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What Gail Stands For

Learn about Gail’s approach to the role of Yale Corporation Alumni Fellow.

A great university is more than just a research facility or a repository of knowledge.

 

Candidates for board membership nominated by alumni are selected behind closed doors and instructed to stay silent about their vision for Yale.

 

Is this any way to ensure that Yale benefits fully from the competence, intellect, and breadth of experience of its distinguished alumni? Where are the lux et veritas in this?

 

My first priority is to be sure you feel informed about why I’m running, my background, and how I would approach the role of Alumni Fellow.

 

In keeping with Yale’s tradition, my goal is light and truth.

 

We must reform the  Alumni Fellow election process and dramatically improve communication.

 

People who are educated not only to rise to new technical challenges, but also to think about and understand their effects on society will be the best equipped to ensure that our civilization moves forward, not backward.

 

I want to improve Yale’s efficiency and allocation of resources so it can devote more of them to students and teaching.

 

If elected, I intend to approach alumni regularly through a variety of communication tools to ensure that your voices are heard by Corporation colleagues.

 

Throughout my career, I have been required to collaborate with others, to develop consensus, and to create and grow productive collegial relationships, even with those who disagree with me.

 

To get on the 2022 ballot, I respectfully ask for your support.

Dear Fellow Yale Graduates,

A great university is more than just a research facility or a repository of knowledge. It’s an environment, a community, with a unique and stimulating character. Yale’s community is distinguished by bright people who represent an enormous variety of backgrounds and opinions, excel in the full spectrum of disciplines, express themselves through a range of media, and function at the highest intellectual and intuitive levels.

This is worth preserving and fostering. This is why I love Yale.

When you love something, you want to do everything you can to see it grow and succeed. Many of us feel this way about Yale. Yet the more I talk with Yale alumni, the more I hear concerns about its future.

One reason is the opacity surrounding Yale’s board of trustees, known as the Yale Corporation. Its meeting minutes are embargoed for 50 years. Candidates for board membership nominated by alumni are selected behind closed doors and instructed to stay silent about their vision for Yale. The identities of Yale Alumni Association candidates are not disclosed until voting begins.

Meanwhile, others who wish to serve must complete a challenging petition process just to get on the ballot. They must register their candidacy over a year before the election – by March 15, 2021 for the April/May 2022 election. In other words, they must declare before the candidates in the prior election are even known to alumni, let alone the result of that election. By the time we know the Yale Alumni Association’s candidate(s), the opportunity to dissent has vanished.

Is this any way to ensure that Yale benefits fully from the competence, intellect, and breadth of experience of its distinguished alumni? The quality of Yale’s graduates is arguably its greatest accomplishment. Surely these university ambassadors, thought leaders, mentors, financial contributors, and volunteers of all types should have a voice in Yale’s future. Yet they are asked to vote for trustees without knowledge of their priorities for Yale. They have no information even on the topics being discussed by the Yale Corporation. While the candidates have strong credentials, how can one cast a truly informed ballot? Where are the lux et veritas in this?

Recently, one of Yale’s many notable graduates, Ambassador Victor Ashe, successfully petitioned to appear on the 2021 Alumni Fellow ballot. If elected, he would be the first petition candidate to join the board since 1965. His commitment to Yale and his efforts to give alumni a voice have convinced me of how critical it is to continue this important work. That’s why I am petitioning to earn a spot on the 2022 ballot for Alumni Fellow of the Yale Corporation. My first priority is to be sure you feel informed about why I’m running, my background, and how I would approach the role of Alumni Fellow.

Why I’m running

In keeping with Yale’s tradition, my goal is light and truth. Our alumni could and should be one of the university’s most important resources as it confronts key decisions about its present and future. But alumni cannot contribute their viewpoints unless they have access to information. I want to help ensure that alumni can be more engaged in the exchange of ideas, and to do this, we must bring transparency and openness to the Yale Corporation. We must reform the Alumni Fellow election process and dramatically improve communication.

