The recent Yale College Council referendum has raised the quintessential question of who has the right to have a voice in deciding the direction of Yale’s future. The Editorial Board concurs that, as stated in the YCC’s Feb. 6 letter to the Board of Trustees, “the connection between [the Board] and members of the Yale community has dissolved.”
The Editorial Board is calling upon Yale Corporation to bring back the petitioning process for alumni interested in running for a position on the Board of Trustees of Yale Corporation. On top of that, we believe that students should be allowed to participate in the petitioning process by being able to support the efforts of alumni to be on the ballot for the Board of Trustees. In this way students will be able to influence whose issues are discussed on Yale Corporation’s Board of Trustees. That said, promises are often forgotten without ways to hold elected officials accountable.
In order to increase accountability for these elected board members, who serve six-year terms, the Editorial board is calling on the Yale Corporation to release meeting minutes after three years in order for stakeholders such as students and alumni to be able to hold them accountable for their campaign promises. Increased transparency could then be capitalized on by allowing for increased contact between the YCC, the student body and the Yale Corporation Board of Trustees.
It is only with increased enfranchisement, transparency and accessibility that we will be able to ensure that the Yale Corporation holds true to Yale’s mission and works towards the improvement of the “world today and for future generations”.
A feasible solution to the questions raised by the YCC’s referendum would be to allow both current students and alumni to be involved in the Corporation’s nomination process. This can be accomplished by reinstating the petitioning process for the six elected alumni on the Board of Trustees and allowing students to participate by supporting candidates for the Board.
The ability for students to both nominate potential Board members as well as sign petitions for running members would address the issue of the lack of student representation. This way, current students could have a direct impact on Yale Corporation’s ballot. Having an active stake in who is able to run for trustee positions would allow students to highlight the issues they want covered.
The main concern the Yale Corporation had about the petitioning process was that it would be dominated by “petitioners who are materially supported by organizations that seek to advance specific platforms.” The board argues that trustees “have a duty of loyalty to the institution, which precludes them from placing their own interests or those of outside groups above those of the organization.” We agree that pre-commitment to a particular campaign platform would create a conflict in this regard, but we believe the board’s solution — banning petition candidacy outright — stifles the voices of Yale graduates to choose their own candidates, which they have been doing since 1872.
If the Board is concerned with conflicts of interest Yale Corporation could revise its Miscellaneous Regulations to ban candidates from receiving campaign funding from outside sources and to submit a sworn statement that they have not made any campaign promises to constituents that would conflict with their fiduciary responsibilities and, if elected, pledge to serve on the Yale Corporation with an open mind.
The Editorial Board also recommends that the Yale Corporation revise its standard for the release of its minutes.
As it stands, the Yale Corporation releases its minutes 50 years after their creation, decades after the trustees have left their roles and well after the timeframe in which they can be held accountable for their decisions. This leaves the trustees in a position of incredibly unchecked power — each member of the Corporation can make decisions that affect the lives of future and current Yale students, faculty and staff without having to worry about being challenged or criticized for their choices during their term.
Moreso, by virtue of the Yale Corporation’s ability to direct the investment of Yale’s $42 billion endowment, the Corporation has the power to influence global environmental, financial and political institutions. Given any and all of the Corporation’s actions should be in the interest of Yale University and its mission, none of its choices — no matter how wide-reaching — should warrant secrecy. Further, none of the Corporation’s decisions should be free from scrutiny. The Corporation wields considerable power over Yale’s image, investments and function in society, and no deal of power that great should be allowed to be exercised without a degree of oversight in the form of public opinion.
Understanding the importance of transparency, the Editorial Board recommends that the meeting minutes of the Yale Corporation be published three years after their creation. This puts the publishing date halfway through a trustee’s term, allowing said trustee to be held responsible for relevant statements, votes, decisions or actions while still serving on the Corporation. While one might argue that the introduction of public opinion may sway trustees’ ability to do what is best for the University, the argument must also be made that a lack of accountability allows trustees to go unscathed and unchecked if they make decisions that are not in the best interest or in line with the majority beliefs of the individuals who make up the University.
In accordance with increased transparency there needs to be a forum for students to express their concerns to the Board of Trustees. With that in mind, the Editorial Board calls for the Yale Corporation trustees to hold one meeting with YCC leadership and one public town hall open to all students for every Yale Corporation meeting that occurs during the academic year.
There is a fundamental disconnect in the discrepancy between the corporation website’s statement that “trustees meet regularly with members of student government” and the Yale College Council’s long-standing allotment of a single, hour-long annual meeting between the student body president and trustees. A one-hour annual meeting with YCC leadership cannot capture all of the undergraduate student body’s concerns. Students deserve accessible public forums where they can express their opinions on the business the Yale Corporation is considering in that meeting.
As it currently stands, members of the Yale community are given three options to contact the trustees: send a written letter to a P.O. Box, submit a message on the corporation’s website or submit a form to request an in-person meeting. According to its webpage, all messages sent in through the first form are read by the senior trustee and made available to all trustees, but there is minimal assurance, nor any written protocol in the corporation’s bylaws and regulations, that any external input provided is carefully considered by all trustees. Public forums like these would hold them accountable to listening to student input. The Editorial Board believes that this increased contact with students would be incredibly beneficial for students and Corporation members alike, encouraging more dialogue and understanding between the parties.
Additionally, we call for meeting agendas to be published and made accessible to students before every meeting. This is quintessential to the success of the public forums because it will allow students to directly speak on relevant decisions the Board plans to make.
We believe that publicizing the Board’s agenda prior to each meeting is critical to ensuring that Yale Corporation’s stakeholders — students, faculty and professors included — are appropriately granted opportunities to voice perspectives on the issues at the table. It is a simple, undemanding ask that binds the Board of Trustees only to the reception of input, not to any undue obligation to adhere to the demands of a constituency.
When meeting agendas are withheld, students are limited in knowing which type of suggestions/concerns are relevant when communicating with the board. This would streamline student engagement efficiently and guarantee that all stakeholders are engaged in the issues being discussed. We believe that more regular, robust and transparent lines of communication between the Yale Corporation and the broader community are imperative to supporting the stewardship of the University.
As it currently stands the Yale Corporation has minimal connections with students and is unable to be transparent in their actions because of the disconnect between them and the Yale Community.
From academic freedom to how Yale’s $42 billion dollar endowment is spent, the governance of Yale Corporation is profoundly impactful beyond the University community itself. The Editorial Board believes that the Yale Corporation can improve upon fulfilling their obligation to their stakeholders by returning the right to petition to alumni and involve students in the nomination process, release their meeting minutes after three years to increase accountability and hold regular meetings with YCC leadership as well as public town halls for each of their Board meetings. If Yale is truly “For Humanity,” then Yale Corporation must listen to students and alumni in order to champion the Yale name towards a better world, for today and future generations.