I am running for election to Yale’s governing body, the Yale Corporation, to an Alumni Trustee position for which voting started April 14 and ends on May 23. In recent years, alumni participation in the election has been an anemic 12 percent. I hope 2021 sees a significant voter increase.

To improve alumni participation, there must be discussion about the issues and why the election is important to all Yale graduates. That triggers turnout.

However, according to Yale, “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. To maintain this tradition, we ask you to not campaign or otherwise advocate for your candidacy or ask others to do so.”

I respectfully disagree because the materials accompanying the official ballot do not enable anyone to make an informed choice. The university insists there will be no mention of what candidates think about the issues facing Yale, what they intend to do about them or why they want to serve a six-year term.

There is only a bio and a short video. Nothing on issues.

Such a “gag rule” should be banned at an institution whose motto is Lux et Veritas. It is completely contrary to our great university whose commitment to protecting free speech has been embedded in its traditions for generations.

More than 7,200 Yale graduates nominated me by signing the petition placing me on the ballot. They hoped I would help to bring change, transparency and fairness to the way Yale is being run. I intend to honor their trust. 

The Yale-nominated candidate is chosen by a 14-member nominating committee of the Yale Alumni Association. His name was not released to Yale voters until the day before voting begins despite being selected seven weeks earlier. For the past 18 years, YAA has nominated two candidates, but this year YAA only offered one person. Was that a political decision? Why?

Under Yale’s rules, I had to begin my petition effort over a year ago on March 15, 2020. I have been talking to alumni, answering their questions and listening to their concerns for over a year. Anyone can call me at 865-712-5933. Many have. 

Remarkably, Yale insists that’s where the story should end. No more discussion or debate allowed. None of that free exchange of ideas that is the hallmark of a world-renowned university.

Wouldn’t we all be better served if the two candidates joined in an open dialogue to share their views on Yale’s future? After all, that’s what elections are supposed to be all about. Many Yale clubs would be happy to host such an event online. Or the Yale Daily News could arrange a webinar or do in-depth interviews with both of us.

A look at my history shows a skill set which the Corporation could use, as I am a former 16-year mayor of Knoxville, the home of the University of Tennessee with 25,000 students. I dealt regularly with town-gown relations. I would be only the third mayor in the past 90 years to serve on the Corporation. I can help in working on Yale-New Haven relations.

What are some of the questions we might talk about?

In an earlier op-ed for the Yale Daily News, I detailed several proposals for changes to improve the transparency of Yale’s election process. That might be a good place to start the discussion.

Now that the election is well underway, Yale graduates might benefit as well from an exchange of views on several questions affecting Yale’s strategic vision:

  • How can Yale improve its communications and alumni engagement?
  • What principles should Yale apply in balancing demands on its resources in order to maintain its leadership in science and the humanities while at the same time addressing those areas where the faculty say additional efforts are needed to sustain the university’s competitive edge?
  • How does Yale’s performance compare with peer institutions with respect to tuition increases and the recent growth of its administrative bureaucracy?
  • After being shut down for four consecutive seasons due to the pandemic, is there more Yale needs to do to secure the excellence of its sports programs and their importance to the quality of life on campus?
  • How can we make the alumni trustee election more fair and open as well as on a level playing field?
  • Why are minutes of the Yale Corporation embargoed for 50 years? Yes, 50!

The restrictions on an open election have no basis in law or the history of Yale. They are a fairly recent invention and tradition. They contradict Yale’s history. I want to restore the tradition of robust discussion and transparency.

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 vhashe@aol.com or 865-712-5933.