In September 2016, the Yale Corporation announced its intention to improve transparency through a series of forthcoming reforms. These efforts are long overdue. The broader Yale community has lacked meaningful involvement in many recent decisions that affect us all. As a result, our disagreements with the Corporation on a host of subjects — naming of the residential colleges, racial justice organizing on campus, sexual assault cases, divestment from the prison and fossil fuel industries, excessive endowment accumulation and Yale’s increasingly corporate management structure — persist without redress or open discussion.
We need to have confidence in our University’s leaders, and we think that an improved collaboration and accountability policy would vastly improve the Corporation’s position in the eyes of the Yale community. Although we acknowledge the important role of the Corporation in working to continuously improve Yale, its current isolation and secrecy do not convey respect for what should be a collaborative process. Moving forward, we also expect the Corporation to recognize the important role that the entire Yale community — students, faculty, alumni and staff — plays as partners in making Yale a better place.
In order to regain the trust of the Yale community, the Corporation will have to do more than provide occasional gestures of good faith. Instead, it must implement policies that provide for four core pillars: transparency, access, impartial advising and accountability. Anything less would fall short.
To improve transparency, the Corporation should send out a report every semester describing the work that it has done in the previous year and its agenda for the year to come. Also, the Corporation should release and distribute agendas and minutes of meetings of the Corporation and its subcommittees. At a university devoted to the pursuit of Light and Truth, the governing body’s actions ought not to be shrouded in secrecy. We can do better.
But the Corporation cannot only make itself more transparent to the Yale community without welcoming it into the decision-making process. The Corporation should work to create channels that provide opportunities for real dialogue. In order to provide meaningful access, the Corporation first should hold weekly office hours for the entire Yale community. Every Corporation member should hold at least one session each year. Otherwise, how can Corporation members speak with any authority about today’s Yale? Second, the Corporation should establish a process by which stakeholders can engage in dialogue with the Corporation itself. We imagine a formal procedure that would oblige the Corporation to respond to issues important to the community. For example, a given number of signatures on a petition or a successful referendum could require the Corporation to respond formally to a demand.
For some issues though, it makes sense for the Corporation to delegate authority to more focused groups that can meet more frequently. But the Corporation must grant these committees a meaningful advisory role. The members of the community who work with these committees need to be assured that they will represent community views earnestly and objectively. More importantly, that the Corporation will take committee suggestions seriously. For these reasons, we suggest that the Corporation first clarify the role of these committees, making clear that bodies like the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming are expected to evaluate claims independently from Corporation oversight, influence or preference. Next, the Corporation should require these advisory committees to publish recommendations in the News at the same time that they make them to the Corporation. Finally, we suggest that the Corporation delegate greater decision-making authority to these committees who have developed expertise and insight into these issues.
Finally, and most importantly, we ask that the Corporation embrace democratic reforms. In order to act on behalf of the entirety of the Yale community, the Corporation must make itself accountable to those its decisions touch. For this reason, we implore the Corporation to invite a representative from the Yale College Council, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate and Yale employees to participate in Corporation meetings. In addition, the Corporation should allow students, faculty and staff to vote in the Corporation member selection process. Those running for seats on the Corporation should hold town hall meetings on campus where stakeholders can meet and ask questions. And, in the event that Corporation members run into conflicts of interests, there must be a process through which they openly address these conflicts.
These reforms would provide a genuine opportunity for a better Yale. We hope that the Corporation will partner with the rest of the Yale community in making this great institution ever greater. In this spirit of a continuously striving Yale, we ask that the Corporation respond to these requests within a month.
Fossil Free Yale; Yale Students for Prison Divestment; Students Unite Now; Black Student Alliance at Yale (BSAY); Yale Student Environmental Coalition; LGBTQ Student Cooperative; Yale Civil Rights Project; Reproductive Justice Action League at Yale (RALY); Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán de Yale (MEChA); Party of the Left; Asian American Studies Task Force; Yale Undergraduate Prison Project; Undergraduate First Generation Low Income Partnership; Oyé Spoken Word at Yale; Sexual Literacy Forum at Yale; Women’s Leadership Initiative; Racial and Ethnic Openness Club; Calhoun College Council; Morse College Council; Silliman Activity and Administration Committee; Trumbull College Council; Project Bright; Yale Undergraduate Film Alliance; Yale Effective Altruists; Bulldog Productions; National Lawyers Guild.
Nathan Lobel is a senior in Branford College. He is a member of Fossil Free Yale and the principle author on this letter. Contact him at email@example.com .