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Voting for the alumni seat on the Yale Corporation will close May 26. No matter who wins, this election will always be remembered as one of the most heated races ever. Rev. Lee argues that it is time for New Haven to get a seat on the Yale Corporation. But is this really a...

Partnership Made in Heaven?

Nikki McArthur • Commencement 2002

Recently, the Yale Corporation has received criticism for its handling of the upcoming Corporation election. The Rev. W. David Lee’s (DIV ’93) petition to be included on the ballot forced the Corporation to run the election differently than it has ever been run before. First, in order to avoid securing a victory for Lee through a split vote, the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) proposed only one candidate, the architect Maya Lin ’81, ARCH ‘86, instead of its usual two to five candidates. In addition, the AYA began an active campaign against Lee, sending mail to alumni warning them of Lee’s misleading campaign flyers. Both of these actions have been condemned by students and alumni alike as an attempt by the Corporation to decide elections independent of the alumni vote. The Corporation made a poor decision with regard to public relations in carrying out these actions. However, it has a very strong case against the candidacy of Lee that unfortunately may be ignored due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the election.

Lee is surprisingly unqualified for a position on the Corporation. According to an article that appeared in the Yale Daily News on 4/5/02, Lee claimed that he had “no sense of the Yale Corporation before this summer and was just sitting around one day with the Rev. Scott Marks, the Rev. Lillian Daniel and other community activists when the idea for his Corporation bid was born.” Lee’s first response to the suggestion that he should run was to claim “anyone could do the job.” However, as a black man from New Haven, Lee is the ideal candidate. “I wasn’t electing him, but it sounded good to me because he was a New Haven man, and he was black, and he sounded very good,” claimed George Booth, who signed Lee’s petition to be placed on the ballot last fall.

Unfortunately, despite an overwhelming amount of rhetoric, Lee has no proposals that he intends to put before the Corporation if he is elected. The Yale Daily News quotes him as claiming, “That’s one thing I really don’t know, but I do know one thing – we need to continue to strengthen the partnership.”

Lee’s repeated mention of a partnership between New Haven and Yale also calls his candidacy into question. The home page of his website, http://, greets the reader with the slogan “a vision of partnership” written in bold typeface. Later, in the welcome to the same site, Lee states that he “would like to move … further down [the] path [towards a stronger partnership between Yale and New Haven] by helping to build a long-term relationship of trust and confidence between Yale, its workers and the local community.”

However, despite Lee’s continual touting of his plans for an amiable partnership, his tone is often more adversarial than conciliatory. For example, Lee was quoted in September as declaring that “Levin is probably laughing now but he won’t laugh after we get there.” Additionally, in a famous quote, made at a labor union rally last April, Lee said that “Yale has met its Waterloo in the Federation of Hospital and University Employees. It is indeed our time.” This kind of attack on Yale verbally emphasizes not a partnership but a warlike conflict between Yale and New Haven residents. It is clear that despite his elaborate rhetoric, Lee views Yale as an enemy of New Haven that needs to be conquered. A candidacy conceived with the intention of defeating Yale should not be taken seriously.

In addition to the questions raised by many of Lee’s antagonistic statements, Lee’s involvement in the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE) also makes his candidacy problematic. CCNE is a New Haven group with strong ties to Yale’s labor unions that recently began releasing a series of reports loaded with criticisms of Yale’s relations with New Haven. The first of these reports, entitled “Incubating Biotech: Yale Prospers, New Haven Waits,” complains that New Haven residents are not benefiting from Yale’s heavy investments in biotechnology research, calling on Yale to “make substantial payments to improve New Haven’s public schools, so that both biotech companies and Yale itself can draw upon a more prepared workforce.”

Another report, entitled “Schools, Taxes and Jobs,” makes a more direct attack on Yale, reminding readers that Yale’s tax-exempt status causes New Haven to lose potential revenue that could support its schools. It cites $12.5 million as the amount that Yale would have to pay in order for its contribution to equal the amount of revenue that the City would receive if Yale’s property were taxable. In addition, it states that the endowment of Yale University grows an average of $5.4 million per day, claiming that just one day of endowment growth would go a long way towards addressing New Haven’s need for an additional source of long-term school funding.

