Journalist and author James Kirchick ’06 announced Monday that he failed to gather the required number of signatures to enter the alumni fellow election, annulling his monthslong campaign to join the University’s highest governing body.
In an email to his supporters, Kirchick — who had vowed to support free speech on campus as a trustee — said his petition gained 2,246 signatures from Yale alumni. For a spot on the ballot, Kirchick had to garner at least 4,266 signatures, 3 percent of the total ballots distributed last year. In his email, Kirchick attributed the failure of his campaign to “the arbitrarily high minimum amount of signatures needed for ballot access” and to a publishing mishap with the latest issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, which was initially sent out without class notes.
The Magazine’s editors issued a statement saying that this happened because the wrong version of the magazine was sent out to Yale College alumni. Traditionally, the Magazine is published in two versions: one with alumni notes to be sent to alumni of Yale College and another without the notes to be sent alumni of the University’s graduate and professional school. This time, Yale College alumni also received an issue without the notes. In a statement to the News, Kathrin Lassila ’81, the Magazine’s editor, said that after the editors learned about the mistake “from concerned alumni,” they reprinted the complete class notes and sent them to all Yale College graduates. She added that just one endorsement of Kirchick was submitted as part of the class notes.
In an email to the News, Kirchick claimed that many of his alumni supporters wrote to their class secretaries asking to include information on how to sign Kirchick’s petition with their class notes.
“This campaign was always going to be an uphill battle,” Kirchick wrote. “Despite our inability to surmount these obstacles, I am enormously proud of what this campaign accomplished … I hope that the disappointing result of this particular petition drive is not seen as the end of an effort but the beginning of a movement, one that will encourage Yale to live up to its founding and eternal principles of free expression and open, intellectual inquiry.”
Since he announced his candidacy in June, Kirchick, who as an undergraduate gained notoriety for his conservative political views, ran a campaign on a controversial platform that criticized the University administration. Kirchick promised to “restore Yale values” by reforming the alumni fellow election, protecting free speech on campus, promoting viewpoint diversity and reducing “administrative bloat.”
Kirchick and Lauren Noble ’11, director of the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale, organized a national listening tour for the campaign, which garnered endorsements from high-profile alumni including former U.S. Senator Joseph Isadore Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 and former Yale College Dean Donald Kagan. The Buckley program, which aims to “promote intellectual diversity” on campus, also quickly endorsed Kirchick and advertised his campaign events on its social media accounts over the summer.
“The Buckley Program endorsed Jamie Kirchick’s candidacy because of his pledge to enhance Yale’s support of free speech on campus,” said Buckley Program President Cameron Koffman ’19. “While it’s unfortunate that he was unable to obtain the requisite number of signatures, he still enhanced dialogue about free speech on campus and effectively aired the concerns of over 2,000 alumni.”
Still, some of Kirchick’s views were widely criticized by alumni — such as his opposition to graduate student unionization and to the University’s decision to change the title “master” to “head of college.” He also said that the high numbers cited for campus sexual assault rates are often inaccurate and that the University should cut administrative positions in the Title IX Office.
Texas A&M English professor David McWhirter ’72 told the News earlier this year that although Kirchick likes to “pose as a reasonable conservative,” he is “just another whining right-winger” who believes that student protesters are “mobs.”
In an interview with the News on Monday, Kirchick said that the fact that he was not endorsed by any Yale Clubs across the country and his inability to post any information about the campaign on the Yale Facebook page due to strict moderation made it difficult to publicize his candidacy and platform.
“I think the support for us was there, but it was just the matter of finding those people and getting them to sign the petition,” Kirchick said. “I don’t want to cry over spilled milk, but it’s clear why the University makes the [number of signatures needed for the ballot] so high.”
The last alumnus to run a successful campaign to get onto the alumni election ballot without the University’s formal nomination was the Rev. W David Lee DIV ’93. Lee entered the race through a petition drive and ran a vigorous campaign, giving media interviews and soliciting donations and endorsements.
Kirchick argued that because Lee was critical of University’s policies, the administration instituted obstacles to prevent him from winning the election. One such obstacle was the selection of “celebrity candidate,” architect Maya Lin ’81 ARC ’86, to run against Lee after he secured a spot on the ballot, Kirchick said. Lee lost to Lin in a landslide.
“Lee was very politically different from me,” Kirchick said. “It doesn’t matter which political perspective you come from. They don’t want dissidents of the University to be allowed onto the board of trustees.”
Kirchick said he believes the University requires such a high minimum count of signatures to secure a spot on the ballot to prevent candidates without Yale’s endorsement from participating in the election.
When asked why the University chose 3 percent as the benchmark for securing a spot on the ballot, University spokesman Tom Conroy did not directly answer, but added that the threshold was stipulated in University’s “Miscellaneous Regulations,” a document that includes rules dictating the nomination and election of alumni fellows.
Kirchick said that the 2,246 signatures he received showed a good amount of alumni support. He said that with that backing, he wants to start a movement to “influence the University going forward.”
“There are no plans, no definite agenda at this point,” Kirchick said. “I just think that we clearly have a broad base [of] support going back to the 1940s and we don’t want to waste that by calling this the end of the process.”
There are six alumni fellows on the Yale Corporation, the University’s board of trustees. The alumni fellows serve six-year terms, and a new alumni fellow is elected each year.
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