Courtesy of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences

On Thursday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate released a resolution calling on the University to write protections from donor influence into its gifting policies.

Last month, history professor Beverly Gage resigned from her post as director of the Grand Strategy program directorship, citing outside influences from prominent donors. The move sparked conversations about academic freedom and prompted an FAS Senate investigation into academic freedom at Yale. The senate has since spoken with both Gage and a slate of administrators including University President Peter Salovey, University Provost Scott Strobel, Vice President of Global Strategy Pericles Lewis and FAS Dean Tamar Gendler. On Thursday, the senate held a meeting and released a resolution to faculty members.

The senate’s resolution calls on the University to create a new committee of faculty to review existing donor agreements and to recommend gift agreement policies that safeguard academic freedom. The faculty committee would also establish an appeals process for faculty to express concerns about violations of academic freedom.

According to FAS Senate Chair Valerie Horsley, one professor familiar with the Grand Strategy program said that its 2006 endowment agreement was created with no intent to interfere with curriculum. Horsley did not name the professor. Still, senators unanimously passed the resolution to increase University-wide transparency around academic freedom.

“It was clear that the faculty were concerned about academic freedom,” Horsley told the News. “We, as the senate, wanted to make sure that the University provides transparency and establishes principles for protection of academic freedom that are clear to faculty and anyone else that might interact with the faculty and try to interfere with academic freedom.”

The resolution asserts that donor influence on specific curricula, faculty hiring and the direction of research may pose “threats” to academic freedom and notes that “events in recent years” have raised concerns about donor influence on faculty activities. It also claims that the Faculty Handbook “lacks specific policies to protect academic freedom from donor influence” and directs administrators to incorporate such policies into the handbook. 

University spokesperson Karen Peart did not comment on the resolution, but pointed to the webpage of the University’s current $7 billion fundraising campaign, which states that only gifts that “do not infringe academic freedom” are accepted. 

“The University fully shares the FAS Senate’s desire to uphold academic freedom,” Peart wrote to the News. 

Professor of law and political science Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84, who was invited to speak at the meeting about the relationship between academic freedom and the First Amendment, said that Yale’s current discussions around academic freedom mirror discourse from the past.

“I urged that just as the faculty 50 years ago took a leading role in defining the first principles in the context of the disputes of that era, so too now, the faculty should play a leading role in trying to think about issues of academic freedom implicated by recent developments,” Amar said.

Amar pointed to the 1975 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale, commonly referred to as the Woodward Report. In his 2014 first-year address, Salovey lauded the report, which was authored in response to outcry over several canceled speaking engagements with controversial figures like George Wallace and William Shockley.

University lawyers, however, recently argued in Bandy Lee’s MED ’94 DIV ’95 free speech lawsuit that Yale is not contractually obligated to the report, and it is predominantly a “statement of principles.” Lee’s lawyers claim that she was fired from her faculty post at the School of Medicine because of a tweet she wrote saying Alan Dershowitz LAW ’62 and other Trump supporters have “shared psychosis.” 

Gendler told the News that academic freedom is “foundational” to the University’s mission and that Yale is “uncompromising” in its commitment to supporting such freedom. Both the Woodward Report and the faculty handbook, Peart noted, contain explicit commitments to academic freedom.

Still, in contrast to the capital campaign policies, Yale’s University-wide gift policies do not currently mention the protection of academic freedom explicitly, and do allow donors to make certain restrictions on the spending of gifts. The policies do state that gifts must not “contradict” the University’s mission. 

Several other universities have policies that contain language concerning academic freedom.

Horsley pointed specifically to George Mason University in Virginia, which was sued in 2019 for creating gift agreements that gave donors influence over faculty affairs and now has several clauses explicitly protecting academic freedoms in its policies.

Harvard’s policy guide explicitly names academic freedom as a “broad consideration” over gifting terms; the University of North Carolina requires that faculty are consulted about the effects of a gift on academic curriculum during the gift acceptance process. Stanford University’s faculty handbook contains a formal process for faculty to appeal decisions they deem violations of academic freedom. Meanwhile, Brown’s policy defines gifts as donations “for which nothing in return is promised, expected, implied or forthcoming to the donor.”

Gendler told the News she is pleased that the University has made explicit commitments to academic freedom in the recent capital campaign.

Horsley began her year-long term as FAS Senate chair in September. 

Correction, Oct. 29: This article has been updated to reflect that the Woodward Report and the faculty handbook both contain explicit references to academic freedom.

ISAAC YU
Isaac Yu was the News' managing editor. He was formerly the faculty and academics reporter, laid out the Yale Daily News Magazine and the front page of the weekly print edition, and covered transportation and urban planning in New Haven. Isaac was also the News' inaugural Audience editor, overseeing the News' Twitter, Facebook, SEO and Instagram teams. He was also the leader of the News' Asian American and low-income affinity groups. Hailing from Garland, Texas, he is a Berkeley College junior majoring in American Studies.