The reports released by CCNE at crucial points in labor negotiations shamelessly play on community resentment both for Yale and for its $10.7 billion endowment. Far from encouraging partnership, these reports encourage and exploit the animosity felt against Yale by the residents of New Haven. The Rev. W. David Lee is a vice-president of CCNE. Although he denies the sponsorship of CCNE, he endorses an identical platform, supporting a “partnership” between Yale and the New Haven community that is supplemented by a “social contract” calling for Yale to contribute funds to lower class sizes in New Haven public schools, allow card count neutrality for GESO and the hospital workers, increase access to jobs for area residents and expand the Yale Homebuyer Program.

It is not just Lee’s spurious claims of desiring partnership that throw his candidacy into doubt. More than anything, the question of Lee’s loyalty looms large in any discussion of his qualification. The CCNE report “Schools, Taxes and Jobs” makes the statement that “there cannot be a strong partnership if one of the partners is weak.” In other words, even if Lee accomplishes his mission of establishing a partnership between Yale and the New Haven community, he will have to do this by working to strengthen New Haven, not Yale.

Lee’s platform makes it clear that he is first concerned with New Haven and Yale is almost an afterthought. Electing Lee to fill the vacant alumni fellow spot on the Yale Corporation would be like electing Yale President Richard Levin to fill a spot on the New Haven town council. For the same reason that the citizens of New Haven would not want the position of a council representative who is supposed to represent the interests of the townspeople filled by a man who is primarily concerned with the interests of Yale, the students and alumni of Yale should not want the position of a Corporation fellow who is supposed to represent the interests of Yale filled by a man who is primarily concerned with the interests of New Haven. And it is clear that Lee intends to represent New Haven first and foremost.

Lee does his heaviest campaigning at union rallies and church services. Amidst choruses of “amens” and “hallelujahs,” he expounds upon his idea of “partnership” to the members of his Varick AME Zion Church despite the fact that most of his congregation is ineligible to vote in this election. (Only Yale alumni who are more than five years from their graduation are eligible to participate in the election.) There is a problem with any candidate whose support base is drawn largely from a group of people that the Yale Corporation is not designed to represent.

Statements by Lee supporters have made it even clearer that Reverend Lee should not be trusted to represent the interests of Yale. Upon hearing Lee’s claim that “anyone could do the job” of being an alumni fellow, Reverend Lillian Daniel DIV ‘93, a classmate of Lee’s and a member of the small group of clergy who dreamed up Lee’s candidacy, responded by saying, “That is why we have to have him. This seat is not his seat. This seat is the New Haven seat.” An April 5th Yale Daily News article affirms the idea that the campaign is not about the candidate himself but about forcing a candidate who buys into anti-Yale union rhetoric upon the Yale Corporation. “I guess if it wasn’t David, we would have found someone else,” Daniel is quoted as saying.

In addition to Lee’s position as a vice-president of CCNE and his connection to other community leaders who support groups that exploit and intensify the hatred against Yale fostered by New Haven residents, Lee’s loyalty to Yale has been most frequently called into question with regard to the $30,000 contribution he received from Yale’s labor unions – more than 50% of his total fundraising rewards. Although he repeatedly claims that the hefty contribution will not influence his actions if elected to the Corporation, that claim is a lot to swallow given his current political bedfellows.

Lee is garnering votes from both ends of the political spectrum. Liberals who buy into Lee’s “social contract” theories are eager to foist Lee upon a Corporation that they view as excessively secretive and elitist. On the other hand, extreme conservatives have been voting for Lee because they believe that his election to the Corporation would be the ultimate consequence of Yale’s exceedingly liberal policies. Hoping that Lee’s election will alarm Yale enough to force it into rethinking its liberalism, these conservatives claim that a vote for Lee is “giving Yale what it deserves.”

Unfortunately, it is clear that Yale will suffer if Lee is elected. The Yale Corporation is an institution that should look out first and foremost for the interests of Yale. Allowing a man to sit upon the Corporation who not only has proven himself to be primarily interested in New Haven but also has actively engaged in intensifying the animosity between Yale and New Haven for his own personal gain is a step towards the decline of Yale.

Nikki McArthur is a freshman in Saybrook College.


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