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Latest Developments on Growing Alumni Election Controversy
By Roman Weil


(Editor’s Note: This article provides significant updates to Roman’s piece posted June 4.)

I wish I were paid by the word — Yale keeps providing fodder to this writer in its inciting alums who are reacting to Yale’s own precisely timed, some might say ill-timed, action in changing its procedures for alums’ electing Yale Corporation Board members.

Within an hour of telling the results of the 2021 Board election to the candidates for the alums’ position on the Board, Yale announced it would no longer allow alums to petition their way onto the ballot.  This has led to critical, vitriolic even, essays in The Wall Street Journal, the National Review, The New York Post, and The Yale Daily News of which I’m aware.  I’ve not yet read a favorable comment.

Three alums had filed to become petition candidates for the 2022 cycle.  I’ve read that these three had heard from Yale administrator Martha Schall that their paperwork had met the requirements for suc­cess­ful next steps in the petition process — had heard only days before Yale announced it was killing the petition process.  I think it inconceivable that Martha was unaware that the process she told the candidates they had satisfied the then-current rules for would soon be obsolete.  I’m sure Martha told the truth, something like, “Under the current rules in place, your petition processes are on track to start gathering signatures next week.”  She likely did not tell the whole truth:  “But be aware, Yale is about to moot that work.”

Martha, by the way, has the unenviable job of speaking for Yale about the Petition process. She and I have a cordial relation, with several back and forths.  In preparing this posting, I asked her, “Is there any thought of [Yale’s] reconsidering the decision or meeting with some of these serious members of the Yale community to counter their harsh criticisms?”    She responded to the first of these questions, but not the second:  “It is not my place to comment on trustee decisions.”

Also important was independent candidate Adam Lipka’s May 31 Yale Daily News column introducing himself and saying he intended to continue despite the Yale Board’s action. The other two erstwhile Petition candidates are Gail Lavielle, sponsored by the Buckley Foundation and Zoraya Hightower, sponsored by Yale Forward, whose successful 2021 candidate, Maggie Thomas, had to withdraw when President Biden appointed her to his White House staff.  Gail has already mounted a vigorous petition campaign, started with a Zoom meeting last week.  See  She seems to have loins girded for an extended fight. Another development from last week: the Yale Faculty Senate took the unusual action of expressing concern to the Yale Administration about the unexpected change in policy.

The three who had planned to be petition candidates are now circulating petitions seeking signatures, which petitions seek to persuade the Corporation to reverse its action.  I have not learned whether these three candidates, who have different platforms as Board members but who unite in protesting Yale’s nullifying the Petition process, will join forces in petitioning Yale to reverse course and reinstate the Petition process.  I will soon ask them whether they plan to unite their efforts where they seem to have a common interest.

Were the Corporation to reinstate the Petition process, the signatures collected now wouldn’t technically count for ballot qualification, but some speculate that Yale wouldn’t make those candidates re-solicit supporters to sign anew. I think Yale could reinstate the process but still reasonably require the candidates to solicit a different set of signatures to support their ballot access.  The issues differ, but we can save that discussion for later.

Snarky remarks department:  the communications about the surprising actions did not come to alums from Boss Peter Salovey.  He hid behind the skirt of Senior Board Member Catharine Bond Hill, former president of Vassar.  Do we think President Salovey had a loud voice in this decision?  [I’ll save for another topic these questions:  Do we think it rare for the president of a university to be a voting member of the board who decides to hire him and set his pay?  Do we think it a conflict of interest for the Board to include among its members one to whom the Univer­sity has paid his investment company over $40 million in fees in the past five years or so?]

The Connecticut Legislature, as I understand matters, could pass legislation to overturn Yale’s cancellation.  The Legislature next meets in January, which gives Yale’s decision-makers time to reconsider the implications of having the Legislature debate any Yale matter.  I’m no expert in Connecticut politics, but I understand that some (many?) in Hartford would like the opportunity to debate increasing the taxation of Yale’s endowment or its income, or both.  Yale could easily decide that election minutiae don’t warrant subjecting Yale to taxation risks.

Victor Ashe, one of two 2021 petition candidates whose bid failed, told me he is accustomed to losing elections but not to having election processes emasculated, as in Russia. He instructed me, as follows.  Yale’s actions could subject it to challenge from those who argue that under Connecticut law, Yale is no longer holding an election.  Elections in U.S. jurisprudence arguably must, in one form or another, accommodate write-in candidates.  If this argument has merit, some who oppose Yale’s actions will find deep enough pockets to challenge that Yale is no longer, under Connecticut law, holding a valid election.  Hot diggedy-dog; I want a seat in those bleachers.

Do you know that both the Governor and Lt. Governor of the State of Connecticut are ex officio members of the Yale Corporation Board?  (Are you one of the many who are only vaguely aware of what that term means?  It doesn’t mean an honorary member.  It means a full-fledged member with all the rights and privileges of any other member, but one who holds the seat because of having been elected, or appointed, to a position, such as Governor.)  I read in an article by Lauren Noble, executive director of the Buckley Foundation, who says she learned from responses to a FOIA requests to the Governor of Connecticut’s office, that neither the Governor nor the Lt. Governor were invited to vote on the proposition to kill the petition process, which vote was held remotely, not with an in-person meeting.  Yale alums in the State of Connecticut number about 18,000.  If these alums raise a fuss with their legislators, something will likely happen between now and January.  Victor Ashe speculated to me that only a little public pressure from Yale alums in Connecticut would induce the Governor or Lt. Governor, or both, to start attending Board meetings.

