Tim Tai, Senior Photographer

David Millstone ’99 or Felicia Norwood LAW ’89 will soon join the ranks of the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest governing body tasked with making Yale’s most important decisions, including the selection of the institution’s next president. 

Both Millstone and Norwood appear on this year’s Alumni Fellow election ballot. However, some students are urging alumni not to vote for Millstone, citing his political donations and other personal investments.

In a post online, the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition, or EJC, is urging eligible alumni — those who have held their undergraduate degrees for at least five years or any graduate and professional alum or honorary degree holder — to cast their vote by the May 19 deadline “to block a drone investor and far-right megadonor from becoming Yale’s next trustee.” 

The backlash comes amid growing criticism of the Corporation from students and alumni over its lack of transparency, most recently with regard to the University’s investments in military weapons manufacturers.

“Students are calling for divestment from weapons and genocide, and they’re also facing limits on that in their freedom of expression so putting someone on the Corporation who is obviously tied to the weapons industry and to anti-higher education politicians like [Ron] DeSantis just wildly misses the moment,” Taran Samarth GRD ’29, an organizer with the EJC, said. “It’s also just become very clear that the [Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee] misread the room in picking Millstone as a candidate and centers the need for reinstating the petition process and expanding democracy of the Corporation, not restricting it as we’ve seen in recent years.”

In total, the Corporation boasts 19 members: Yale’s president; 10 “successor trustees” chosen by current Corporation members; six “alumni fellows” nominated by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee, or AFNC, and voted on by eligible alumni; and two ex-officio members: the governor and lieutenant governor of Connecticut. 

This year’s alumni fellow candidates

Millstone currently serves as co-CEO of Standard Industries, described on its website as a “privately-held global industrial company” which serves as the parent company to various industrial manufacturers, roofing and solar companies and which has also recently begun backing a slew of media start-ups. 

Additionally, Millstone and his wife Jeniffer Millstone ’00 are the founding donors of the Millstone Scholars program through the Tikvah Fund, which provides 7th and 8th graders “the opportunity to study the great ideas, leaders and texts of Jewish civilization,” per the organization’s annual report.

In 2022, the Millstones gave a gift to Yale’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies to launch the Millstone Fellowship, which provides financial support to rising seniors exploring careers in public service over the summer.

A member of the University Council since 2019, Millstone studied mathematics and philosophy and rowed at Yale before eventually attending Harvard Law School, where he currently serves on the Board of Advisors for the Harvard Law School Program on Corporate Governance. Along with his wife, Millstone also supports several civic organizations, including the Partnership for Public Service, the fortune Society and the Bard Prison Initiative.

Norwood has served as the executive vice president and president of government health benefits at Elevance Health — which serves over 47 million people in the United States and has the second largest Medicaid portfolio in the country — since 2018. Before joining Elevance Health, Norwood worked as the director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services from 2015 to 2018. Norwood has also worked for 19 years with Aetna, a CVS health company, in a number of capacities and most recently as the Mid America Region President.

She has also been widely recognized for her work by a number of organizations. In 2019, Black Enterprise named Norwood as one of the Most Powerful Women in Corporate America. Savoy Magazine listed her as one of the Most Influential Black Corporate Directors in 2021, as one of the Most Influential Black Leaders in Corporate America in 2022 and as one of the Most Influential Black Executives in Corporate America this year

Norwood currently serves on the committees on risk and corporate responsibility for the board at Wells Fargo. Prior to obtaining her law degree from Yale Law School, she received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in political science from Valdosta State University in 1981 and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1982, respectively. She previously served on the YLS Fund Board and the YLS Executive Committee.

Per the alumni fellow election website, alumni fellow candidates typically do not campaign and are elected “solely based on the information included in the official election materials.” A University spokesperson wrote to the News that because of this, “those involved in the election process cannot do media interviews during this time.” 

