Each year Yale alumni choose a person to serve on the Yale Corporation — the governing body of the University. There are usually two to three candidates who run for the position; They are chosen by the Yale Alumni Association Nominating Committee. I am the first petition candidate to qualify for the ballot for Yale Corporation in 18 years.
The current process does not represent Yale at its best. I had to announce my candidacy 14 months before the 2021 election. Then I had to secure at least 4,397 signatures but actually had over 7,200 signatures to place my name on the ballot in the upcoming election starting in April. In this process of collecting signatures, I learned a lot about Yale alumni from all classes of Yale College and graduate schools which would give me a head start as a new Corporation member if elected.
The work of the Corporation is often shrouded in secrecy as the minutes are embargoed for 50 — yes, 50 — years. Even meeting agendas are not disclosed. The election process is deeply flawed and unfair — YAA candidates are asked to stay silent and not give interviews to the News. Typically, the ballot includes only a photo and brief biography. This year, likely in response to strong support for my campaign, a short video will appear but this still avoids discussion of current issues.
Even today as you read this piece, we still do not know the names of the candidates or candidates chosen by the Yale Alumni Association 14 member nominating committee. Their names, however, will not be released until the week of April 12 — only 48 hours before voting begins. While the nominees often appear to be qualified persons, their refusal to outline their platform or contact information does not earn my vote. Given that 87 percent of the 146,000 eligible alumni skipped the most recent election, many alumni share my view.
This is a disdainful and dysfunctional system which is unworthy of a great educational institution that is committed to free speech, open inquiry and public service. As a petition candidate, I am not bound by these gag rules.
I am running because I want to bring some sunlight, fresh air and new ideas to the Corporation. Enough of the status quo. The Corporation needs to listen to alumni. On March 2 President Salovey, along with Cappy Bond Hill and Chip Goodyear, will speak to Florida alumni — good idea — but would only take written questions while live follow up questions were not permitted — bad idea. Not having live follow up to questions inhibits serious dialogue.
What changes are needed? First, lower the number of signatures to get on the ballot. In 1965 it was 250 signatures when William Horowitz was elected as a petition candidate, now it has jumped to 4,397 signatures.
Second, the timeline needs to be shortened for candidates to announce their candidacy. Petition candidates announce in a few days by March 15 for the May 2022 election, while YAA candidates are determined two months before the 2022 election and kept secret until voting starts.
Third, let’s repeal the gag rule or practice — as Yale calls it. It is counter to an open and free election concept where issues are debated in a civil way.
Fourth, the Corporation should tell all of us what issues it considers at its meetings and, in broad terms, what happens at each meeting. Keeping minutes secret for 50 years is just plain wrong. Sensitive personnel and legal matters can always be redacted.
Fifth, Yale should bring basic transparency to the Alumni Fellow election process. In 2020 Yale announced Carlos Moreno as the winner of the election, but not the number of votes he and Nancy McInnis received. Only at my urging did Yale announce the total number of votes cast but not the winning margin. What we do know is that the current system is broken given the anemic 12 percent alumni participation rate.
This is not an exhaustive list. Other policies are antiquated, such as the disenfranchisement of Yale college alumni for five years after graduation. They should be able to vote the day after they graduate. Moreover, The sharp growth of administrative staff should be reviewed to determine how many staffers are needed.
As a Tennessee lawmaker, I won bipartisan support for major bills to protect the environment, increase voter participation and require transparency in government. When I was the nonpartisan Mayor of Knoxville for 16 years, I broke down barriers to hiring women and minorities and created a police civilian review to ensure public accountability. As Mayor, I dealt regularly with town gown relations between the University of Tennessee flagship campus and Knoxville. I balanced the city budget for 16 years, and became president of the US Conference of Mayors from 1995 to 1996. I’ve served in various federal posts appointed by five different Presidents of both parties, including ambassador to Poland under both Presidents Bush and President Obama.
I want to make the Yale Corporation the best it can be and inclusive of all alumni. My candidacy is the only way to assure a discussion on this topic starts. My election would bring a new and refreshing voice to the Corporation deliberations.
VICTOR ASHE graduated from Yale College in 1967, and was the political editor of the Yale Daily News from ‘66-’67. He is a petition candidate for the Yale Corporation Board. Contact him at email@example.com or 865-712-5933.