What are the overarching goals of Yale Forward?

Yale Forward aims to establish Yale as a moral and academic leader in the context of the climate crisis, to ensure that Yale’s investment of its endowment is consistent with Yale’s mission to improve the world today and in future generations, and to give a greater voice to students and recent alumni within Yale’s governance structures.

How does Yale Forward plan to achieve these goals?

We will work to elect Maggie Thomas—a recent alumna of the Yale Forestry & Environmental School—to Yale’s Board of Trustees on a platform of climate action, endowment justice, and inclusive governance.

Why did Yale Forward choose this tactic?

We believe that running a traditional organizing campaign will simultaneously boost turnout for the election and demonstrate to Yale that the majority of the alumni body supports our platform. This is about more than the election of any single trustee; this is about building a movement and creating a mandate for change. Additionally, history gives hope for petition candidates’ influence on university decision-making. In the late 1980s, a group called Harvard & Radcliffe Alumni/ae Against Apartheid (HRAAA) successfully elected a number of petition candidates to the Harvard Board of Overseers on a South African Divestment platform, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. After years of sustained pressure, Harvard decided to shift its investment guidelines. With the recent groundswell in grassroots support for fossil fuel divestment, the time is now to repeat their success at Yale.

How did Yale Forward get started?

You can read our origin story and meet the team here.

How can I support Yale Forward?

Other Yale Efforts

Are Yale Forward and Fossil Free Yale the same organization?

We are not Fossil Free Yale, but we are in frequent communication with them! Yale Forward and Fossil Free Yale are part of a broad coalition of alumni and student groups that have the same goals: to move Yale forward into a position of leadership in the fight against climate change and to grant a greater voice to students and young alumni. Fossil Free Yale and its partners in the Endowment Justice Coalition do great work through on the ground activism, while we’re approaching the problem through Yale’s system of elections. Both approaches are necessary, and we encourage alumni to sign the YEJC pledge and get involved with their work.

Does Yale Forward work with the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition?

Absolutely. Members of the YEJC provided input and feedback for our endowment justice platform. You can find our statement of support for the YEJC’s Puerto Rican Debt Campaign on our platform page.

What other climate-focused efforts exist at Yale?

There are many, ranging from on-campus initiatives to student and alumni Shared Interest Groups. These include:

Campaign Finance

How is Yale Forward funded?

Yale Forward was created by students and young alumni who are passionate about making Yale the leader that it should be. We believe that many alumni share this goal and want to contribute to the cause, so after launching Yale Forward we began accepting grassroots donations to help accomplish our mission. Donations are made to a 501(c)(3) non-profit, The Boarding School, which sponsors Yale Forward's operations.

What is The Boarding School?

The Boarding School is Yale Forward’s major sponsor. TBS was started by the founders of Harvard Forward in partnership with two Young Alumni Trustees at Princeton University. Beyond the projects it sponsors at Harvard and Yale, TBS is developing educational materials and offerings for current and prospective young trustees who serve on boards of universities, foundations, and other companies and organizations. Over the coming years, TBS hopes to continue supporting similar efforts that help young people shape the institutions that impact their lives.

What does Yale Forward use donations for?

Yale Forward uses donations to cover our campaign operations costs. These include:

  • Our website, email server, mailing list, and database;
  • Printing and mailing of business cards and other campaign materials;
and once the social distancing requirements of the global COVID-19 response pass, will also include:
  • Weekly payments to our interns and campaign manager;
  • Shipping physical petition forms around the world;
  • Limited campaign travel (flights/trains/hotels/food costs) for candidates and organizers; and
  • Volunteer campaign meet-ups around the country and world.


What is the Yale Corporation and what does the Corporation do?

The Yale Corporation (informally known as the Board of Trustees) is Yale’s principal governing body. It consists of the University President and 16 trustees who serve six-year terms. Six trustees are democratically elected by alumni, while the others are appointed by the Corporation. Here is what they do, according to Yale’s website: "As fiduciaries, the trustees ensure that Yale’s academic and administrative leadership are guided by sound policies and practices, and equipped with adequate resources, to further Yale’s mission."

