This is a picture of a key describing the background of Yale Trustee Members in the mid 1900s. It lists their occupation, societies, and other information about their background.

Yale is a small, but a densely packed word. 

Yale mandated an additional vaccine for this semester. Yale is a cliquey place. Yale is reforming the housing process. And so on. But who is “Yale?”

Yale University is a giant umbrella that holds a panacea of compartmentalized issues. And we intuitively are aware of this dynamic — if someone complains about anything from the housing draw to Yale Hospitality, everyone would tell them how absurd they are. But for the largest and farthest-reaching of operations, should we not all be informed on how it functions in practice? 

The institution of Yale predates the United States, and the operation of the Yale Corporation is ingrained in the Connecticut Charter. The Board of Trustees has had to approve and manage university-wide decisions throughout Yale’s centuries-old existence. Whether it is the original approval of the construction of the Afro-American Cultural Center at Yale in 1969 or its stewardship of the $41.4 billion endowment, the Board’s decisions are what ultimately determine the end results. 

Discussing the decisions of Yale administration without the Board is akin to trying to explain the Pope without the College of Cardinals. But similarly to the Papal Enclave, we are left peering at the smoke, trying to pry into the Board’s leanings. For at least a generation, whatever the Board deliberates on is shielded from the public view. That means anything decided in 2023 is sealed until 2073 — 50 years later. 

I have looked and gone through the archives of the Board from the most recent records available, that is from the late 1960s, to try to gain more information about the body that has the final say over Yale. Most of the records are filled with non-dramatic records: professor salaries, insurance purchases, building permits and so on. However, I found that the Board made critical decisions about the future of Yale, such as the debates they had during President Brewster’s term regarding the decision to construct the African American cultural center. In a contested and tumultuous period, both at Yale and in the U.S. more broadly, the Board asserted what direction the institution of Yale would go. This decision, and their other choices, are what loom over us today.

But for the current day, we are left with a much blanker picture. The Board of Trustees is not a secret cabal in a smoke-filled room that dictates life at Yale from above. Most of the time it concerns itself with approving the budget the Provost assigns, and they claim to focus on ensuring every generation at Yale can access the same resources as before. However, the secrecy of the records undermines this mission. 

The half-century of enforced secrecy gives the impression of decisions that came down from on high instead of the result of deliberation between experienced members of the Yale community. 

It would help the Board make more informed decisions if students, faculty and staff were aware about the discussions the Board is conducting. Currently, the Board meets five times a year and does not disclose the docket or the location. Other universities, such as the University of California system, manage more students and faculty than Yale, and they have public and accessible meetings. 

This week, the Yale College Council is holding a referendum on democratizing the Board of Trustees. Different student groups, such as the Endowment Justice Coalition, have campaigned for this democratization to address the current investments of the Yale Corporation. Time will tell about the impacts of this vote, which for the first time will pose the question of the Board to the undergraduate community at large. 

As for me, I have a more basic question: What is going on up there?

EZANA TEDLA is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College, who can be reached at