David A. Thomas ’78 GRD ’86 to serve as Yale’s newest Alumni Fellow
Thomas defeated Victor Ashe ’67, a petition candidate who ran on a platform of increased transparency in the election process.
David A. Thomas ’78 GRD ’86 has been elected to the Yale Corporation, defeating Victor Ashe ’67, who ran against him as a petition candidate.
University President Peter Salovey delivered the news in calls to the candidates on Monday afternoon. Sixty-four percent of votes went to Thomas, while 36 percent went to Ashe. The Yale Corporation is the University’s highest governing body, charged with stewarding the University by awarding tenure, setting Yale’s budget and deciding on principles for investment. Each spring, alumni elect a trustee to the board, though last year only 13 percent of eligible alumni voted, and 15 percent voted this year. The process has been widely criticized as opaque, as candidates are encouraged not to campaign or state their opinions on any issues the University faces.
Thomas was put forward by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee, which is made up of alumni representatives and Yale administrators. At Yale, Thomas majored in administrative science and co-chaired the Black Student Alliance at Yale. He returned to Yale to study organizational behavior as a doctoral student. Thomas currently serves as president of Morehouse College. He previously taught at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Harvard University, and held the position of dean at Georgetown University’s business school.
“David A. Thomas ’78 GRD ’86 is a nationally recognized, award-winning thought leader and higher education professional with extensive nonprofit and corporate board experience, and he is currently the 12th president of Morehouse College,” members of the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee wrote in an op-ed on April 15. “As a first-generation college student who earned four Yale degrees — a bachelor’s in 1978, two master’s degrees in 1984, and a doctorate in organizational behavior in 1986 — he is also a beacon of hope and opportunity, inspiring others in our community.”
Through a Morehouse College spokesperson, Thomas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a Yale News article, Thomas detailed his goals for his tenure as a Trustee.
“The primary role of higher education is to create great and well-prepared citizens,” Thomas told Yale News. “That requires not only teaching technical know-how and subjects but also creating an environment where young people can encounter the questions of ‘What do I believe?’ and ‘Who am I?’; define those questions for themselves; and then leave with a set of values that will guide them as citizens in our global community.”
The election ran from April 14 to May 23. All Yale alumni except those in the five most recent classes were eligible to vote. Through the Alumni Fellow Election process, which is responsible for choosing six of the 16 Trustees, candidates are announced one day before voting opens, and a biographical statement, but not a statement of views, is released. Excluding Salovey, the other trustees — successor trustees — are chosen by current trustees when their terms end.
Ashe ran on a platform of reforming the process: allowing candidates to share their views, reducing the number of signatures petition candidates must collect and repealing the 50-year embargo on Corporation meeting minutes. His candidacy inspired other alumni to question the process; three alumni declared their intent to petition in the 2022 election, all on platforms of increased transparency.
But the 2021 election is the final time petition candidates will make it onto the ballot for the Corporation, as the Corporation announced Monday afternoon it would get rid of the process.
“I congratulate Dr. Thomas and wish him well,” Ashe said. “I can easily accept losing an election while being disappointed. However I cannot accept having the petition process abolished.”
More than 100,000 Yale alumni were eligible to vote in the election.