What is the difference between the Yale Corporation and the Board of Trustees?

They are one and the same. The governing body of the University was referred to as the Corporation in legislation regarding the University dating back to 1792, in which the members of the Corporation were referred to interchangeably as Fellows and Trustees. Yale started referring to the Corporation informally as the Board of Trustees on its website in 2017.

How are the trustees selected?

Ten of the seventeen trustees are “successors of the original trustees of the University” and are appointed by the current members of the Corporation. Six trustees are elected, one per year, in the alumni election. The President of the University, also appointed by the Corporation, also serves as the President of the Corporation. Additionally, the Governor and Lt. Governor of the State of Connecticut sit on the Corporation as ex officio members.

How do candidates get on the ballot?

Nominees are hand-selected by the Alumni Election Nominating Committee of the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors. Alternatively, any alumni who wish to run for election can guarantee themselves a place on the ballot by collecting signatures a number of signatures equal to 3% of eligible voters. This year, that number is 4,394.

Who is eligible to vote?

All living alumni of the University, excluding those who graduated from Yale College in the last five years, are eligible to run and to vote.

Why can’t Yale College vote or run for election for five years after they graduate?

Recent graduates of Yale College have been prohibited from voting in the alumni election since the addition of the Alumni Trustees to the Corporation in 1871. While no evidence of the reasoning behind this decision is known, one could presume that it was an attempt to prevent recent graduates, who attended homecoming in larger numbers than older graduates, from having an outsized influence on an election which was at the time held in person on Commencement Day. Elections are no longer held in person, and Yale has no excuse for disenfranchising recent alumni.

What’s wrong with the trustees appointing their own successors?

Quite simply, it’s not democratic. The current system has produced a board that is overwhelmingly old, white, and male. In fact, ten out of the eleven appointed trustees (including the President) are men! A more open and inclusive democratic process will lead to a more representative board, who will be more capable of acting in the best interests of the students, alumni, and mission of the University.

When is the election and how do I vote?

Voting is done by mail or electronically; alumni receive an email with details on how to vote in the alumni election in April of the year of the election. However, to get a candidate on the ballot, we first need to collect 4,394 signatures. Signatures can be collected electronically or on paper from May 18th to October 1st the year before the election. You can sign up to receive updates about the petition process here.

How is Yale Forward going to achieve the goals of its platform with only one seat on the Corporation?

While one out of 17 is far from a majority, having voices in the room who are advocating for greater climate action will be impactful. You can imagine that if the Corporation is naming a new President or taking a position on investor responsibility, it's key to have Trustees in the room asking, "What's your plan to have Yale take more significant climate action?", or “How does this decision contribute to our commitment to be leaders on climate action?” This is just one of the ways in which our candidates can work to make climate action a strategic priority for Yale once they're elected. As Yale Forward continues to be active in the coming years, we will continue to increase the proportion of Trustees on the Board who support climate action. More than anything, the act of electing Yale Forward candidates sends a clear message that alumni care about these issues, encouraging Yale to take action.

Shouldn’t candidates for the Corporation not be “single-issue” candidates?

This isn’t a single-issue candidacy! We are running on a platform of climate action, endowment justice, and democratic governance of the Yale Corporation. These are three topics we feel need to be prioritized to maintain Yale’s excellence and position as world leader. While our candidate Maggie Thomas is dedicated to enacting the Yale Forward platform because she believes it’s in the best interest of the University to do so, Maggie is also an exceptionally intelligent, informed, and driven person with a deep passion for making sure Yale continues to be a world leader and a standard for excellence. In coming years, we hope to increase the representation of diverse backgrounds and experiences on the Yale Corporation to reflect the diversity of the alumni community, particularly the more recent generations. Maggie will thoughtfully and ably perform all Trustee responsibilities and will bring fresh perspectives to the Board that will benefit all.



Where can I read about your platform?

