With voting underway to elect the next alumni fellow of the Yale Corporation, the alumni community has until May 20 to decide between lab scientist David Agard ’75 and business strategist Michael Warren ’90.
But citing long-term precedent, administrators have prohibited campaigning, effectively silencing the candidates for the second year in a row.
Agard and Warren were nominated by the Association of Yale Alumni to fill the spot currently occupied by Alumni Fellow Kevin Ryan ’85, whose term concludes on June 30. Over the years, the Alumni Fellow Election has flown mostly under the radar. But last year, the election was the subject of heightened scrutiny, with many alumni criticizing administrators for asking candidates to refrain from publicly relaying any information about their views on University policy. Instead, the University asked alumni to vote based on 500-word biographical blurbs that do not convey where candidates stand on specific issues.
Despite the uncertainty about the candidates’ stances on key University issues, the election could herald a shift for the financier-dominated Corporation, as alumni choose between Warren, a business strategist with a background in finance, and Agard, an academic scientist with an active lab at a top-tier medical school. As it stands, 12 of the existing 16 trustees are current or former CEOs or businessmen, though one trustee operates a science and academic research division of a data analytics firm.
Agard’s research at the University of California, San Francisco focuses on principles of macromolecular structure and function. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences, the former molecular biochemistry and biophysics major is the scientific director of the Institute for Bioengineering, Biotechnology, and Quantitative Biomedical Research. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.
Warren, by contrast, has a background in business strategy. After completing a degree at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, Warren worked at McKinsey & Company as a strategic consultant in the technology and financial institutions practices and as a fellow of the McKinsey Global Institute. Since last June, Warren has been the managing director of Albright Stonebridge group, a global business strategy firm he co-founded in 2009 in Washington.
But Warren has also channeled his business acumen into public sector work. Under the administration of fellow Yale alumnus Bill Clinton LAW ’73, Warren served as executive director of the President’s Economic Council and special assistant for the chief of staff to the U.S. secretary of labor. And later, Warren oversaw appointments to government economic agencies as a senior advisor in President Barack Obama’s Presidential Personnel Office. He also served on the Overseas Private Investment Corporation board of directors.
Like others on the Corporation, Agard and Warren are not strangers to the Yale administration. In November 2016, Agard joined the University Council, an advisory body for the University president whose members are appointed by the Corporation. Warren, another member of University Council, also serves on the President’s Council on International Activities and the School of Management’s board of advisors.
But it remains unclear where Agard and Warren stand on pressing University issues.
Yale has long argued that allowing candidates to take a public position on policy issues would constitute campaigning and that candidates should be judged solely on the information that appears on the ballots. But this policy was not formally recorded in the University Charter, the Corporation bylaws or the Miscellaneous Regulations until this year, when Yale elected to spell the policy out “to avoid further confusion,” University Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews told the News earlier this semester.
Despite the fact that the no-campaigning rule is now in writing, this year’s candidate bios are more detailed than those from years past, including anecdotes about candidates’ Yale experiences, views on education and life values.
“The Office of the Secretary determines the format of the ballot, which has evolved over the years,” said J. Weili Cheng ’77, executive director of the AYA. “According to that office, it is hoped that the format of this year’s ballot, which is similar to ballots in the past, will give alumni a better sense of the candidates.”
Still, for some alumni activists who have urged the University to allow alumni fellow candidates to discuss their positions on campus issues, the minor changes to this year’s ballots do not suffice.
Last spring, more than 450 alumni signed a petition calling on the two then-candidates to participate in a free speech forum hosted by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program. Buckley Program Executive Director Lauren Noble ’11, who spearheaded last year’s petition, said this year’s tweaks do not seem “like much of a change.”
“Does anyone really believe that pictures of the candidates going scuba diving or biking are more important than information on their values and priorities for the University?” Noble said. “Alumni from across the political spectrum want to know where candidates stand on critical issues such as free expression.”
The contested election between Agard and Warren will fill one of three vacant seats on the Corporation come July 1. Successor trustee Jeffrey Bewkes ’74 and senior trustee Donna Dubinsky ’77 will also conclude their terms this summer.
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