Robbie Short, Senior Photographer

A year after news broke about alleged pressure being exerted by wealthy donors, Yale will soon move to formally strengthen its language and policies related to gift agreement and academic freedom.

The announcement from President Peter Salovey came in response to a May report issued by the University’s gift policy committee, which made several recommendations aiming to limit future instances of donor pressure.

The committee was created in February earlier this year following months of student, faculty and alumni concerns surrounding history professor Beverly Gage’s surprise resignation from her position as director of the Brady-Johnson Grand Strategy program. The report, submitted to Salovey in late May, contained its recommendations for gift policy oversight but did not review individual donations to the University. 

“A system of checks and balances must ensure that the normal engagements between donors and the University do not come into conflict with the core institutional commitment to academic freedom,” the report reads.

The committee recommended several formal, informal and anonymous mechanisms for faculty to share concerns about the acceptance of a University gift. These include mechanisms already provided in the Faculty Handbook, such as the provost submitting a complaint to the Faculty Review Committee or an ad hoc panel of no fewer than three faculty members with expertise in the academic area to examine a gift complaint and reporting complaints anonymously through the university hotline. 

In another instance, the committee recommended language be used in gift agreements with donors limiting the role of the donor in decisions regarding their gift to the University. The report also mentioned a need for a more explicit policy surrounding academic freedom, which it says is “little” referenced in the Faculty Handbook. In general, the committee took input from formal and informal Yale procedures, as well as other universities.

In his faculty-wide announcement on Sept. 9, Salovey committed to “implementing many of the committee’s recommendations.”

“The committee’s work and your engagement with it underscore the centrality of academic freedom to our community,” Salovey wrote in his statement. “The actions being implemented in response to the committee’s recommendations ensure that practices surrounding gifts to the university … remained aligned with the institution’s unwavering commitment to free inquiry.”

Salovey explained that the University had added language to the official gift policy to clarify the principles by which gifts may be accepted, as well as plans to organize workshops by the Office of Development to assist staff and gift officers tasked with managing Yale’s gift policy. 

The memo also included the incorporation of a clause in relevant gift agreements emphasizing that faculty and staff have the authority to make all decisions regarding the use of a donor’s gift, rather than donors.

The issue of donor pressure rippled across campus after Gage alleged that donors Nicholas F. Brady ’52 and Charles B. Johnson ’54 had attempted to influence the Grand Strategy program’s curriculum and lobbied Salovey to install a group of a conservative-skewed external advisory board to review program appointees. The news garnered national attention and set off alarms among Yale’s academic circles.

Professor Julia Adams, who chaired the Gift Policy Review Committee, told the News that University donorship has long been a complex issue.

The Woodward Report, which was issued by the University in 1974, served an important role in defining the role of the University to “discover and disseminate knowledge,” Adams said. But she also added that the report was “of its time” and mainly focused on freedom of expression.

Today, the University sees a “constantly evolving landscape” of financial and other forms of gift support, Adams said. The Committee, she said, is responsible for considering the impact of gifts on “free inquiry and academic freedom.”

“We close [the report’s preamble] by saying the committee understands its charge to be to suggest ways to mitigate, if not prevent, such [donor] transactions from coming into conflict with the overarching principles under which the university functions — and that refers to all gifts, no matter how small or how large,” Adams said.

Adams also emphasized that the committee was able to do all of the above “without any additional bureaucracy or bureaucratic positions.” Instead, the committee relied on existing mechanisms in the Faculty Handbook and the clarification of existing institutional principles.

John Gaddis, a history professor and co-founder of the Brady-Johnson program in Grand Strategy, emphasized the importance of clarifying the University’s gift policy procedures and putting them in writing. He saw Salovey’s response to the committee’s report as a “good start.”

“[Salovey] seems to have taken [the committee’s] recommendations … seriously,” Gaddis said in an interview with the News. He added that, in the statement, he saw “strong support for the concept of academic freedom.”

Gaddis said that faculty independence from gifts was an issue which the Grand Strategy program struggled with. He had previously shared his concern with the News about Gage’s resignation from the program and called on the administration to reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom.

Gaddis stressed that academics are meant to “think independently” and have the authority to teach “whatever we think is relevant in our fields.”

“It matters deeply that professors and staff in universities and liberal arts colleges protect the intellectual independence of research and teaching, because that is how the best teaching and learning evolves and how academic research is achieved,” Adams told the News. 

Neither the report nor Salovey’s response was formally announced to students. Instead, Salovey’s response, published on the Office of the President’s website, included a link to the report.

“The president’s statement was put online for all members of the university community to read the moment it was sent,” University spokesperson Karen Peart told the News. Peart also mentioned that the gift policy is posted on the provost’s website and is available to all members of the Yale community. 

Adams stressed that while the report was initially only addressed to faculty and staff, “these concerns extend across all … of Yale University.”

The Grand Strategy program was founded in 2000.

Correction, Sept. 29: This article has been updated to clarify grievance processes by which gift complaints can be submitted.

WILLIAM PORAYOUW
William Porayouw covers Woodbridge Hall and previously wrote about international affairs at Yale. Originally from Southern California, he is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in political science and economics.