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Among the chief characteristics of the people running America’s institutions are arrogance and a dogged unwillingness to be held accountable. Both have lately been on prominent display at Yale University.
Yale is a nonprofit corporation and a very wealthy one, whose alumni are supposed to elect its governing board. Ordinarily, Yale alumni get a ballot containing two candidates for each open slot on the board. The two candidates are chosen by . . . the board.
You can vote for whichever one you like, but the candidates are forbidden from taking any positions on any issues. The biographical information that comes with the ballots is scanty and, as I can attest, almost entirely useless in deciding whom to vote for.
Until recently, there was a safety valve: A candidate who could gather enough petitions could have his or her name placed before the alumni, too, running against the two candidates the board nominated. The last time that happened successfully was the first time a Jewish candidate, William Horowitz, was elected to Yale’s governing board. That was in 1965.
But this year, a distinguished Yale alumnus, Victor Ashe, a former mayor of Knoxville and ambassador to Poland, ran his own petition campaign.
Ashe wanted to end the secrecy that defines Yale governance. (How secret? The minutes of board meetings aren’t released until 50 years later.) In particular, Ashe had questions about the operation of Yale’s endowment, which, though huge, hasn’t been managed as well as some other schools’, though one board member’s investment firm has reaped multimillion-dollar management fees, according to Yale’s 2018 tax return.
Ashe, in other words, ran a campaign on openness and reform. And he lost, which was a disappointment, but not a disgrace.
The disgrace was that, even before the election result was announced, the Yale board met in secret and abolished the petition process. Apparently, even the possibility that an outsider might challenge the insiders’ choices was intolerable.
The net effect is that a small group now controls a multibillion-dollar corporation, with no real accountability. As Ashe told me, “They’ve seized control without any outside supervision. . . . It’s a $31 billion corporation. That’s not pocket change.”
No, it’s not.
Perhaps the state of Connecticut will intervene: Yale is a Connecticut corporation, and the governor and lieutenant governor are supposed to serve on the board, though according to a report in RealClearEducation, neither seems to be aware of it, or to be on the notification list for meetings. And perhaps this will give an added boost to proposals on both left and right to tax huge university endowments.
But in practice, the governing body of Yale University is a law unto itself. That’s bad for Yale, which already suffers from a bloated administration, poor faculty morale and anemic alumni giving, which is likely to become even more anemic in the future.
But it’s worse for the nation, because Yale isn’t alone. The people running most of our major institutions seem to suffer from the same mindset.
As the pandemic especially underscored, the people who run our institutions look with disdain at those they are supposed to serve. They think that they’re so much smarter and better than everyone else, which entitles them to have their way, without interference from the unwashed masses. (Yale, apparently, regards even its own graduates as unwashed.)
Our tech overlords at Google, Facebook, Amazon and the rest likewise regard their customers with contempt. And the people who run our news organizations are deeply impressed with themselves, though their brilliance is rarely in evidence.
One could tolerate elite highhandedness — if the elites in question are, in fact, effective servant elites. But as the just-released Fauci e-mails show, the team of “experts” who coordinated our pandemic response was in fact poorly informed, often dishonest and sometimes deliberately manipulative of the public. The New York Times’ corrections paragraphs are sometimes longer than the underlying news article. And prestigious Yale, as we have seen, is utterly misruled.
Our elites’ eagerness to escape accountability reveals a bitter truth.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and founder of the InstaPundit.com blog.
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