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May 27, 2021

It’s Time for Light and Truth at Yale

As a petitioning candidate for 2022, I am disappointed in this decision not so much for myself, but on behalf of all the Yale graduates who will from now on be deprived of the opportunity to vote in a free and open election, one in which the candidates have publicly discussed their approach to the role of trustee and have had ample time to listen to and communicate with alumni.

Dear Fellow Yale Graduate,

I am sure that many of you are aware by now of the decision by the Yale Corporation to eliminate the possibility for petitioning candidates to earn a spot on the ballot in Alumni Fellow elections. Senior Trustee Catharine Bond Hill announced the decision to alumni by email on the afternoon of Monday, May 24.
 
As a petitioning candidate for 2022, I am disappointed in this decision not so much for myself, but on behalf of all the Yale graduates who will from now on be deprived of the opportunity to vote in a free and open election, one in which the candidates have publicly discussed their approach to the role of trustee and have had ample time to listen to and communicate with alumni. Instead, Yale alumni will be forced to vote – if they choose to vote – for candidates about whom they will have received but little information. There will be no opportunity for dialogue, exchange of ideas, or questions. Where are the lux et veritas in this?
 
The statement in the Senior Trustee’s letter about respect for petitioning candidates is disingenuous in the extreme. Both the letter and the longer statement on the Board’s web site argue that any petitioning candidate with “organized support” would bring an “agenda” to the Board and would therefore be unable to address the issues facing Yale with independent judgment. This suggestion is disrespectful and deeply offensive not only to petitioning candidates, but also to those who sign their petitions and to those who ultimately choose to vote for them. Not only would it be highly inappropriate to serve in such a manner, but it would also be folly to expect that a single new member could impose an outside agenda on a board of trustees.
 
The timing of the announcement raises concerns. The vote to drop the petition option was taken at a meeting on May 18, almost a full week before the email went to alumni. The announcement was not made until May 24 in the afternoon, almost 15 hours after the end of both the 2021 Alumni Fellow election and the start of the 2022 petitioning period. Meanwhile, petitioning candidates had been required to declare their intention to petition on March 15. They had all been working for more than two months and were standing ready for their petitions to become available for signatures at midnight on May 24. During this time, I released a statement about why I decided to run, my background, and how I would approach the role of Alumni Fellow, which I invite you to read here.
 
Announcing the Board’s decision before March 15 would have made more sense than postponing the Board’s vote until May 18 and its announcement until May 24, when the declarations of petitioning candidates had already been accepted by Yale officials months earlier. The timing gives the impression that Board members may have found the potential outcome of the 2021 election in progress inconvenient. The impression may be inaccurate, but it is still difficult to disregard.
 
I have questions about the decision-making process itself. Yale’s by-laws can be amended by a 2/3 majority of the Board only if the agenda item and related materials are distributed to members either at the immediately previous Board meeting or at least 30 days before the vote is to be taken. Records show that the Board’s two ex officio members – Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz – had received no information on this subject during the relevant time periods. This raises the question of whether the vote was properly noticed and, by extension, whether it was properly taken. It also begs the question of why these two key individuals in Yale’s home state (both of whom hold Yale degrees) were not informed that an issue of such importance to alumni was to be raised by the Board.
 
What’s next?
 
There is an important question to be answered. If the Yale Corporation did notice the May 18 vote properly to all of its members, it should be able to produce documentary evidence. I call on the Yale Corporation to do so. If it cannot, might the decision to discontinue the petitioning process be invalid? If so, the petitioning period will still be open.
 
Unless and until Yale produces such evidence, I will continue to move forward with collecting alumni signatures for my petition to appear on the 2022 ballot using the petition form provided by Yale on May 21. I’d encourage you to sign my petition if you’re up for it. Some of you will be receiving it by mail this week, as a mailing went out on Monday morning, before the announcement. A form that you can download is also available here. Please mail it directly to me at 109 Hickory Hill Road, Wilton, CT 06897.
 
Even if the Board can prove that it gave proper notice of the May 18 vote, a groundswell of petition signatures from alumni who disagree with the decision will certainly send a message to the Yale Corporation and the Yale Alumni Association that this dramatic change in election policies is not going to go down without a fight.
 
I will keep you updated on any other actions that we plan to take. The Yale Corporation must not be allowed to show such disrespect to alumni.
 

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I want you to know that it would have been an honor for me to participate in the petition process. During the last few weeks, I spoke with many new acquaintances, alumni with fascinating careers and accomplishments whom I would otherwise not have met, and I am grateful for this experience. You have confirmed my conviction that Yale’s graduates are its greatest resource, and I hope that one day all of us will be able to vote in a free and open Alumni Fellow election. I will do whatever I can to help make that happen.
 
Sincerely,
 
Gail Lavielle ’81 MA