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Biden Action Impacts Yale Alumni Election

By Roman Weil

Maggie ThomasSince I last wrote that two different, but determined, Yale alums have surprised Yale by quali­fying for the ballot in April to oppose the University’s chosen nominee(s) for the one open posi­tion annually to serve a six-year term on the Board of Trustees, two things have happened worthy of note.

  • President Biden has selected one nominee, Maggie Thomas, for Chief of Staff of the White House Office of Climate Policy, clearing the way for the other, Victor Ashe, to fight Yale’s hand-picked candidate(s) for the Corporation. White House ethics rules require that she withdraw.
  • Yale, Victor tells me, says it will not release the name of its candidate(s) until two days before voting begins in April.

Victor AsheIf Yale continues its past practices, it will forbid the chosen candidate(s) to speak about their posi­tions on any matter affecting Yale, including whether they support Yale’s opacity on Corpo­ra­tion election matters.  Victor describes Yale’s “outdated secretive process” on candidacy and Corporate matters on his website.  His platform proposes that he fight for transparency in Corpo­rate matters.

The head of the nominating committee that chooses the official candidates to run for the Corpora­tion told me that a main reason for forbidding discussion by the candidates involves campaign­ing.   The committee doesn’t want a candidate’s lack of personal wealth and inability to fund a campaign to discourage the candidate’s running.  This does not explain why Yale’s candi­dates cannot talk with the Yale Daily News or appear in Zoom forums sponsored by alumni clubs around the country.  Maggie and Victor appeared at half a dozen forums of which I’m aware.  Yale’s nominees have all, so far as I can tell, led outstanding lives, but remain ciphers with respect to controversy at Yale.

Wager.  In the past, Yale has nominated at least two candidates for the Corporation, some­times three.  This year those official candidate(s) will face Ashe, a formidable non-official outsider, who served as ambassador for W. Bush, then Obama, and as a long-time Republican mayor of Knoxville.   As of the week I write this, his only potential opponent in the fight-Yale-secrecy bat­tle has gone to the White House.  If Yale charged me with plot­ting its strategy, I would get nervous and put forward only one official candidate, so that alums wanting to follow the official Yale line wouldn’t split their votes among two or more official candidates.   I’ll bet you $.25 that Yale puts up only one candidate this year.  Betting Window closes on March 1.

I asked the executive director of YaleForward, Scott Gigante, who worked to get Maggie Thomas’s name onto the ballot, what plans his organization has now. He responded that YaleForward would again try to elect an independent, environmentalist candidate to the Board on the 2022 ballot. Yale Forward’s effort is essentially a one-issue campaign focused on recognizing Yale for its Climate Change efforts but arguing the University should do more. I did not receive an answer to my inquiry whether the organization will ask Maggie’s supporters to sup­port Victor, who shares some of Maggie’s platform, but not its priorities on this year’s election. All of this may become clearer when Yale announces its candidate(s).


We welcome your comments below.

4 comments to Biden Action Impacts Yale Election

  • Philip Moriarty

    Thank you, Roman for keeping us informed.

    I read Victor Ashe’s statement which was most gracious.

    Stay tuned.


  • Charlie Valier

    You have shown yourself to be adept at analyzing political situations. It seems to be me that the central issue is the closed corporation policy of nominating members of the Corporation. Layered on that is the gag rule that is applied to candidates. As a result, I stopped voting in the elections. I find the gag rule particularly disturbing. Prior to the Civil War the slave states imposed a gag rule on debating petitions for freedom in Congress. John Quincy Adams, then a member of the House, bitterly opposed the rule and eventually succeeded, but not before he was censored by the House. We are faced with the same thing with Yale. As to inhibiting the nomination of candidates by requiring a large number of signatures, it is of the same part. Central control of the process creates a board that is too cloistered and unwilling to dissent. Transparency will only increase confidence in the system.

  • Willis Boothe Boyer (Bill)

    Delighted to read your piece, Roman, as I was unable to get mine accepted last fall by the Solons who run our website. I am a strong supporter of Victor’s for the simple reasons that:
    a) he is as well-qualified as any of the others, perhaps more-so.
    b) He is not a one-issue candidate, lie Maggie.
    c) He seeks to establish greater transparency on the board – – greatly needed, but difficult.
    d) He MIGHT be open to ridding Yale of Salovey and his ilk to move away from Yale’s recent silly policies of divisiveness, identity politics, group intellectual fragility and the like.

    Yale’s stiff-necked corporate opacity must be broken and Victor seems like our current best chance to do it. His election will be interesting and his seating on the Board even more so. Can he break the 50-year silence rule? Stay tuned.

  • George J. Grumbach, Jr.

    I attended Victor Ashe’s zoom town hall on March 1. I was favorably impressed. For me the secret and archaic procedures for electing alumni trustees of the Yale Corporation, which smack of self-perpetuation and voter suppression, were reason enough to vote for Ashe to send a message to the Yale Corporation to reform these procedures. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear Ashe and his responses to questions at the webinar. I am confident that, if elected, he will do Yale good. If interested, I suggest reading Ashe’s Yale Daily News column explaining why he is putting his hat in the ring.

    I would not take Roman’s wager that the Yale Corporation will nominate only one candidate, to avoid splitting the vote for their candidate.