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Yale 62

Surprise Developments and Protest in Alumni Election Process

By Roman Weil

empty board room

[Ed. note: Yale appears to believe the alumni have little interest in this topic. What do you think? Tell us in the comments area, below.)

Since I last wrote, the Petition Process for the election of the Alumni Board seat has exploded. Yale, to the surprise of many, including me, has eliminated the long-standing ability of alums to petition to get onto the ballot to become a Board member.

Yale may hope it has put the matter to rest, but likely it has released, as one alum put it, a “poop storm.” One of the 2021 Petition Candidates, Ambassador Victor Ashe, suggests he will ask the Connecticut legislature to overturn this action. The proudly conservative National Review published his detailed, vitriolic piece describing Yale’s actions and his reactions.

The Buckley Program at Yale, which had supported Ashe’s candidacy and already proposed a 2022 candidate, issued a blistering criticism of Yale’s change, with language saying, “This craven abandonment of light and truth is a disgrace.” Its announcement [hyperlink here to Buckley/Noble letter, which I’ve sent separately] implies that Yale did not follow the regulations of the State of Connecticut in ramming the change through at the last minute.

Alumni voting for the 2021 election ended May 23 Yale’s announcement came an hour after President Salovey notified Ambassador Ashe that he had lost the election to Yale’s chosen candidate, David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College, by a 64:36 voter margin. The election had a voter turnout of 15.5%, larger than 2020’s turnout of under 14%, but still small, which suggests alums’ indifference to the election. Several colleagues and I took over-and-under positions on the election turnout. We all overestimated turnout — all. I think Yale encourages this indifference by refusing to let its candidates be interviewed and otherwise speak their positions on University policies. (Yale contends candidates shouldn’t have positions until they’ve been inside the boardroom and learned the subtleties of the issues. I respond: then let the candidates say, “I have no position on that issue, yet.” I’d like to know how candidates respond to questions about issues such as free speech on campus.)

Yale Forward, which also had sponsored a Petition Candidate for the 2021 ballot, also immediately circulated a petition to protest to Yale’s action. Yale Forward is an environmental/climate change activist organization. Their candidate, Maggie Thomas, withdrew when she was appointed Chief of Staff for Domestic Climate Change Policy by the Biden Administration. Like the Buckley Foundation, they, too had filed a candidate name for the 2022 Election.

Perhaps most interesting, a third candidate also had filed as an Independent for the 2022 election. He is Adam Lipka’78 who said he had decided to run as a loyal Yale Alumnus because of what he had learned from following and supporting Ashe’s campaign. He wrote a guest column in the May 31 Yale Daily News, which opened, “Imagine an election where only incumbents or their hand-picked designates can run, where every candidate is gagged, where all legitimate policy debate is off-limits. Absurd? Yes. Yet that is what Yale’s trustees announced this week”

Yale’s senior Board member, Catharine Bond Hill, former president of Vassar, explained to alums that the Board, in eliminating the petition process, worried that it would result in successful single-issue candidates disrupting the Board. (As an alum, you received this letter.)

Hokum in my opinion. The Yale Daily News ran a story with letters from alums, including one from our classmate Larry Prince, who described Yale’s new procedures as “the techniques of theocracies and dictatorships….”

In a time in our country where political polarization is to be found almost everywhere, Yale may have found a way to bring together proud conservatives and liberals to oppose an effort to guarantee the present closed and secret deliberations of the Board of Trustees. Under present regulations, minutes of meetings are not released for 50 years. That was opposed by all recent independent Petitioners, none of whose campaigns will. be permitted to proceed.

Stay tuned.

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We welcome your comments below.

10 comments to Alumni Seat Election

  • Charles E. Valier

    Good article Roman. Why Yale is concerned by political diversity exposes the very weakness of the present board. Democracy is a messy business, but it works better than the oligarchy we are presented with. The low voter turnout surprised me. As one who had to stand for election many times and who had to publicly defend a tax increase for the establishment of a cultural district in St. Louis and emergency response for public safety I understand how the rigors and vicissitudes of the election process strengthen our society.
    Charlie Valier

  • Harry Ward

    Here is what I wrote to President Salovey on May 24.

    “Today I received an email from Board of Trustees member Catharine Bond Hill, announcing that effectively immediately the Board will no longer accept petition candidates for the Board. The Board must be afraid to hear alumni input, because Ms. Hill did not allow any direct reply to her email. One has to go to the Board website to reply.

    Below are the comments that I wrote in my reply:

    “What the hell are the members of the Board of Trustees thinking?
    You should be encouraging applicants, not restricting them.
    This is Yale University, not Tammany Hall.
    Maybe the Trustees never bothered to translate ‘Lux et Veritas’. In English, that is ‘Light and Truth’, not ‘Restrict and Squelch’.
    What a pitiful display of arrogance.
    You don’t even have the decency to allow someone to respond directly to the email you sent us. One has to do a Google search to find a way to communicate. And then it is only via your website.
    Every Board member who supported this change should resign.

    Harry Ward ’62E
    Toledo, OH” “

  • Mestre A. Alberto, '62

    What Yale has done to abruptly cancel the election procedure where Victor Ashe was a candidate to eventually try to obtain a seat at the Yale Corporation was a disgrace and a terrible act of disdain toward all of us,Yale Alumnae.
    It clearly shows to me that Yale has become a place of intolerance where biased teachers and administrators think own all truths and cannot tolerate dissent. Far from being a place that promotes discussion and free speech. it has become biased and much too radical, tyrannical and woke for my taste.

  • Surely, this was a clever plot by the trustees to stimulate interest in an election that, according to the scant percentage of alumni votes, has long failed to excite us.

