Message from the Senior Trustee
A change to the Alumni Fellow election process
May 24, 2021
Dear Fellow Alumni,
I write on behalf of the Yale Board of Trustees to inform you of a change to the process for electing Alumni Fellows to the Board.
After careful consideration over the last few years, the Board of Trustees has determined that the petition process to become a candidate in the Alumni Fellow election no longer serves the best interests of the university, and it has voted to amend the university’s Miscellaneous Regulations to remove this path to candidacy, effective immediately. This change does not bear on the 2021 election, whose voting concluded last night.
This decision means that Alumni Fellow candidates will be proposed to the alumni voters in the way that the vast majority have reached the ballot over the years: by alumni proposing names to the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee of the Yale Alumni Association, a group of alumni who thoughtfully consider scores of names and propose for the voters’ consideration those they believe will be able stewards of the university.
Our decision stems from our belief that in their election of trustees, the alumni have arrived at a crossroads. Here is what we see:
The petition process has been seldom and intermittently used since its introduction in 1929, but in recent years, it has been embraced by issues-based candidacies, with intense campaigning by petitioners who are materially supported by organizations that seek to advance specific platforms. Were this trend to continue, it is not hard to imagine a new normal in which every election saw vying groups with organized support competing to focus Yale on their chosen goals.
Such a state of affairs would do profound disservice to the university by distorting the very nature of what a Yale trustee must be: a fiduciary. This would be true notwithstanding the sincere and good intentions of those participating. At the heart of the matter is the vital distinction between an elected representative of a cause or movement and a person elected without any agenda other than to bring independent judgment to the varied and complex issues facing the university.
It is because Yale’s fiduciaries must represent the interests of the university above their own or those of any backers that we find the prospect of cause-based elections so troubling. It has been our experience as trustees that it is the absence of any prior commitment to specific agendas that allows wide-ranging, intense, and even contentious conversations, all in service of coming to good decisions for Yale. We are a diverse group of individuals, with strong points of view, unified by a shared sense of purpose.
Cause-based elections raise a second, related concern: in their tenor, cost, and time required, these contests may discourage many qualified and desirable candidates from accepting nomination in the first place. Prospective candidates might object merely to the undesirable features of political campaigning—or, more seriously, to the very notion that trustees should come to the Board with an agenda.
Every Alumni Fellow election matters greatly. Yale’s Board, by tradition all alumni, is unique among its peers for its small size, and is also unusual for its high proportion of elected trustees: 6 of the 16 of any given year’s volunteer trustees—nearly 40 percent—are elected by the alumni.
We appreciate the fact that some of our fellow alumni will object to this decision, but we feel confident that the path ahead secures a well-considered, fair, and welcoming means for all alumni to become viable candidates for trusteeship. Alumni Fellow candidates will continue to be proposed to the voters through the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee’s inclusive process. Led by alumni at every turn, this process includes the solicitation of prospective candidates from the entire Yale alumni body. It has produced extraordinarily talented and diverse Alumni Fellows over the years, and the Board has great confidence that it will continue to do so.
Past, current, and would-be petition candidates have our profound respect. Activism is in the lifeblood of Yale, and petitioners are standing up for alumni who have felt disenfranchised by the university in some way, or who believe passionately in a given cause. The Board is committed to listening for and to these voices.
A document reflecting the thinking behind this decision can be found on the Yale Board of Trustees website. I hope that you will look there for more information if you are interested, and that you will reach out to us—firstname.lastname@example.org—if you have any questions or comments.
Yale has long benefited from the care given by its alumni to the nomination and election of trustees. It is our great hope that the change we announce today lends energy and solidity to that work.
Catharine Bond Hill ’85 Ph.D.
Yale University Board of Trustees