You can read the overview of our policy plan here. Our detailed, multi-page policy proposals on climate action, endowment justice, and inclusive governance are coming soon—if you have ideas or suggestions, we would love to hear from you! Send us your feedback here.

Why propose a three-pronged platform? Can’t we have climate action without endowment justice or inclusive governance (and vice versa)?

Yale has a responsibility to provide an exceptional learning environment to its current and future students. In order to truly fulfill that responsibility, it must be a leader in the effort to protect the planet from the climate crisis and give a voice to those who can speak to current students’ experiences. Decisions made about climate issues now directly affect younger generations in the future, so it's necessary that their voices are included in the conversations and decisions happening today. However, climate action isn’t the first existential crisis that has challenged us as a society, and it won’t be the last. By setting up robust practices for inclusive governance and endowment justice, we can ensure that Yale continues to be a leader in issues of societal importance for generations to come.

Don’t people across all generations care about the climate crisis?

Yes! Yale Forward is powered by alumni from all generations. At the same time, younger generations have a particularly strong stake in the climate crisis, given that they will have to bear the brunt of its impacts. Recent alumni are also traditionally underrepresented in Havard’s governance—of the current Trustees, the most recent Yale graduate received their degree in 2002. We believe that by including more recent alumni within Yale’s decision-making bodies, we can ensure that the issues that matter most on campus today are being appropriately considered by the University.


Why focus on fossil fuel divestment?

While our platform focuses on divestment from fossil fuels, we think Yale should take a holistic look at how ethical considerations should play a role in the management of the endowment; that is why we’re proposing a new reporting structure for the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility.

What about divestment from Puerto Rican debt and public prisons?

If the processes we follow are the right processes, then we’re confident that putting the issues of Puerto Rican debt and prison divestment through the restructured Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility will yield the right results. Maggie has publicly stated that she “personally believe[s] that Yale University should not profit off of the predatory loans being collected from the Government of Puerto Rico.”

Why divest? Don’t we just need to [insert other climate-positive action]?

Divestment doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive with any other steps taken to battle the climate crisis. The University can afford to be a climate leader through divestment and marshal its academic, research, and lobbying efforts toward fighting the climate crisis as well.

Isn’t divestment a bit drastic?

The effects of climate change are serious and unmistakable – mitigating them will require resolute responses, and the fastest path to a decarbonized economy is to stop investing our money in the fossil fuel industry. Scientists have issued clear and dire warnings, including last autumn’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that stated we will face serious consequences from anthropogenic climate change and that these consequences will be even more catastrophic if we do not make dramatic shifts in how we power the planet (i.e. moving away from fossil fuels) within the next decade.

Does divestment from fossil fuels have a real impact?

The symbolic power of universities leading the way forward is immensely valuable and inspirational. Universities have historically fomented positive social change, serving as ground zero for student-led initiatives to protect free speech, end the Vietnam War, and protest apartheid. In particular, Yale’s symbolic power as an institution of leadership in higher learning is unparalleled, so even “symbolic” gestures go a long way in influencing others to act. But we believe that divestment is not merely symbolic. It can spark a domino effect, where universities, investment funds, banks, and other financial stakeholders use the influence and impact of their capital to chart a course toward a sustainable future. Divestment from apartheid-era South Africa had real impacts, and financial pressure as a potential tool for justice should not be understated.

Isn’t it really complicated to divest?

Divestment is not an unprecedented action, and there are plenty of models to follow. One such example is the University of California school system, which in 2019 divested their entire endowment and pension fund (total around $80 billion) in a short time-span. Investment funds regularly reshuffle their investments, exiting industries as time allows. Besides, with the very future of the planet at stake, we cannot afford to stall simply because it will be “complicated” to divest.

Who else is divesting from fossil fuels?

Over 1100 institutions around the world have committed to divestment, representing $12 trillion in assets. Major examples include the European Investment Bank, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, the University of California school system, Brown University, Middlebury, Georgetown, the City of New York, and Ireland, among others.

