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Yale Forward Launches ‘Sister Campaign' Promoting Climate-Focused Trustee Candidate

Harvard Forward is a group led by students and alumni working to bring attention to climate change and recent alumni representation within Harvard's governance boards.
Harvard Forward is a group led by students and alumni working to bring attention to climate change and recent alumni representation within Harvard's governance boards. By Ryan N. Gajarawala
By Michelle G. Kurilla, Crimson Staff Writer

Following in the footsteps of a successful petition campaign by Harvard Forward, Yale Forward — a student and alumni group working to bring attention to climate change and alumni representation within the school’s governance boards — launched a campaign to elect 2015 alum Maggie Thomas to the Yale Corporation Wednesday.

In an email to supporters, Harvard Forward wrote that Wednesday — the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — was an apt time to “remind ourselves that our efforts at Harvard are part of a much larger global effort."

“That's why we're very excited to announce that our own movement is also growing,” Harvard Forward wrote. “Today, our friends in New Haven launch their own petition campaign for the Yale Corporation on a platform of climate action, endowment justice, and inclusive governance.”

“Together, we can make sure both Harvard and Yale alumni can vote for climate champions in their next elections,” they added.

In February, Harvard Forward successfully petitioned to get on the ballot for Harvard’s Board of Overseers election. All five of the candidates received 4,500 alumni signatures, according to a Harvard Forward press release.

The genesis of Yale Forward, Harvard Forward’s “sister campaign,” comes after student activists staged a notable joint protest at the 136th edition of the Harvard-Yale football game in November. At The Game, dozens of students calling for fossil fuel divestment ran onto the field at halftime, with several hundred spectators joining them as they staged a sit-in.

The demonstration ended with some protestors facing arrest and charges of disorderly conduct. A Connecticut Judge dismissed all of their charges in January.

Spokespeople from Harvard and Yale did not respond to requests for comment.

The Yale Forward campaign is centered on electing Thomas to the university’s corporation, which is Yale’s principal governing body.

The corporation — which is also known as the Board of Trustees — is made up of Yale’s president and 16 trustees; 10 of the members are appointed successor trustees who are limited to two six-year terms, and six members are elected alumni fellows, according to Yale’s website. The elected fellows are “chosen by alumni for staggered six-year terms,” and the governor and lieutenant governor of Connecticut are also ex officio board members.

Thomas — a 2015 graduate of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies — wrote in a press release that she believes Yale University has the “potential to be a champion of light and truth” in fighting climate change.

“I want to work towards that future together,” Thomas wrote.

Similar to Harvard Forward, Yale Forward has a three-pronged platform focued on climate action, endowment justice, and more inclusive governance.

“Policy proposals include fossil fuel divestment, more robust processes for developing socially-responsible investment guidelines, and increased support for climate-focused research and education,” the press release reads. “The platform also calls for the elimination of the five-year disenfranchisement rule for Yale College alumni—who are barred from voting in Corporation elections until they have held their degrees for more than five years—and for increased transparency around the operations of the Corporation.”

Thomas specifically cited a policy that mandates the Yale Corporation’s meeting minutes remain sealed for 50 years.

“I think we can all agree that this degree of opacity does not serve the interests of the Yale community,” she wrote.

Since William Horowitz was elected as the University’s first Jewish Trustee in 1965, no other petition candidate has been successfully elected to the Yale Corporation, according to the press release.

"I'm running for the Yale Corporation because I believe that Yale University can have a positive impact on the future of the planet,” Thomas wrote. “And I’m fighting for younger Yale graduates who should be able to participate in the election of Alumni Fellows to the Corporation.”

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at michelle.kurilla@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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