Courtesy of Maggie Thomas
Maggie Thomas ENV ’15 has withdrawn her name from the ballot for the Yale Corporation election after accepting a position in the White House.
Last week, the new Biden administration tapped Thomas to serve as chief of staff in the newly created Office of Domestic Climate Policy. There, she will help steer the nation’s response to the climate crisis. But in accepting the role, Thomas also withdrew her candidacy for the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, per White House ethics rules. Corporation members set the University’s budget, choose Yale’s president and approve or deny tenure, among many other duties. Thomas’ decision leaves only one petition candidate on the Yale Corporation ballot for the May 2021 election, though Yale’s Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee will choose the remaining candidates — up to four others — sometime this spring.
“The role of a Trustee is to steward the University through present day challenges and toward long-term financial and strategic sustainability,” Thomas wrote in a letter to University and alumni leadership announcing her new role. “My name may no longer be on the ballot, but the climate crisis is more pressing than ever –– and it is the defining issue of our time.”
Thomas, a former climate policy adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, ran for the Corporation on a platform of making Yale carbon neutral by 2030, divesting from fossil fuels and promoting inclusive governance.
The Corporation consists of 17 members, with six seats going to alumni fellows, or trustees chosen to represent the interests of alumni. While the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee typically collects nominations from alumni to decide on candidates in the spring contest, interested alumni who are not chosen can still make it on the ballot as petition candidates. Thomas was one such petition candidate.
To qualify for 2021’s election, petition candidates needed to collect 4,394 signatures from Yale alumni. Thomas crossed this threshold, as did former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe ’67. Ashe said that he and Thomas closely aligned on issues of transparency around the Corporation’s work. Like Thomas, Ashe has called on Yale to repeal the 50-year embargo of the Corporation’s meeting minutes.
“I’m the only candidate who will be a real agent for change,” Ashe told the News after Thomas withdrew her candidacy. “In terms of my campaign, it’s full steam ahead.”
In her letter to the University, Thomas asked that the University consider a candidate that would help the University decarbonize its campus and investments and become a leader in climate scholarship and stewardship.
She added that the people who supported her candidacy would likely rally around a climate champion. For his part, Ashe said he plans to reach out to Thomas’ supporters and try to win their support, though his campaign thus far has focused much more on transparency rather than climate.
Yale Forward, the organization which supported Thomas’ candidacy, will sponsor another petition candidate in next year’s election, according to Yale Forward co-founder Scott Gigante GRD ’23. Additionally, Gigante asked that the University nominate its own climate-conscious candidates.
“President Biden has prioritized climate as one of the top priorities of his administration,” Gigante wrote in an email to the News. “Yale must follow his lead and do the same. … Given the overwhelming alumni support for Maggie’s campaign, it is clear the alumni community is hungry for change.”
The Yale Corporation will have multiple open seats this year, as current trustee and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo LAW ’98 has been chosen as the new U.S. secretary of commerce.
Comprising alumni volunteers and Yale administrators, the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee can put up to five candidates on the ballot, including petition candidates. Ashe said he anticipates the committee will only put forward one candidate to avoid splitting the vote and potentially giving him a leg up.
The alumni fellow election will take place in May.
Rose Horowitch | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, Jan. 27: This story has been updated to include that Thomas withdrew her candidacy due to White House ethics rules that prohibit staff from serving on boards.