College's quiet Trustee race contrasts with Yale's

by Nathaniel Ward | 5/14/02 5:00am

Last week's appointment of two new members to Dartmouth's Board of Trustees occurred without much fanfare. There was relatively little interest in either the month-long alumni election in April or the campaign that began in December.

At Yale University, however, the election of a new member of the Yale Corporation has drawn attention from student and local newspapers and has even involved the union that represents many Yale employees.

The Rev. David Lee, who graduated from Yale's divinity school in 1993, gathered 4000 signatures from alumni supporters to place his name on the ballot for election to the corporation spot being vacated by Kurt Schmoke, and he has since run a highly unorthodox campaign.

Drawing both praise and criticism from administrators, alumni and community activists who see the New Haven, Conn. pastor fostering ties between the university and the city, the campaign has seen no fewer than 55 news articles and opinion columns in the Yale Daily News.

Armed with $30,000 in funding from the Federation of Hospital and University Employees labor union -- which represents graduate students, hospital workers and the services, technical, maintenance and clerical staff at Yale -- Lee has gathered endorsements from a variety of organizations.

In addition, Lee's supporters have begun a massive publicity campaign, sending mass emails and conducting a phone campaign before voting ends on May 26, in time for commencement ceremonies.

At Dartmouth, campaigning is strictly discouraged, and prospective Trustees cannot promote their candidacy.

Once the Alumni Council selects a slate of three candidates in December, the alumni vote for their favorite candidate. The Board of Trustees normally approves the alumni nominee once balloting is done.

"This seems to be the last thing of gentility in terms of politics," newly-elected Dartmouth Trustee Jos Fernandez explained. "You're supposed to stay home and basically wait for people to vote for you."

"You cannot campaign -- it's the one rule you're told," Fernandez said.

Yale also discourages candidates from campaigning. Though there is no explicit prohibition on advertising one's candidacy, "It's a tradition," Yale spokesperson Thomas Conroy said.

Lee is running against Maya Lin, a Yale alumna known for designing Washington's Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the only nominee put forth this year by the Association of Yale Alumni, which normally nominates a slate of two to five candidates for alumni consideration.

Lee has received support from the Philadelphia City Council, United States Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), New Haven Mayor John DeStefano and the Yale Women's Center, among others.

With a cadre of former administrators lined up in opposition to Lee -- who they claim does not have the university's interests at heart -- Yale Graduates for Responsible Trusteeship, a pro-Lin group, has also employed unusual methods, including a mass-mailing to 115,000 Yale alumni describing Lee's union connections.

Despite these ties, Yale officials said they are confident that there will be no increased strife with organized workers and students were Lee to lose.

"I don't think if Maya Lin were elected that the members of the unions would have a different opinion of Yale's alumni," Conroy said.

The cost of the publicity has been very high. Lin's supporters in YGRT have spent nearly $80,000 to date, according to the Yale Daily News, while Lee's proponents spent $50,000 on mailings.

"The AYA's Board of Governors is concerned about the strong and unexplained disparity between Rev. Lee's past public statements about Yale and those now being made in campaign mailings to alumni," the Association of Yale Alumni wrote in a letter sent to its members in April.

The letter also cited concerns with Lee's pledge to improve relationships with New Haven, noting a "lack of past involvement at any level with Yale's many initiatives and engagements with the city."

Yale administrators claim the issues Lee advocates are already being addressed, and are well known within the Yale Corporation.

Though some have raised concerns that Yale Corporation elections might be irreparably changed as potential candidates choose not to run for fear of having to electioneer, it is too soon to tell what the outcome of the long campaign will be.