On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I am announcing my intention to run for a seat on the Yale Corporation as a representative of Yale Forward, a coalition of students, alumni and faculty who believe that Yale is falling behind in its response to the climate crisis because our governance is not representative of our community.
My hope is that, independent of the results of the election, our campaign will motivate the University to give a greater voice to students and recent alumni in its governance and to establish Yale as a moral and academic leader in the fight for a healthier, more just and more sustainable future. In the next month, the petitioning process to run for the 2021 Yale Corporation Alumni Fellow Election will begin. Today, I am asking for your support for this vision.
Typically, the six democratically elected fellows of the Corporation are selected for the ballot by a nominating committee within the Yale Alumni Association. As a petition candidate, I must collect 4,394 signatures from eligible Yale alumni to qualify for the ballot. I am well aware that no candidate has been elected via the petition process since William Horowitz ’29 in 1965 became the first Jewish trustee in Yale’s history, adding religious diversity to the Corporation for the first time. Nevertheless, the passion of my fellow alumni and current students who are fighting for a better world has convinced me that now is the time to stand for change and to do our part to move Yale forward.
As a proud alumna, I recognize the current Corporation as an accomplished body that does tremendous work on behalf of the Yale community. I have been nominated by my fellow alumni to represent our collective interest by calling for a more affirmative commitment to inclusive governance, sustainable finance and climate action.
All of the current trustees graduated from Yale at least 18 years ago, and the makeup of the Corporation does not presently reflect the rich diversity of our global alumni body. Yale’s restrictive system of governance disenfranchises College alumni for five years following their graduation and makes it difficult for new ideas and voices to be introduced at the Board of Trustees.
Given the enormous changes that our community has experienced over the past several decades, I believe that the Board’s decision-making processes would be strengthened by formally including the input and perspectives of recent alumni. To do this, the Board must establish and modernize avenues for direct communication with the Yale community. In doing so, we will carry the great legacy of our institution long into the future. Ensuring that all alumni can exercise their right to vote will more fully inform the Board’s deliberations, helping the University to manage issues facing our students on campus and our alumni around the world.
The most pressing discrepancy between the University’s current policies and the perspectives of its students, faculty and alumni is what constitutes an adequate response to the climate crisis. Yale is uniquely positioned to be a global leader on this issue: we have the scientific expertise and the resources to take action. That is why Yale must signal its full commitment to addressing this crisis at the scope and scale that the science demands.
The Yale Investments Office has been extraordinarily successful in growing the endowment to date, but its entrenched insistence on remaining invested in fossil fuels ignores the obvious and growing climate-related risks as well as the ethical implications of propping up a dying industry. Yale must take every opportunity to swiftly realign its investment strategy with a more sustainable and resilient future, and to devote more resources to the students and faculty who are developing solutions to fight climate change and improve public health.
Climate action takes on added importance in the midst of a global health crisis, as governments, businesses, individuals and the University adjust their behavior to respond to the threat of COVID-19. The data are clear — the same communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are also at greatest risk of impacts from the climate crisis. Yale has a moral responsibility not only to do its part to flatten the curve, but also to ensure that the Yale and New Haven communities rebuild with greater resilience for the next crisis to come.
Yale’s mission statement reads: “Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations,” but the endowment is actively invested in a collapsing industry that directly threatens our future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose groundbreaking assessments have been supported by Yale’s research, provides a case in point. It has shown that existing global fossil fuel reserves vastly exceed the maximum amount of carbon that we may emit while still avoiding the most extreme consequences of climate change. Put simply, climate risk poses a financial risk to Yale’s endowment.
And yet, at a time when bold action and leadership are required, Yale has instead opted for half measures. Encouraging asset managers to discuss the financial risks of climate change with companies in which they invest will not solve the problem. The time for talk is over. It is impossible to reconcile the business models of an industry whose operations rely on the extraction, processing and sale of fossil fuels with the IPCC’s assessment that, as a nation, we must halve our emissions by 2030 and transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy well before mid-century.
In 1972, Yale formally adopted guidelines from the “The Ethical Investor,” a book that has served as a blueprint for ethical institutional investing. The New York Times lauded Yale’s decision, writing that it showed that “it is hardly neutral to condone corporate immorality or to profit from it.” We are calling on Yale to once again examine its role as an ethical investor. Our aim is to establish Yale as an indisputable leader in the fight against climate change and to align our investments with our core values as an institution.
Yale Forward aims to address both the symptoms and the causes of Yale’s insufficient response to the climate crisis by making our governance more inclusive, bolstering our socially responsible investment practices and giving a greater voice to the University’s most valuable asset: the Yale community. I hope you will join us.
MAGGIE THOMAS is a 2015 alumnus of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.