  • Lee Bolman

    Roman may be right that this could unite conservatives with liberals. I rarely agree with the National Review, and I voted for Dave Thomas (long-time colleague) rather than the petition candidate. But eliminating the petition option mirrors the retrograde thinking of authoritarians around the world: “the world will be wonderful so long as we stay in charge and keep out dangerous ideas and people”. I like Gary’s “clever plot” hypothesis, but this move doesn’t look that subtle (witness Katherine Bond Hill’s Orwellian suggestion that eliminating petition candidates is a way to keep trustees open to different ideas and views). Anent our latest coffee hour topic, it also seems tone deaf at a time when legislatures around the US are passing laws to try to make it harder for certain groups to vote.

  • Jim Wechsler

    A simple way to change the Board’s collective mind (a possibly imaginary entity) would be to start a petition to have alumni withhold contributions to the University until the policy is reversed. This would, of course, denigrate both all of us and our diction by showing that, although the Board does not understand fair and thoughtful comment from alumni, it does understand when money talks.

  • William Stork

    Great update, Roman! And Jim — some petitions are already underway! This just received from the Yale Club of Singapore:
    Open Letter (and Ongoing Petition) to the Yale Corporation
    FYI, in case you didn’t receive the recent email from Gail Lavielle ’81 MA ( –

    “Members of the Yale Corporation,

    We write to object vigorously to your decision to abolish the petition process for the Alumni Fellow Election. Yale’s charter grants alumni the ability to elect one trustee each year. Your decision has turned that election into one where ballot access is exclusively controlled by only 13 of the 160,405 total qualified alumni electors and that permits candidates to communicate no information about themselves, other than a brief biographical sketch. Such an election is not an election. It is a travesty that makes a mockery of lux et veritas.

    Your statement justifying your decision theorizes that petition candidates would be “challenged to do the work of a fiduciary” but fails to acknowledge the reality that at least one current member of the Corporation has millions of dollars in conflicts of interest. According to tax filings, between July 2016 and June 2019, the investment firm of one trustee collected $42,895,985 from Yale. Your concerns about petition candidates’ inability to exercise independent judgment appear to be misplaced…”

    There is also another similar and ongoing petition:

  • Ken Luke

    The only way we have to make our discontent clear to the University is to withhold our financial support. I (a former Nathan Hale associate) am now doing so.

  • Following up on concerns about the undemocratic behavior of the Yale board of trustees as well as our recent 6Y2 coffee-hour conversation about voter suppression, is anyone else taken aback that only one Yale professor signed on to the June 1 letter of concern about the threats to American democracy signed by 100 academics, while 11 Stanford and 11 Harvard professors signed on?

  • Charles E. Valier

    Dear Ms. Hill,

    Your letter of May 24, 2021, came as a shock to me. I found it frightening that you and the board could meet in camera, determine what, only you think is in the interest of Yale, and announce it as an fait accompli. It is the sheer arrogance of your action that astounds me. Having served in elected and appointed office for a good portion of my life the underpinning thought behind your decision is fatally flawed. Transparency is what creates confidence in governmental actions, not secrecy. The current system for nominating and electing representatives of alumni was already embarrassingly one sided, so to dispense with any semblance of democracy, simply highlights your disdain for debate and discussion, the basic elements of democracy that are critical to a continuation of our republic. More importantly, your action acknowledges the weakness of what you have done, otherwise you would have acted in an open and deliberate fashion.

    You state that the decision was driven by “issue-based candidacies,” and that such candidacies are anathema to the fiduciary duty owed by a trustee, but then offer no proof, nor examples of how such a state of affairs undermines one’s fiduciary duty. The strange thing is that a recently nominated candidate, who espoused transparency, was easily defeated by the establishment candidate. Apparently, transparency does not meet one’s fiduciary duty? That is patently absurd. Transparency fosters and enhances the mission of Yale.

    You state that the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee’s “inclusive process” is the only way to nominate candidates for the alumni to vote on, yet Yale’s history is that the process lacked any real legitimacy and those nominated were forced to remain silent, gagged during the election process, so that alumni were left with only a resumé to ponder before voting. The process was so stifling that Yale alumni fled the process in droves, refusing to vote. Alumni participation has been less than 15%, a sure sign of its weakness. I stopped voting for trustees a decade ago when it became clear that the scheme presented only a thin veneer of representative democracy. So now we have a hand-picked board of trustees, subservient to the president and his supporters. The lack of alumni participation is proof that the system you wish to revert to, lacks any support. It was an alumnus of Harvard, John Quincy Adams, while serving in Congress in the 1830’s, after being censured, successfully fought the “Gag Rule” imposed by southern representatives wishing to prevent debate on petitions for freedom of slaves. He clearly understood the threat to democracy. Courage seems to have vanished among the Yale trustees.

    Further, you state that “Activism is the lifeblood of Yale,” but turn your back on the very activism that engendered a modicum of active alumni participation in recent years. Why would you insult us in this manner? Best practices demands that any election process be inclusive, not exclusive. The only persons that have failed their fiduciary duty to Yale are you and the current trustees.

    The Yale trustees should immediately reverse course, listen to its alumni, and make the election process more inclusive, but then that would demand that you resign, a quality of humility that you appear, from the tone of your letter, to lack. You have brought shame on a great university. As the song goes: “damned from here to eternity.” Please be assured that I no longer support it.

    Famed Missouri genre painter, George Caleb Bingham, painting his epic scene of voters thronging to express their political views in 1852, The County Election, announced in a banner leaning against the courthouse porch, “The Will of the People is the Supreme Law,” the artist’s play on Missouri’s motto, Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto. You might ponder the deeper meaning that Bingham was imparting. The election he painted had voter turnout of over 80% of the eligible voters!


    Charles E. Valier ‘62