Mixed feelings on Millstone

In an Instagram post, the EJC raised concerns  over Millstone’s political donations to far-right politicians, including Ron DeSantis ’01, Nikki Haley, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton. FEC Filings show that Millstone donated $1 million to DeSantis’ Never Back Down PAC in April 2023, over $800,000 to support Haley’s presidential bid from October to December 2023, over $23,000 to support Cruz from 2022 to 2024 and over $37,000 for Cotton from March 2021 to June 2023.

The group also criticized the Millstone Scholars program at the Tikvah Fund, whose core curricular pillars include courses in “Jewish thought and history,” “Zionism and modern Israel,” “the spirit of Democracy” and “the great ideas of Western Civilization.” According to the program’s site, the programming is meant to foster the next generation of Jewish leaders “in an era of declining Jewish identity and rising anti-Semitism.” 

Lastly, the EJC scrutinized Standard Industries’ investments in three particular startup companies — ARRIS Composites, Aras and Saildrone — that focus on the production of drones and military transport vehicles. Millstone’s Standard Industries also owns GAF Energy, which is now the largest producer of solar roofing globally. 

Two of Millstone’s friends paint a different picture of the potential trustee. Elyssa Friedland ’03, a former managing editor of the News and current fellow of Grace Hopper College, said in an interview that she was “saddened” to read the way that Millstone was depicted in an op-ed submitted to the News because “it neglected so much of the unbelievable social justice work” Millstone and his wife have done.

Friedland added that while she appreciates student concern for the Corporation election, she is worried about having one group who is “cherry picking examples” sway the election. Friedland also said that the opinion piece against Millstone’s candidacy felt “one-sided and aggressive,” eschewing a characterization of the “ethical, compassionate, thoughtful, deliberate, honest, good hearted person he is.”

“The way he’s been painted couldn’t be less accurate… this is someone who has hired former inmates to work in his company because he believes in second chances,” Friedland said. “This is a very deeply compassionate person and this is someone who through business has given so much economic support to regions that have been devastated by natural disasters.”

Eric Ries ’01, the  founder of the Long-Term Stock Exchange, told the News that he believes Millstone is well-suited to handle Yale’s fiduciary duties as a trustee.

Ries, who met Millstone while they were both undergraduate students at Yale, told the News that although he understands student concerns about ideologues in today’s polarized political climate, he considers Millstone “one of the most non-ideological people.” He added that he suspects Millstone’s political donations are not representative of some “factional political view” or “tribal affiliation” but rather strategic actions on Millstone’s part.

Ries described Millstone as “well-connected” and “intellectually curious.”

“He has a tremendous love for Yale and the project of liberal arts education in general, so it seemed very natural to me that he would be a candidate for this kind of position,” Ries said. “Having a wide range of views and understanding the separate responsibilities that come with governance… that’s what you want in a trustee and so, from that lens, I would have zero qualms about David playing that role.”

From 2021 to 2023, Millstone has also donated at least $24,000 to Democratic candidates. At Yale, the Millstone Fellowship’s inaugural class funded the experiences of seven students, four of whom have previous experience working for Congressional democrats, one student who served as a legislative captain for the Yale College Democrats and another who served as president of the Yale Undergraduate Prison Project.

Still, students worry about his ties to far-right politicians and the military-industrial complex. Samarth told the News that the criticism stems not from concern about the Corporation being apolitical but from a fear that it is “extremely political and selecting Millstone is aligned with that.”

Mounting criticism of the Corporation

In recent weeks, Yale’s campus has been rocked by unprecedented demonstrations targeting the Corporation’s secrecy and demanding that they disclose and divest from military weapons manufacturers. However, the Board of Trustees, as the Corporation is also known, has faced criticism from students and alumni for its lack of transparency prior to these protests as well. 

Over 2,000 students, almost 90 percent of participants, in a Yale College Council referendum that ran from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3 last year voted in support of more democratic Yale Corporation trustee elections. 