Is divestment going to hurt Yale’s finances?

There is growing evidence that fossil fuels are not necessarily great investments. The price of renewable energy has decreased so steeply over the last decade that renewable energy is now the cheapest way to generate electricity in most of the world. Due to this trend, the fossil fuel sector has underperformed clean energy investments in the market in recent years, meaning that fossil fuel investors have lost significant amounts of money and stand to lose even more the longer they take to divest. In fact, when the UC system announced its decision to divest, the schools’ chief investment officer explained that their reasons for divesting were chiefly financial. The opacity of Yale’s holdings makes it impossible to judge how much money the University has foregone. But, for example, New York State’s $200 billion pension fund would have earned close to an additional $20,000 per retiree had it divested from fossil fuels in 2008. Finally, the long-term negative costs for the planet of continued investment in fossil fuels far outweigh any potential immediate benefits we might reap from an environmentally harmful investment policy.
In the last year, more evidence that the tide is turning on fossil fuel investments has come to light: The Intentional Endowments Network released a study showing that universities and college who have adopted sustainable investment measure haven’t suffered financially, and the CEO of BlackRock, which is the world’s largest asset manager, recently published a letter about climate risk requiring a “fundamental reshaping of finance.”

But aren’t fossil fuel companies doing renewable energy research?

While fossil fuel companies tout their investment in renewable energy technologies, the $3 billion that U.S. oil companies have put into renewables over the past five years is a tiny fraction of the $77 billion total investment in renewables in the U.S. over the past two years. These $3 billion appear even more insignificant when compared with the annual profits of these companies: in 2014 alone, publicly-traded fossil fuel companies operating in the U.S. and Canada made a total profit of $257 billion.
Furthermore, we cannot rely on partners who are not acting in good faith. We know that oil companies understood the catastrophic effects of climate change decades ago. Exxon, for instance, began building its drilling rigs to compensate for a rise in sea levels they knew was coming. Rather than releasing this information to the public, they spent billions over three decades building an architecture of deceit, denial, and disinformation designed to keep us in the dark about the harm they were causing in order to increase their profits. The willingness of the fossil fuel industry to lie about these facts is an act of intellectual dishonesty that, performed by a Yale student or professor, would get them suspended, expelled, or fired and flies in the face of the University’s motto: Lux et Veritas. Indeed, these companies were intentionally sowing public doubt and denial of the very science Yale’s professors were seeking to defend.

What about constructive engagement with companies as shareholders?

Yale actually does not have the ability to vote directly on shareholder resolutions in most cases, given that most of the University’s investments are in commingled funds and managed by outside investment firms, meaning Yale does not directly own an individual company’s stocks. The most efficient way to influence these companies is to revoke their social license to continue their environmentally harmful practices by divesting and publicly stating that we will not support their activities with our money.

Is it hypocritical to divest from supply-side fossil fuels while Yale still relies on fossil fuels?

While it is true that current societal systems make it implausible to go without fossil fuels on an individual scale in the short term, the fact that fossil fuels are an entrenched institution cannot serve to protect the industry from ethical pressure. For one, the impact that any individual can have on the climate crisis is heavily constrained by the systems and infrastructures we operate in. That is why, given the extent to which our lives are entangled with fossil fuels, we have a responsibility to advocate for and support large-scale, structural, and collective decarbonization efforts in every way possible. Perhaps one could say it would be hypocritical only to divest, without adjusting our behavior in any other way, but Yale itself has already made commitments to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels over the next three decades. Therefore, not only is divestment not in opposition to the University’s consumer-side goals—it is in perfect harmony. Our platform will offer many steps that we can take as a University and community to confront the climate crisis at various levels.

Is it Yale’s job to confront the climate crisis?

