Yale to evaluate policies on donor gifts and influence

Yale to evaluate policies on donor gifts and influence

Four months after reports that the head of one of its most prestigious programs had abruptly resigned, Yale University is forming a committee to review its gift policies to ensure that academic freedom would be safeguarded from undue donor influence.

The committee, whose creation was first reported by the Yale Daily News, will consist of faculty members and administrative staff selected by Yale President Peter Salovey. A university spokesperson, Karen Peart, said that Salovey “will provide more details when he announces the committee, which will be soon.”

Concerns about inappropriate donor influence at Yale rose after The New York Times reported in September that Beverly Gage, a professor of history, had quietly resigned as head of the Grand Strategy program after the administration in her view had failed to defend against interference in the curriculum by two of the university’s most prominent and deep-pocketed donors. One of those donors had given Yale $500 million — the largest gift in its history.

Gage, a scholar of 20th-century American political history who had led the program since 2017, said that in November 2020, after a colleague in the program published an opinion article in the Times criticizing President Donald Trump as a demagogue who threatened the Constitution, she received the first of what became a string of inquiries and concerns about the program from the donors.

Last March, after the administration informed Gage that a new advisory board it was creating under previously ignored bylaws would be dominated by conservative figures of the donors’ choosing, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, she handed in her resignation.

News of her resignation in September caused an outcry among faculty at Yale and elsewhere, who said that the administration had failed to defend academic freedom.

After the Times article appeared, Salovey issued a letter to the Yale community saying he was sorry that Gage had experienced “more unsolicited input from donors than faculty members should reasonably be expected to accept.” Salovey, who the following day was set to preside over a launch event for Yale’s new $7 billion capital campaign, also affirmed Yale’s “unwavering commitment to academic freedom.”

In October, Yale’s faculty senate issued a resolution calling for a committee that would “survey existing donor agreements” and also recommend new policies that would protect academic freedom. While details of the committee’s access and power are yet to be specified, Salovey told the Yale Daily News that it would not oversee individual donations to the school.

“The committee will be charged with reviewing the current gift acceptance and review policy, recommending any beneficial modifications, and recommending how best to ensure that faculty can easily communicate concerns to the administration about gifts or prospective gifts,” he said.

Valerie Horsley, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine and president of the faculty senate, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But in an email, Gage, who was not involved in the faculty resolution, offered tentative praise for the committee.

“The committee initiative looks very promising,” she said, “though of course its effectiveness will depend in part on the committee’s membership and leadership, and on their degree of access to university gift agreements and internal processes.”

[This article originally appeared in The New York Times.]

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