My posts on this subject (here and here) and others often contain my guesses in the form of wagers.  I’ll continue that format here.  I’ll wager that Yale will remain silent in the face of the criticisms until action commences in the Connecticut legislature.  I’ll lose my bet if President Salovey or Trustee Bond Hill writes in a public forum defending Yale’s position.  Yale’s trustees have already stated their position in a white paper released at the time it announced its decision.

Stay tuned.


We welcome your comments below.

6 comments to Latest Developments on Growing Alumni Election Controversy

  • John Hatch

    Roman, Am I wrong? I thought ex officio couldn’t vote? Attend, specak but not vote.

  • George Grumbacb

    In answer to John Hatch, although I don’t know the specific provisions of the Yale charter or bylaws, usuallly someone who holds a directorship ex officio is an equal of the others, the only difference being that one who serves as a director ex officio obtains that position not by election or appointment, but by virtue of holding some other office, usually in government. For example, in New York City most major cultural institutions have the Mayor as an ex officio board member.

    That being said, I have it on good authority that, at least in years past, the Governor and Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut made it clear that they did not want to participate in Yale Corporation meetings or other affairs, regarding that as a possible political mare’s nest. So, they may well have waived advance notice of the decision to abolish petition candidacies.

    Now, speaking personally, athough I recognize the risks of politicizing trusteeships by special interest groups, especially those with the funds to mount an organized campaign, Yale’s procedures and customs are far too secret and and inward facing. And the way it handled the current situation by abolishing petition candidacies in secret and announcing the decision retroactively is not only poor governance and unfair, but was clumsy, stupid and heavy-handed. It also seemed to show unwarranted panic by the members of the Yale Corporation. It appears that they were circling the wagons, to fear that one or two trustees might get elected as petition candidates.

  • Roman L Weil

    John, I agree with George. Ex Officio tells you how the person got to the position, nothing about diminution of rights of the position, once taken. Legal scholars at the Univ of Chicago [what do they know?] tell me it’s an abdication of responsibilities for the Gov and Lt Gov to refrain from participating in Boards where they have ex officio positions. Change the law to remove themselves. Resign their positions. But don’t hold the positions and then fail to execute. The very mess the Gov and Lt Gov will find themselves in now results from their wishy-washy treatment of their Board memberships, their not fully understanding what “ex officio” means. I suspect they have not fully counseled but will soon.

  • Larry Price

    George Grumbach’s use of the term “unwarranted panic” is appropriate. The decision of the Corporation is not only indefensible but also unfathomable. I remember once reading that the only electors for a successor trustee are the ten successor trustees. In other words, the six alumni trustees, the president, and the Governor and Lt. Governor are not allowed to participate in that decision. Since the successor trustees have ten of the total of seventeen votes, they totally control the situation. Even if the alumni elect six Bolsheviks as alumni trustees, the successor trustees could sit back smugly and watch the show, knowing that there is no risk to their control. Therefore, why not allow a bomb thrower or two into the inner sanctum, there can be no harm. To abort the whole process in a unannounced midnight decision speaks of panic.

    Or of arrogance of an unusual sort. We do not have to allow those uppity people in here, and we shall not.

  • Bill Boehmler

    Some Yale events that caught my attention: Yale’s response to the Days of Rage; renaming my College – Calhoun; solving the Lyme disease puzzle; watching the Yale Daily News continue adapting to changing technology; the widespread recognition of Harold Bloom: Yale’s continuing pre-eminent position among American universities. (a positive reaction to all.)

    The kerfuffle over a remark by the wife of Silliman’s Master; Loss of a $20 million Bass family gift while the faculty dithered over money for “Dead White Men” – views of this event do differ; the expulsion – perhaps suspension – of a student who called a noisy celebrating group of minority students “Water Buffalos”; the undergrads who stood at the door of a dance and determined who should be admitted – it was reported that minorities did not fare well; Yale’s inclusion among a group of universities caught in the Varsity Blues Operation; the action of the Corporation in response to Mr. Ashe’s election. (Certainly not positive reactions)

    I found myself wondering about Victor Ashe’s motivation in gathering thousands of signatures to gain a seat on the Corporation. With the election deadline looming, I spent 45 minutes or so on the phone with Mr. Ashe. Was he concerned by political correctness at Yale, faculty selection, affirmative action, the admissions scandal, admissions policy, performance of the football team, removal of Elihu Yale’s painting from Woodbridge Hall, some other source of rancor? I could not engage him on any possible concern other than the closed non-transparent governance of Yale. I was left with no idea of which he might champion or object to as a Corporation member. Persuaded that Yale could be more transparent, and open in its governance, I reluctantly voted for Mr. Ashe.

    If Yale alumni were to have a voice in the trajectory of the University, we would need to hear the concerns and positions of the candidates, whether put forth by the Corporation itself or through the collection of petitions.

    I remain proud of my College, and its motto – Lux et Veritas. I have no axe to grind, but I must admit, Victor Ashe has a point.

  • Roman L Weil

    I’ve already lost my wager in my last paragraph. Senior Trust Catharine Bond Hill’s letter to the WSJ responding to alum Davis’s op-ed appeared June 9. She repeats the arguments in the document the Trustees made their white paper issued at the time they announced their decision. Her letter now makes those arguments accessible to a wider audience.