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Roman Weil

Roman Weil

Yale Alumni Election in Home Stretch:  Ballot Box Closes May 23

By Roman Weil

Since I last wrote, the election for one open position on Yale’s Board of Trustees has begun. Yale’s nominating committee has chosen one candidate, David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College. Victor Ashe, former Ambassador to Poland, qualified for the ballot by gathering more than seven thousand signatures from alums to nominate him. Despite Yale’s tradition — not a rule of any group other than the Nominating Committee — of asking candidates not to campaign and not to state positions about Yale governance, Victor is continuing to campaign, stating his position that the Corporation and its members should be more transparent and that, for example, meeting minutes shouldn’t take 50 years to become public.

For the first time in eighteen years, Yale’s nominating committee put forward a single candidate. We predicted this action, which lessens the likelihood that those supporting Yale’s candidate[s] will split their votes between Yale’s preferred candidate[s], increasing the chances that the outsider will win. When I asked Yale representatives to explain why, Martha E. Schall, Associate Vice President for Institutional Affairs, said, “The Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee of the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors chose to select one candidate from among the nominations they received from alumni as their contribution to the recent practice of a two-person slate.” The strategy of having a single Yale-endorsed candidate will focus votes of those wanting to follow Yale’s lead onto that single candidate, rather than having those votes split between two, as in the past eighteen years.

Victor Ashe

Victor Ashe

For the first time ever, Yale invited the two candidates to participate in video interviews, which Yale alum voters can view. Victor told me that the format for the interview was controlled and that he was forced to answer specific questions. He was not allowed to speak about his positions on governance and transparency. Victor’s op-ed recently appeared in the Yale Daily News. Since he wrote that piece, in which he expressed mere hope for an increased turnout, he tells me of information from Yale sources that make him, now, expect a larger voter turnout than last year’s. Last year, eighteen thousand alums voted, about twelve percent of those eligible. The fact of two petition candidates’ qualifying for the ballot has increased interest in the election and their activities likely means more alums voting than recently. Between the two, more than eleven thousand alums signed at least one petition, but because any one alum, such as I, could sign both we don’t know how many individual alums participated. A safe statement: somewhere between seven and eleven thousand alums have shown interest in this election by signing petitions.

A second petition candidate, Maggie Thomas, qualified for the position, but President Biden’s appointing her to a position in the White House caused her to withdraw. Her candidacy had been supported by Yale Forward. Its Executive Director, Scott Gigante, told me that they have selected a candidate for the next election cycle, which they will announce when the new petition process begins.

You should have received your ballot directly from Election Services Corporation. I voted mine for Victor.

Watch this space: next year’s election promises to have candidates seeking positions on the ballot from three different directions: Yale itself, who will have no difficulty getting its candidate[s] onto the ballot, as well as Yale Forward and the William F. Buckley Foundation, who both say they seek the more-than-4,000 signatures required to get petition candidates onto the ballot. Someone is likely to formally protest to Yale about its processes requiring candidates to register in March 2021, before the results of the 2021 are known, before, even, Yale announced its candidate for the 2021, election and the requirement for more than 4,000 signatures. I think we don’t need to wait for an act of the Connecticut legislature to change Yale’s procedures here.

A sidebar on Yale Forward and Harvard Forward: Your Communications Team thinks you will enjoy learning a bit about Yale Forward, the 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that sponsored Maggie Thomas’s candidacy and that will soon disclose the name of its candidate for the 2022 ballot. Yale Forward seems to be a single-issue organization seeking to alter Yale’s positions on the climate emergency, including its investments. Maggie’s letter about her candidacy, before she withdrew, described Yale Forward as follows on its web site,

Yale Forward aims to address both the symptoms and the causes of Yale’s insufficient response to the climate crisis by making our [Yale’s] governance more inclusive, bolstering our socially responsible investment practices, and giving a greater voice to the University’s most valuable asset: the Yale community.

Yale Forward sent an email to its list describing the election, the candidates, the fact that it solicited statements from the two candidates, the fact that David Thomas did not respond, and the fact that Ashe did, along with his response. Yale Forward describes the two candidates’ involvements with the fossil fuel industry as follows: “Thomas previously served on the board of DTE Energy, an electricity utility and natural gas company. Ashe has not previously worked for the fossil fuel industry, but did receive the endorsement of George Will, a known climate denier.” The quote preceding doesn’t note that the endorsement came in the context of the petition process, where one could sign the petition for both Maggie and Victor [as I and some others I know did], not an endorsement for Ashe in the ballot for election to the Board.

Yale Forward’s efforts parallels those of Harvard Forward, which has been successful in electing three members to Harvard’s Board of Overseers. Harvard’s governance structure differs from Yale’s: Harvard has trustees on its smaller Corporate board and alumni overseers on its Board, only alums. Petition candidates, elected by alums, can get to the ballot by collecting signatures in designated numbers. Harvard Forward successfully petitioned for its candidates to be on the 2020 ballot and three were elected. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc? Soon thereafter, Harvard changed the rules for serving on the Board of Overseers, decreeing that no more than six of its members could be petition candidates. This change limits Harvard Forward to electing no more than three other Board members during the next five years, so long as the three, just elected, serve. Harvard Forward’s outrage fell on deaf ears. See the story here. Harvard President Bacow’s defense of this change in policy has, in my opinion, some merit, but mostly I think he’s blowing smoke. See here. I invite our classmates who are also Harvard alums to Comment below.

We welcome all classmate comments below.

4 comments to Yale Alumni Election in Home Stretch

  • Steve Howard

    Wish this article had been published before the ballots went out. Probably would have affected my vote.

  • Lee Bolman

    I just got my ballot, and I voted for Dave Thomas, who I think is a spectacular candidate. I’ve known Dave since he first came to the Harvard Business School as a new, relatively young faculty member 30 years ago. I knew of him even before that because his doctoral advisor at Yale was our classmate (and my officemate in graduate school) Clay Alderfer. Dave is a smart and delightful human being who’s had a distinguished career as a scholar (teaching at Wharton and Harvard) and higher education administrator (dean of the business school at Georgetown, and now president of Morehouse). Dave knows leadership as both scholar and practitioner, and it would be hard to find someone who has a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities of elite universities like Yale.

  • Cory Christopher T.

    Thanks to both commentators. I hope today is not too late to rummage fir my ballot. Bravo, Roman.
    —chris cory

  • Ken Merkey

    Now that Yale, in all of it majesty, has decided to eliminate the petition process we have sunk to another low. Kind begets kind. It is the way liberals maintain their status.