Alumni continue protests over changes to Corporation election process
More than a thousand alumni sign petition calling on University to reverse Corporation election decision
Courtesy of Aydin Akyo
More than 1,100 Yale alumni have signed a petition calling on the University to reinstate the alumni fellow petition process for a seat on the Yale Corporation, in an attempt to reverse the Trustees’ May 2021 decision.
The petition to reinstate the election process was circulating among alumni as the Corporation — the University’s highest governing body — held its first meeting of the academic year. The petition, organized by former Connecticut State Representative Gail Lavielle ’81 GRD, criticizes the University for its decision to end the petition process, by which all alumni were able to nominate a candidate for a seat on the Board. Currently, the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee, or AFNC, a 14 member board made up of University administrators and alumni, selects one or more candidates to be voted on by the alumni population. The petition does not call for the immediate reversal of the Corporation’s decision. Instead, it specifically asks the AFNC to put on the 2022 ballot the names of all three candidates who registered last March to petition to be on the ballot.
The AFNC referred the News to the Senior Director for Communications of the Yale Alumni Association E.J. Crawford for comment.
“I think it’s a step backwards in an important time in the world in which people are wanting to make sure their voice is heard and for Yale to take a step back to where it’s not heard is against the tide of history,” Victor Ashe ’67 told the News. “And to think that one of the premier universities in the world, not just the United States, is resistant and really almost afraid of alumni participation is stunning.”
According to Lavielle, the only means by which someone can get a seat on the Yale Corporation is by being selected by the AFNC, a process she described as “murky.”
Lavielle explained that the petition is addressed to the AFNC and not the Yale Corporation itself because the Corporation has made it clear that its decision to remove the more democratic path to the Board is final and irreversible. However, she explained, the AFNC can still choose to put forward as its candidate the nominee who receives the most popular support, thereby bypassing the Corporation’s decision altogether.
She further added that the initial May decision caused uproar among alumni who saw it as a form of “voter suppression,” as they were only permitted to vote for a candidate who “agreed with the prevailing perspective of the Corporation.” To many alumni, she said, this decision signaled that Yale was failing to hold steadfast to its commitment to a diversity of thoughts and ideas, while also suggesting that the University did not trust its graduates to choose a suitable candidate for the Corporation.
But Lavielle said she did not necessarily expect the petition would change the election process.
“I am realistic,” Lavielle said. “ I would hope that it would at least be interesting enough for the nominating committee to discuss.”
In an email to the News, Crawford wrote that he appreciates the “passion for Yale” and broader engagement of University alumni.
He added that he recognizes that there are a variety of opinions on any given subject, similar to all issues that impact Yale and the University’s alumni.
“Alumni continue to have the right to nominate trustees,” Crawford wrote. “The volunteer alumni chair of the YAA’s board of governors every year solicits nominations from alumni and the alumni-led Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee considers all nominations.”
In Lavielle’s view, this petition is emblematic of the larger issues that the University is facing today and that now, more than ever, the University’s governing body needs to have a diversity of perspectives in order to ensure that it is making the best possible decisions.
Lavielle posed questions on the current election process.
“There’s a lot of questions at stake here,” Lavielle said. “How are people chosen? Who could be governing the university? What are faculty and students on campus allowed to say? How great is their freedom of speech? What kind of agreements can be signed with donors?”
Andrew Lipka ’78, a former petition candidate for the Yale Corporation said that “the purpose of the petition is to demonstrate the fact that there’s a groundswell of opposition of alumni to the move by the trustees, and that alumni care about their disenfranchisement.”
Lipka suggested that this move by the Corporation is part of a troubling, antidemocratic trend within the University’s administration. He pointed in particular to the elimination of “virtually all” alumni volunteer programs, including the Leadership Council, which consisted of former heads of the Board of Governors, as well as “most of the alumni service corps,” and the residential college reunions.
“The real goal is to silence alumni, because the petition candidates were able to speak,” Lipka said.
Lipka added that the removal of the petition process is a “terrible thing for the future of Yale because it furthers the bubble that the administration currently lives in [and] it perpetuates the echo chamber.”
He further commented on the “ironic timing” of this popular opposition to the Yale administration right as it is launching its $7 billion capital campaign.
“I also think there’s an irony that this is taking place right when Yale is launching a new campaign, asking alumni to dig deep,” Lipka said. “I certainly have got to think twice before participating in this campaign.”
Ashe said that he feels as though the current Corporation does not want members with points of view that differ from the status quo.
Ashe alluded to the impact that such a decision has on the alumni community, saying that the “risk Yale is running is that a lot of alumni are disaffected or feel like they are only wanted to make a donation. They’re not wanted for advice or further views.”
The Yale Corporation is composed of 16 trustees and University President Peter Salovey.
Correction, Oct. 13 The article has been updated to reflect that the petition does not call for immediate reversal of the Corporation’s decision, but for candidates’ names to be added to the 2022 ballot.