Marisa Peryer, Senior Photographer

University President Peter Salovey announced on Aug. 31 that he intends to step down this summer. 

Salovey wrote that Joshua Bekenstein ’80, senior trustee of the Yale Corporation, would be leading the search committee for his successor. The Corporation, which Bekenstein leads, is the University’s board of trustees and highest governing body.

The historic relationship between the University’s president and board of trustees shapes the course and outcome of the presidential search and selection process, which is already well underway.

“The decision of hiring a new president is one of the most important things that trustees do,” Bekenstein told the News. “We are anxious and excited to hear from the students, the faculty and the rest of the Yale community about their thinking to help us with this very important decision.”

In his Aug. 31 email to the Yale community, Bekenstein underscored the value of student feedback to the presidential search committee, which includes no students; the committee is composed of eight trustees and four faculty members.

The Corporation was originally established in the Connecticut state charter, adopted in 1701, which laid out the state’s goal “to erect a Collegiate School” and instituted the Corporation as that school’s leading body. At the time, the Corporation was only described as a body having no more than 11 and no fewer than seven members, who were assigned to “furnish, direct, manage, order, improve and encourage” the school.

The Corporation includes the president of the University, who acts as chair, and 16 alumni, of which 10 are “successor trustees” appointed by the current board and six are “alumni fellows” nominated by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee and voted on by eligible Yale alumni. Additionally, the governor and lieutenant governor of Connecticut are board members ex officio. 

According to the board of trustees’ website, the trustee members act as fiduciaries that rule on matters including administrative appointments, the conferral of degrees, major building projects and budget oversight — all in an effort to “protect what makes Yale unique and excellent.” 

Who’s on the presidential search committee?

Bekenstein will lead the presidential search committee, with trustees Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85 and William Kennard LAW ’81 serving as vice chairs. The committee will also include five other trustees — Ann Miura-Ko ’98, Joshua Steiner ’87, David Sze ’88, Marta Tellado GRD ’02 and Michael Warren ’90 — and four faculty members who have not yet been named. 

Bekenstein told the News that although the eight trustee members on the committee will be working “extra hard and spending even more time” in the search for Salovey’s successor, all 16 trustees will be actively involved in the choice of the next president.

Bekenstein, former co-chairman and current senior advisor at Bain Capital, an alternative asset management firm, was named a successor trustee in 2013 and senior trustee in 2021.

Hill, the current managing director of the not-for-profit higher education strategy consulting organization Ithaka S+R, served as senior trustee from 2018 to 2021 and was elected as an alumni fellow in 2013 and named successor trustee in 2018. 

Kennard was named a successor trustee in 2014; he is the co-founding partner of the private equity firm Astra Capital Management and former U.S. ambassador to the European Union. 

Warren and Miura-Ko were elected as alumni fellows in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Warren is co-founder and managing director of the business strategy firm Albright Stonebridge Group; Miura-Ko is co-founding partner at the venture capital firm Floodgate.

Steiner, who is senior adviser at Bloomberg L.P. and partner at the private investment firm SSW, and Sze, managing partner at the venture capital firm Greylock Partners, were both appointed as successor trustees in 2018. Tellado is chief executive officer of the nonprofit consumer organization Consumer Reports and was elected as a successor trustee in 2022.

Concerns mount around Corporation membership

The Corporation’s process for selecting its members — those involved now in the search for a new president — has been a point of tension among students and alumni in recent years, particularly the selection for Alumni Fellows. 

In May 2021, The Yale Corporation scrapped the Alumni Fellows petition process, which allowed alumni who obtained a certain number of signatures from other alumni ont0 the ballot for election to the Board. Now, alumni fellows are instead nominated by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee, which includes several officers of the Yale Alumni Association, three University officials and one successor trustee from the Corporation. 

With the removal of the petition process, all trustees — even alumni fellows — require official nomination. 

Scott Gigante GRD ’23, co-founder of the climate activist organization Yale Forward, said that because a majority of the Corporation’s members are individuals who were appointed by former members as their successors, it is not “entirely surprising” that the board makes decisions “that fly in the face of the interests of the alumni community.” 

“While the board doesn’t have a controlling vote on who gets nominated for the alumni fellows, they certainly have a voice in the room, which I think undermines the independence of that committee,” he said.

Victor Ashe ’67, former U.S. ambassador to Poland and mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Maggie Thomas ENV ’15, whose petition was supported by Yale Forward, were two of the first successful petition candidates since 2003. 

Thomas, current Chief of Staff of the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy and former climate policy advisor for the presidential campaigns of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, centered her petition to the Board of Trustees on addressing the climate crisis. 

However, after being tapped for her current role at the White House, she withdrew her name from the Yale Corporation ballot, leaving Ashe as the sole petition candidate that year. Ashe ultimately lost the 2021 election to University-nominated candidate David Thomas ’78, who is a current alumni fellow.

Following the Corporation’s decision to repeal the petition process for getting on the ballot, Ashe and Donald Glascoff Jr. ’67 sued the University for breach of contract. Ashe believes that the change violated the Corporation’s own charter and the laws of Connecticut. He also claims that the Corporation repealed the petition process largely because it sought to prevent independent candidates from “raising issues that they didn’t like.”

The removal of the petition process has also raised concern among students. 

In a Yale College Council referendum that ran from Jan. 30 to Feb 3, over 2,000 students — representing 90 percent of participants — voted in support of democratizing the Yale Corporation. 

Students call for a seat at the table

The YCC, in addition to the petition process, has also raised questions about the Corporation’s power over selecting the next University president.

At a Sept. 1 senate meeting, the YCC passed a resolution regarding student representation on the search committee for Salovey’s successor. In the resolution, the YCC, along with the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, elected to “condemn” the decision of the Yale Corp to exclude formal student participation in the presidential search committee.

Yale College Council president Julian Suh-Toma ’25 told the News that although students have been encouraged to suggest faculty nominations for the presidential search committee and provide confidential feedback at any time during the process, there is some concern that there will not be “super high engagement” with these tools.

Suh-Toma said that last year’s student movements to make the board of trustees more transparent and the Corporation more democratic were motivated by widespread perception that “really, really important university decisions” are being made without “any sort of student perspective that feels substantial.”

Bekenstein told the news that students will be directly involved in the search process but did not specifically mention other methods of involvement beyond the confidential feedback form.

“Input from students is going to be one of the critical factors in thinking about the next president,” he told the News. 

Bekenstein added that he hopes students will be excited to give great input and great advice that will be an “important part of the process.”

Ashe, whose 2021 campaign to join the board of trustees centered heavily on greater transparency within the Corporation, agrees with students.

“This whole process that they’ve outlined appears to be window dressing,” Ashe said. “This is the same board that won’t release its meeting minutes for half a century…”

In Bekenstein’s Aug. 31 email to the University community, which came after Salovey’s announcement of his intent to step down, the senior trustee noted that the trustees “expect” to host a listening session with community members by the end of September to provide input on the presidential search process. 

He also told the News that designing new ways to seek input from the wider University community is the first agenda item that the committee will consider, and the Corporation will be receiving input from students, faculty and alumni and use their input to “develop the characteristics” to select the next University president. 

“It is of the utmost importance that we actively seek input from the Yale community, and the trustees are fully committed to engaging with students, faculty, staff, and alumni, ” he wrote in the email. “The search committee will move swiftly to create additional methods for all stakeholders in the Yale community to provide input throughout the process.”

The Corporation convenes five times during the year, and its first meeting is set to occur on Sept. 30. Meeting minutes will not be publicly available until 2073.

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.