Yale News

The University has put forward David A. Thomas ’78 GRD ’86 as its candidate for the Yale Corporation, announcing his nomination to candidates on Monday, two days before voting begins.

The Yale Corporation is the University’s highest governing body, with broad-ranging powers to determine Yale’s budget, priorities and leadership. Each spring, Yale alumni elect a new trustee as one of the 16 alumni who serve on the board. Voting, which is available to all Yale alumni except those in the five most recent classes, will open on April 14 and close on May 23. 

Despite the trustees’ power, the elections have relatively low engagement — in last year’s election, only about 13 percent of the eligible alumni body cast a ballot. But this year, the election has received significant attention, as two petition candidates qualified for the ballot. One of them, Victor Ashe ’67, will oppose Thomas in the election. The other, Maggie Thomas, withdrew to take a job in the Biden administration.

“Each year, the university produces materials that enable alumni to cast an informed vote based solely on the information presented in the official election brochure, website and ballot,” Vice President for Institutional Affairs Martha Schall wrote in an email to Ashe and Thomas. “To maintain this tradition, we ask you to not campaign or otherwise advocate for your candidacy or ask others to do so.”

There are two ways to qualify for the ballot. 

One is by petition, in which a prospective candidate must receive a certain number of supporting signatures — this year, that number is 4,394 — from fellow alumni. The two petition candidates to qualify were Maggie Thomas ENV ’15 and Victor Ashe ’67. Maggie Thomas later dropped out of the race after accepting a White House job, chief of staff in the newly created Office of Domestic Climate Policy, that required her to give up her candidacy. 

The other way to qualify is by nomination from the Yale Alumni Association Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee, which is made up of alumni representatives and Yale administrators. The Committee solicits nominations from alumni, decides on its candidates and releases their names 24 hours before voting begins. David Thomas was nominated through this process.

In a break with tradition, Yale has nominated only one candidate instead of its usual two, the first time it has done so in nearly two decades, according to Ashe. The ballot can hold up to five names. Ashe said he expected the University would only nominate one candidate in order to avoid splitting votes and in an effort to work against him as a petition candidate.

The candidates each approved bios and filmed video messages which will be featured on the election website.

According to his bio, David Thomas “arrived at Yale actually not knowing much about it.” He had previously attended an under-resourced high school in Missouri and was the first in his family to attain a college degree. At the University, Thomas majored in administrative science and co-chaired the Black Student Alliance at Yale. Thomas wrote in his bio that the respect then-president Kingman Brewster ’97 showed to him as a student informed his own leadership style.

He later returned to Yale as a doctoral student in organizational behavior, examining the intersection of race, careers and organizations. 

Thomas’ career has spanned teaching, leading and advising a variety of educational institutions. Since graduating Yale, he has taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard University. From 2001 to 2005, he served on the Yale School of Management Board of Advisors. Additionally, he has served as a dean at Georgetown University’s business school and, for the last three years, as president of Morehouse College.

During his tenure at Morehouse, Thomas developed the strategic plan for a $500 million capital campaign, started an online program for men of color to complete their college degrees, improved Morehouse’s standing in the STEM disciplines and worked against institutional racism, according to Thomas’ bio.

Through a Morehouse College spokesperson, Thomas did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Ashe, who will oppose Thomas in the election, passed the signature threshold and qualified to get on the ballot this fall. 

At Yale, Ashe majored in history and worked for the News. He said growing up during the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War helped him understand the “complexity of the University.”

Ashe went on to receive his law degree at the University of Tennessee College of Law and entered government in the Tennessee House of Representatives. He later headed up Ronald Reagan’s Commission on Americans Outdoors and then served as the mayor of Knoxville. As the mayor, Ashe focused on expanding parks and greenways, promoting transparency, creating a police civilian review board and increasing diversity in the municipal ranks.

In 2004, President George W. Bush ’68 appointed Ashe as the U.S. ambassador to Poland. His work earned him the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, the country’s highest honor conferred on a foreign national.

Ashe has campaigned on a platform of increased transparency around the Corporation’s work, free speech and reform of the election process. Specifically, he has objected to the fact that the Corporation’s meeting minutes have been under embargo for 50 years, that petition candidates must obtain thousands of signatures and that candidates cannot campaign for the Corporation.

“Transparency and fairness are interwoven in this debate,” Ashe told the News.

“If elected, the current Corporation will recognize that a vote for Ashe was a vote for significant reform and act accordingly,” Ashe wrote in an email to the News. “They will realize their excuses and explanations are weak. They will have been rejected by alumni/ae.”

Thomas has not publicly released a platform — Yale has encouraged candidates not to campaign.

Election Services Corporation certifies votes for the Yale Corporation.

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu

Rose Horowitch covers Woodbridge Hall. She previously covered sustainability and the University's COVID-19 response. She is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history.