At the December meeting of the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, the 17 trustees discussed new measures designed to promote the transparency and accessibility of the Corporation.
But, at least for now, the details of those discussions remain secret.
“I’m not trying to be coy in a conversation about transparency,” said University President Peter Salovey, who presides over the Corporation. “It’s just that we still have some details to work out. … We will have lots of specifics to talk about — but we’re not going to now.”
The transparency discussions date back to September, when the Corporation announced plans to increases its visibility on campus and trustees met with select undergraduates over breakfast at Mory’s. The breakfast was designed partly to restore trust, after students complained last year that the Corporation was deaf to undergraduate concerns and overly secretive about the process through which it decided to keep the name of Calhoun College. At the time, Corporation Senior Fellow Donna Dubinsky said that further initiatives would be discussed as soon as the Corporation’s December meeting.
In an interview last weekend, Dubinsky described the measures discussed in December as modest changes that will “[move] us in the right direction,” but declined to elaborate on the specifics.
“Until we figure out how to make it all work, we’re trying to keep it to ourselves,” Dubinsky said.
Since the 1980s, the Corporation, whose members come from academia, the business world and other walks of life, has developed a reputation as a secretive organization cut off from students. Although it gathers on campus several times a year, the Corporation does not publicize the agendas or the dates of its meetings, and meetings minutes remain sealed for 50 years.
Since the Mory’s breakfast in September, and an undergraduate lunch held at Jonathan Edwards College around the same time, the trustees have not held any other formal gatherings with undergraduates. Still, according to Salovey, the Corporation sat down with a group of graduate and professional students as part of the December meeting. And, he added, trustees visit campus regularly for a variety of reasons.
“Members of the Corporation will come to campus in many different roles: for example, to do a college tea, or because some of them are parents,” Salovey said. “That provides opportunities for what I would call informal interactions with students, and that informal interaction can be just as valuable as the formal interaction. We should encourage it and try to do even more of it.”
But in interviews with the News, undergraduates who have led calls for greater transparency expressed skepticism about the steps the Corporation has taken so far. Chelsea Watson ’17, a spokeswoman for Fossil Free Yale, which has been highly critical of the trustees, said the Corporation’s actions have been “entirely insufficient.”
And Nia Jones ’19, one of the undergraduates invited to Mory’s, said the fall breakfast was not enough to address student concerns about the Corporation.
“I don’t think it was insignificant, but I don’t think it was as significant as many hoped it would be,” Jones said. “I really think the Yale Corporation members got a lot out of the conversation, but I just would like to see some follow-up.”
Historically, the Corporation has not always been seen as secretive. According to former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57, in the 1960s and ’70s, trustees met regularly with undergraduates, and meeting dates were publicly announced. Indeed, during periods of crisis, trustees would join Yale administrators at town-hall meetings attended by large numbers of undergraduates.
“Transparency is not something you can do magically,” Chauncey said. “It has to be a series of things you do, and you have to do them religiously.”
Still, not all students are convinced that the Corporation should change its approach in response to campus unrest. Bernard Stanford ’17 said the secrecy of the Corporation allows trustees to speak freely on controversial issues like the naming debates that have rocked campus over the last year.
“If a lack of transparency gives more autonomy to successful governors, academics and CEOs, and less influence to the loudest and most self-righteous 20-year old students when it comes to determining Yale’s future, I can live with that,” Stanford said.
The next Corporation meeting is scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 10 and 11, Dubinsky told the News earlier this week.