In February, a Hartford district court ruled that the University can regulate its trustee alumni appointments, settling a lawsuit brought forth by two alumni —Victor Ashe ’67 and Donald Glascoff ’67 — in March 2022 after the Corporation scrapped the petition process in May 2021 that alumni had been able to use to obtain a spot on the alumni fellow ballot since 1929. Ashe has since appealed the decision.

“We are prepared to continue the effort to restore democracy to the corporation election process,” Ashe wrote to the News. “The current situation is a mockery of a true election.”

Then-senior trustee Catharine Bond Hill GRD ’85 wrote in a statement announcing the Corporation’s decision to remove the petition process as a means of eliminating “issues-based candidacies” and preventing a new normal that involved “vying groups with organized support competing to focus Yale on their chosen goals.”

“At the heart of the matter is the vital distinction between an elected representative of a cause or movement and a person elected without any agenda other than to bring independent judgment to the varied and complex issues facing the university,” Hill’s statement read.

Now, the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee nominates between two and five candidates each year for alumni to vote on. The AFNC is a standing committee of the Yale Alumni Association and is composed of alumni from across Yale’s schools and departments, Secretary and Vice President for University Life Kimberly Goff-Crews ’83 LAW ’86 and Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development Joan O’Neil.

The AFNC also includes a current Corporation member, a spot that is this year filled by successor trustee Marta Tellado GRD ’02, drawing the ire of some alumni like the climate activist organization Yale Forward co-founder Scott Gigante GRD ’21.

Gigante told the News that he was not aware about the criticism that the EJC highlighted prior to viewing their post, which he says surprised him as an alum active in matters dealing with the Corporation. Like Samarth, Gigante also said that, contrary to the message conveyed by Hill in 2021 when announcing the end of the petition process, the current situation “brings to light the fact that you don’t really come to the Corporation without an agenda.”

“In this case, we have a candidate who has been proposed by the AFNC who has very much put his money where his mouth is in terms of his agenda, it’s out there for the world to see what direction he would prefer society to move in,” Gigante said. “Governor DeSantis has very strong positions on higher education, and it wouldn’t be such a leap to assume that such a major donor to DeSantis’s campaign could share similar positions on those issues.”

Departing trustees

Whoever wins the alumni fellow election will succeed Michael Warren ’90, who was elected as an alumni fellow in 2018. The Corporation is also set to decide on a successor for Hill, who will conclude 11 years of service as a trustee. Hill was elected as an alumni fellow in 2013 but was subsequently named a successor trustee in 2018, serving as senior trustee from then until 2021. 

Yale spokesperson Karen Peart wrote to the News that information about potential trustees is confidential and that the timing and announcement of new successor trustees is at the discretion of the Corporation. 

Warren and Hill are two of eight trustees on Yale’s 12-person Presidential Search Committee, whose last public update on the search was made on Jan. 29. University President Peter Salovey is set to step down from his role on June 30. Apart from selecting Yale’s presidents, trustees also engage in other fiduciary duties that include ruling on matters involving administrative appointments, the conferral of degrees, major building projects and budget oversight.

They have also been active in responding to the heated campus environment over the past several weeks, per an interview with Salovey earlier this month. Salovey added that although trustees’ role does not involve “management” tasks, the University has been “communicating on a regular basis” about the campus protests to obtain “informal input and advice,” which, he said, Yale typically does on “nearly any serious issue.”

“The best way to understand trustees is that their role is in governance, their role is big picture strategy, their role is risk reduction, but their role is not management,” Salovey told the News. “And I think a lot of what to do in a protest situation are management tasks; however, trustees are a very smart group and any number of them have relevant experiences: they’ve worked as campus leaders, they’ve worked as the leader of a complex organization, they have a legal background and soliciting their input is always a good idea.”

Per Yale’s by-laws, Corporation meetings are opened with prayer and occur at least five times a year; their last meeting this year is scheduled for June 8.

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.