The three candidates for the 2022 Yale Corporation Alumni Election Petition: Andrew Lipka ’78, Gail Lavielle GRD ’81 and Zoraya Hightower ENV ’16. Courtesy of Lipka, Lavielle and Hightower.
Three Yale alumni will vie for a spot in the Yale Corporation in the 2022 election, marking the most petition contenders in recent memory.
The three candidates are Andrew Lipka “78, Gail Lavielle GRD ’81 and Zoraya Hightower ENV ’16. Between May 24 and October 1, they must each collect 4,464 signatures from Yale alumni to qualify for a place on the 2022 ballot for the Yale Corporation. Candidate platforms cover issues ranging from divestment from fossil fuels to preserving the purchase period, but unite around reforming the Company’s election process.
“Yale seems determined not to publicize the voting or the process that contributes to low voter turnout,” said Victor Ashe ’67, candidate for the 2021 election petition. “Last year, less than 13 % of all graduates voted. This year it could drop to 18%, which is an improvement but still well below what it should be. Yale does not facilitate participation in this electoral process, I regret to say that.
Ashe and Maggie Thomas’ ENV ’15 ran for and qualified as candidates in the 2021 election petition. Thomas had to drop out of the race after accepting the post of chief of staff in the Domestic Climate Policy Office of the White House. The vote is now closed for the 2021 edition and the counting is underway.
Although Ashe and Thomas qualified as petition candidates for the 2021 election, the process is hardly used, and current and past candidates have criticized it for being obscure and restrictive on entry. Most alumni are appointed by a group of alumni representatives and administrators called the Alumni Nomination Committee. Candidates for the Committee are encouraged not to share their views on the issues facing the University.
The election process is defined in the Miscellaneous Regulations of the University and stipulates that all former graduates more than five years ago can vote. After declaring their candidacy more than a year before the election, petition candidates must collect the signatures of three percent of alumni who received ballots for the 2021 election. , they can run against the candidates chosen by the nominating committee for the 2022 general election.
Hightower is running in the 2022 election as a representative of Yale forward, an organization that supports climate-conscious candidates for Society elections. In the 2021 election, the organization sponsored Thomas’ candidacy.
Hightower will focus on many of the same issues as Thomas, including divesting the fossil fuel industry, reducing Yale’s carbon emissions, and increasing the transparency of the company’s operations. She asked Yale to release the minutes of company meetings – which are usually kept secret – to make the trustees accessible and to organize a transparent election. But Hightower will bring a “slightly different lens” to Thomas’, she said, focusing specifically on racial and social justice and creating an inclusive environment at Yale.
Lavielle also focused on transparency issues within Yale Corporation. Its platform includes repealing the 50-year embargo on company meeting minutes and reducing the petition signing threshold to around 250 signatures, down from the current 4,464.
“I’ve noticed that the more I speak with Yale alumni, the more I hear concerns about the future of Yale,” Lavielle told The News. “The quality of Yale graduates is arguably the university’s greatest achievement. Our elders could and should be one of its most important resources. But elders cannot bring their point of view or vote knowingly unless they have access to the information. I want to provide them with a path to greater engagement in exchanging ideas about Yale’s present and future.
Yale’s biggest challenge in the years to come will be to maintain its preeminence in a changing society, Lavielle said. She specifically raised questions about strengthening science at Yale without sacrificing the humanities, the growing size of administration, Yale’s impact on the environment, admission criteria and standardized testing, and whether Yale should “follow societal trends or take the lead in determining what values and perspectives to convey to its students,” Lavielle told the News.
The university should regularly interview alumni on important issues and consider their input, she said.
Lipka also called for greater engagement from alumni, especially around Yale’s educational mission. In 2011, Lipka participated in the Yale for Life program, in which alumni live on campus for one to two weeks and take classes with top teachers. Two years later, when the University almost canceled the program, Lipka resumed its management.
But in 2019, the program ended. Immediately after, Lipka launched EverScholar, a non-profit organization where university professors offer seminars for people who want to continue their education in a less formal setting. He contacted university president Peter Salovey about setting up a continuing education program for alumni, but Salovey did not agree to the idea.
Lipka said the educational programs are mutually beneficial, connecting alumni with faculty and in turn making them more generous and engaged with the University. Its platform focuses on alumni engagement with Yale.
“I am proud of the fact that every day now my life is improved by my relationship with Yale,” Lipka said. “But it’s like pulling your teeth to get there.”
Like Lavielle, he said alumni should be consulted on any issues Yale may face in the years to come. Lipka specifically noted the growing number of students choosing to live off campus rather than in their residential college, the elimination of the shopping spree and what he described as a slow pace of faculty recruitment during the pandemic. .
Professors and alumni need to play a bigger role in running Yale, Lipka said. Currently, administrators, who often turn around quickly, control major decisions on campus.
“The University is a feudal institution,” Lipka said. “It’s supposed to be like a battleship and turn slowly. That’s not to say he shouldn’t address the concerns of the day, but he should do so within the context of the concerns of eternity.
Since graduating from Yale, Lipka has worked as an ophthalmologist and volunteered at the University, interviewing for the admissions office and as president of the Yale Club of Princeton. Two of her children attended Yale College.
If he was part of the company, Lipka said he would meet students whenever he came to campus.
Hightower also said she hoped to speak to members of the Yale community, including students, faculty and staff. Hightower previously worked on environmental projects in East Africa and South East Asia for an international development and consultancy firm. She left the firm last week to become CEO of the nonprofit Peace and Justice Center. Additionally, Hightower is a municipal councilor in Burlington, Vermont.
Working in local politics has helped her understand what it means to listen to and defend a community by adopting tangible policies, she said. Additionally, Hightower said it was important for the Society to have the perspective of a young woman of color.
At Yale, she became fascinated with cities as sites to change the way resources are used. When he arrived in Burlington, Hightower was on the Development Review Committee. But she found herself enforcing policies she disagreed with. She then ran as a city councilor to change those policies and sponsored a bill to postpone Burlington Police by 30%.
Lavielle also made a career in government, serving in the Connecticut House of Representatives for a decade. There, she advocated for equity in education and environmental protection, as well as workforce development and government streamlining. Lavielle is also a former classical music critic, former senior vice president of corporate affairs at Suez Environnement – the world’s largest water and wastewater company – and is fluent in French and English. She lives in Wilton, Connecticut.
It was Yale who gave him the skills for his winding career path, Lavielle said. Specifically, Yale provided her with “a curious and rigorous thought process, an openness to different perspectives and a deep understanding of the value of listening and clear communication,” she explained.
The election of Alumni Fellow 2022 will take place next spring.