As it becomes clear that no governments will act with the decisiveness required to meet this challenge, there is an increasing need for non-governmental entities to lead, and many institutions have done so. Yale should not fear being alone in taking a stand; in fact, it should fear being left behind. From universities around the world, including the entire University of California system, to world financial centers like New York and London, to the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund (the largest single pool of investment capital in the world), over $11 trillion in endowments and portfolios have moved to divest from fossil fuels. Yale’s name and the sociopolitical weight it carries as the most globally recognized and respected institution of higher learning provides the University a unique platform to assume a stance of indisputable moral leadership in the context of the climate crisis. If we wish to continue attracting the brightest students, researchers, and faculty, we must establish ourselves as indisputable leaders in this space.

Aren’t carbon dividends a better way to regulate fossil fuels than divestment?

Ultimately, it’s not Yale’s job to implement a carbon dividend; that would be a government policy. However, it is Yale’s job to decide how to use their own endowment. There is also nothing about divestment that is incompatible with carbon dividends—in fact, divestment is simply a free-market decision to move capital away from fossil fuels.

Doesn't Yale already have a policy on socially responsible investing in fossil fuels?

Yale CIO David Swensen has previously directed Yale's asset managers to encourage companies "to mitigate financial risks and increase financial returns by reducing GHG emissions". However, Yale's continued investment in companies whose primary source of income is the exploitation of fossil fuels is inconsistent with this approach; companies whose core business revolves around the exploitation, sale, and combustion of fossil fuels cannot reduce emissions to levels consistent with the IPCC's recommendations while continuing to be profitable. Separately, the ACIR has recommended that Yale "generally support reasonable and well-constructed shareholder resolutions" for disclosure and analysis of emissions, and for strategies and advocacy for emissions reduction. Unfortunately, since Yale's investment strategy largely relies on the use of external asset managers, Yale mostly does not have the ability to vote directly on shareholder resolutions, limiting its capacity to effect change in this manner.

Endowment Justice

Doesn’t the Yale Corporation already have an Investor Responsibility Committee?

The ACIR and CCIR are very opaque, and neither have been very responsive to the ethical concerns raised by students and alumni. Our Endowment Justice plan will lay out more robust and transparent processes to achieve what the ACIR was allegedly meant to do.

What do the current ACIR and CCIR do?

A group of students, faculty, alumni and staff serve on an advisory committee to pass on recommendations to the CCIR, which makes decisions to guide the Yale Investments Office. However, due to the lack of transparency and efficacy in pushing Yale to ethically divest, more oversight is clearly needed.

Is this about ESG (environmental, social, governance)?

ESG may provide a useful framework and foundation for ethical investments, but Yale can not rely solely on watered-down ESG conventions; we must lead in the development of new ethical investment guidelines.

Climate Research & Education

Given that Yale is already conducting climate research, why do we need more?

Yale is not a place that settles for doing “just enough.” We need to be the indisputable leader in climate research and education.

Given that Yale is already conducting climate research, shouldn’t we invest more money in other areas?

Solving any other societal problem is contingent on having a livable planet, and the climate crisis will exacerbate almost any problem in any facet of society. Smart money is on finding ways to prevent or minimize the effect of climate change.

Recent Alumni Fellows

Why would we want recent alumni on the Corporation? Do they have enough experience?

When we say we value diversity of perspectives and opinions, we often forget one of the most important perspectives at Yale: current students. If the Board is advising on decisions that will impact the student body, they can’t make the most fully-informed decision without considering the perspective of the student body. As a result, we believe that it’s important to have a balance of voices; it’s crucial to have those who will bring experience as recent students to the board in addition to those who will bring years of expertise in finance, academia, government, and other areas.

Isn’t the purpose of the Yale Corporation to take care of the institution rather than cater to its students?

Taking care of the institution means taking care of the institution’s most valuable assets: its current and future students. The Corporation would be better equipped in its mission of looking after the University’s long-term future by including more perspectives of those who were recently on campus and know what the issues that matter most to current students are.

Do other schools do this?

Yes! Many schools have provisions to include recent alumni or current students in their governing bodies. We are particularly inspired by our peers at Princeton and Cornell who instituted inclusive governance practices in 1969, as well as Brown, which reserves seats for New Alumni Trustees.

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