadumrongkul ’19. “So that’s why I came.”
Mahadumrongkul added that he hopes the Corporation will continue to solicit student input on naming decisions, as well as other University matters.
Larry Fulton ’19 — who said he came to the lunch specifically to ask about the naming decisions — told the News that talking to Dubinsky face-to-face gave him a personal perspective on the Corporation, which can often seem like an “ephemeral, puppeteer body.”
“[Dubinsky] admitted that there was a lack of transparency and that the Yale Corporation … almost had this looming, malevolent image to some Yale students,” Fulton said.
Despite calling Dubinsky’s efforts sincere, Fulton said he remains skeptical that conversations about transparency will translate into real student influence on the Corporation’s decisions and cautioned Dubinsky against raising students’ hopes too much.
Over the decades, the Corporation has not always faced questions about transparency. In the 1960s, the trustees would meet with students at the residential colleges every weekend to discuss their life at Yale, according to former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57. Corporation members continued to meet with students until the mid-1980s, he said, adding that he does not know why the meetings stopped.
“There was no particular crisis or situation that called for [the meetings],” Chauncey said. “It was just the idea that you have a better community if people get to know each other.”
On Friday at 8:30 a.m., a group of 30 undergraduates — identified and chosen by the YCDO — will meet with the Corporation for breakfast at Mory’s to discuss the student experience at Yale, according to an email from University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 that was sent to all undergraduates Thursday morning.
In an interview with the News, Goff-Crews noted that the Corporation already meets annually with the Yale College Council. And, she added, this year Dubinsky hopes to “have as many lunches as possible” with undergraduates.
Nia Jones ’19, one of the students attending the breakfast Friday, told the News that she plans to discuss the student-effort expectation, a yearly sum that students on financial aid are expected to contribute to their educations, as well as the lack of transparency in the Corporation’s naming decisions.
“It’s really good to see that the Yale Corporation is actively trying to engage with us, because last year there was a lot of us talking out, but I don’t think there was very much direct interaction,” said Jones, who added that she does not know whether other students in the group hold similar opinions.
The Corporation officially meets five times a year.
Correction, Sept. 30: An earlier version of this story misstated the method by which the undergraduates meeting with the Corporation were selected. In fact, the Yale College Dean’s Office recommended them.