I also believe that it’s critical to strengthen Yale’s position in the STEM disciplines. While we do that, however, we must not neglect the opportunity to preserve and reinforce Yale’s great tradition as a leader unequaled in the liberal arts and humanities. People who are educated not only to rise to new technical challenges, but also to think about and understand their effects on society will be the best equipped to ensure that our civilization moves forward, not backward. This is a good time for Yale to highlight and reaffirm its own policy of free inquiry as outlined in the university’s 1974 Woodward Report, which emphasizes “the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.”

I want to improve Yale’s efficiency and allocation of resources so it can devote more of them to students and teaching. Today, Yale has 81.8 administrators for every 1,000 students, nearly twice as many as Harvard. At the same time, “69 percent of tenured faculty members said they do not believe that their respective department ranks within the top five in their respective fields,” according to a report by the Yale Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate; faculty salaries trail our peer institutions by 13%; and tuition, room, and board have soared to $77,750 a year. It’s a matter of time before this situation affects the quality of our alma mater and its research.

It’s important for the Yale Corporation to be more active in seeking out alumni views and in responding to alumni concerns. If elected, I intend to approach alumni regularly through a variety of communication tools to ensure that your voices are heard by Corporation colleagues.

My background

My career has spanned both the public and private sectors and many countries. After 26 years in the corporate world – about half that time in France and the other half in the United States – I spent a decade in elected office in Connecticut. From 1981 until 2008, I held executive leadership positions in communication, corporate affairs, and marketing in several large companies. I began my career in New York at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. Subsequently, my husband and I moved to Paris, where we lived for 14 years.

As CEO of a French subsidiary of the Interpublic Group specialized in corporate and governmental communications and public affairs, I managed a company through a severe recession and doubled its size, while building its client base and increasing profits. Later, I was Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, and member of the Executive Committee of Suez Environnement, the world’s largest water and wastewater services company at the time. There, I managed people in more than 30 developed and developing countries, where local communications were key, and worked closely with the international financial community.

We returned to the United States when Suez Environnement transferred me to its North American corporate office. My husband and I settled in Wilton, Connecticut, where I volunteered for a number of local organizations and was elected to Wilton’s Board of Finance.

In 2010, I was elected to Connecticut’s state House of Representatives, where I served for a decade. I was Assistant House Minority Leader and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee, Education Committee, and Commerce Committee. My focus was making Connecticut’s government more efficient and improving its services, creating a fertile climate for jobs, and making the state more competitive as a place to live, work, and retire. I also took leading roles in passing legislation protecting the environment and open space, allocating equitable funding to urban schools, and accelerating workforce development.

I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I have an MA in French from Yale and a BA in English from Cornell, as well as an MBA from the University of Connecticut. As a classical music critic, I wrote reviews for The Wall Street Journal and am the author of a book on opera. I am a dual citizen of the United States and France and bilingual in English and French.

My approach to the role

Throughout my career, I have been required to collaborate with others, to develop consensus, and to create and grow productive collegial relationships, even with those who disagree with me. Boards are most effective when they come to agreement by reconciling and accommodating diversity of opinion. The job of a trustee is to foster this kind of collaboration.

Working with clients and managing employees from all over Europe and Africa gave me the gift of an open mind — a readiness to consider diverse points of view and to think in new ways about issues and problems. Thinking in more than one language and functioning entirely in other cultures taught me that listening is much more important than talking. As a trustee, I would contribute as much as possible, while always giving a fair hearing to others’ ideas.

In elected office, I was fortunate to have been able to see how it felt to represent a substantial constituency, which itself represented enormous variation in viewpoints. So I have the experience of reconciling those viewpoints and of deciding how to vote to support them. It’s not an easy exercise, but I always relied most heavily on facts and constituent input, and I always made it a priority to explain my votes thoroughly to constituents. I have demonstrated that I know how to do these things, and I would certainly do them again as a Yale Corporation trustee.

What’s next?

To get on the 2022 ballot, I respectfully ask for your support. Please sign my petition which opens on May 24th so that I can collect the required 4,464 signatures by October 1 to qualify. Both now and if elected, I am eager to talk with you, hear your feedback, and answer your questions. Please call me at 203-762-7373, or send me an email at GailLavielle@aol.com any time. You deserve to have an informed choice in this election. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Gail Lavielle '81 MA