More than 300 alumni have signed a petition calling on the two candidates vying for a position on the Yale Corporation to participate in a free speech forum hosted by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program.
The candidates, Roger Lee ’94 and Kate Walsh ’77 SPH ’79, are competing to become one of the Corporation’s six alumni fellows in an election scheduled to run from April 7 to May 21. Earlier this month, University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews announced the start of the election in an email to alumni earlier this month that included short biographies of the candidates. Lee and Walsh were nominated by the Association of Yale Alumni to compete for the spot that will soon be vacated by Alumni Fellow E. John Rice ’88.
“I can’t imagine being asked to vote in the 2016 presidential election on the basis of candidates’ biographical statements,” said Lauren Noble ’11, the founder and executive director of the Buckley Program, who started the petition. “I think it is a very reasonable thing for alumni to want to make an informed choice.”
Lee is a general partner at a venture capital firm that specializes in the development of technology companies worldwide, and he serves on the Yale Development Council. Walsh is the president and CEO of a not-for-profit medical center in Boston and a member of the University Council.
The petition, which was inspired partly by widespread debate over the transparency and accessibility of Yale’s highest governing body, calls for Lee and Walsh to appear at a Buckley forum devoted to “free expression and intellectual diversity.”
But according to Goff-Crews, who oversees the alumni fellow election, the candidates are not permitted to campaign in any way.
“That is both a constraint placed on candidates, and a promise made to them in terms of the demands of the election process,” Goff-Crews wrote. “All of the candidates need to respectfully decline invitations and requests for statements and discussions about Yale matters during the election process.”
Still, despite that prohibition, both candidates have agreed to be interviewed by the managing board of the News on Thursday. And in an interview on Sunday, Lee said he plans to make himself “as available as [he] possibly can be,” although he would not commit to attending the forum without additional information. “I’m all for transparency,” Lee said. Walsh could not be reached for comment over the weekend.
In response to the statement from Goff-Crews, Noble said the rule against campaigning would prevent alumni from making an informed decision in the election.
“Given that the candidates agreed to an interview with the Yale Daily News, either the candidates are not aware of this mandated silence on pertinent campus issues, or the administration is selectively applying this rule,” Noble said.
Ten of the 16 trustees on the Corporation are appointed by their predecessors and serve 12-year terms. The other six are elected by Yale alumni and serve six-year terms that are staggered so that a new election takes place every year. In her email to Yale alumni on April 7, Goff-Crews wrote that the nominating committee of the AYA selects candidates based on their expertise and experience, as well as their ability to complement the existing lineup of trustees.
This year’s election comes in the wake of widespread discussion about the transparency and accessibility of the Corporation. In March, the trustees unveiled a new website listing their five annual meeting dates and promised to speak with campus groups more often. The Corporation also changed its name to the Board of Trustees in order to dispel the common misconception that members have a financial stake in the University.
But the petition — which Noble plans to formally submit to the Corporation in early May — argues that those changes are not enough. “More is required than upgrading a website or referring to the Yale Corporation by a new name,” it states. “Yale can and must do better.”
In his interview with the News, Lee said the AYA did not ask for his views on pressing campus issues as part of the nominating process.
“They’re trying to vet candidates based on general ability to contribute to Yale across a wide range of issues,” Lee said. “It’s hard to be too prescriptive and say, ‘Based on your opinion on one issue that may be front and center today, you’re qualified.’ The issues that may be relevant today may not be relevant one, two, five, 10 years from now.”
In previous alumni fellow elections, candidates have spoken publicly about their views on major campus issues. In April 1972, for example, William Jones III ’64 published a campaign statement in which he declared that the Corporation was too isolated from the University, according to an article in the News from that month.
Moreover, in the past, candidates for the position who were not nominated by the AYA — including a renegade 1968 contender named William F. Buckley — have vigorously campaigned, according to former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57.
In 2002, after the election between AYA nominee Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86 and Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 — who entered the race through a petition drive and ran a campaign replete with media interviews, donors and endorsements — the trustees announced that no restrictions would be placed on campaigning for the position on the board. The Corporation made the decision after then-Senior Fellow Kurt Schmoke ’71 requested alumni feedback on whether to change its election policies. The majority of the 1,000 alumni respondents advised against restrictions on campaigning.
Chauncey said he could not recall an occasion when the candidates in an alumni fellow election spoke at a public forum. But he noted that the candidates always wrote their own biographical statements, although the AYA would ensure they were roughly the same length.
Lee said this year’s biographies were written by the AYA, not the candidates themselves. AYA Executive Director Weili Cheng ’77 and Chair of the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee Pulin Sanghvi ’92 did not respond to a requests for comment.
The William F. Buckley, Jr. Program was founded in 2011.