DEAR YALE ALUMNI,
IT'S TIME TO MOVE YALE FORWARD

Dear President Salovey,
Dear Trustees of the Yale Corporation,
Dear Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors,
Dear Yale Alumni,

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, I write to inform you of my intention to run for a seat on the Yale Corporation as a representative of Yale Forward, a coalition of students, alumni, and faculty who believe that Yale is falling behind in its response to the climate crisis because our governance is not representative of our community. My hope is that, independent of the results of the election, our campaign will motivate the University to give a greater voice to students and recent alumni in its governance and to establish Yale as a moral and academic leader in the fight for a more healthy, just, and sustainable future. Today, I am asking for your support of this vision.

As a proud alumna, I recognize the current Corporation as an accomplished body that does tremendous work on behalf of the Yale community. I have been nominated by my fellow alumni to represent our collective interest by calling for a more affirmative commitment to inclusive governance, sustainable finance, and climate action. No sitting trustee has been a student at any of Yale’s schools in the last 18 years, and the make-up of the Corporation does not presently reflect the rich diversity of our global alumni body. Yale’s uniquely restrictive system of governance currently disenfranchises College alumni for five years following their graduation and makes it extremely difficult for new ideas and voices to be introduced at the Board of Trustees. 

Given the enormous changes that our community has experienced over the past several decades, I believe that the Board’s decision-making processes would be strengthened by formally including the input and perspectives of recent alumni that will carry the great legacy of our institution long into the future. To do this, the Board must establish and modernize avenues for direct communication with the Yale community. Ensuring that all alumni can exercise their right to vote will more fully inform the Board’s deliberations, helping the University better manage contemporary issues facing our alumni around the world and our students on campus.

The most pressing discrepancy between the University’s current policies and the perspectives of its students, faculty, and alumni is the definition of what constitutes an adequate response to the climate crisis. Yale is uniquely positioned to be a global leader on this issue: we have the scientific expertise and the resources to take action. That is why Yale University must signal its full commitment to addressing this crisis at the scope and scale that the science demands. The Yale Investments Office has been extraordinarily successful in growing the endowment to date, but its entrenched insistence on remaining invested in fossil fuels ignores the obvious and growing climate-related risks as well as the ethical implications of propping up a dying industry. Yale must take every opportunity to swiftly realign its investment strategy with a more sustainable and resilient future, and to devote more resources to the students and faculty who are developing solutions to fight climate change and to improve public health.

Climate action takes on added importance in the midst of a global health crisis, as governments, businesses, individuals, and the University adjust their behavior to respond to the threat of COVID-19. The data are clear—the same communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 are also at greatest risk of impacts from the climate crisis. Yale has a moral responsibility not only to do its part to flatten the curve, but also to ensure that the Yale and New Haven communities rebuild with greater resilience for the next crisis to come. This will not happen without renewed thinking and a deliberately inclusive and representative Board.

Yale’s mission statement reads: “Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations,” but the endowment is actively invested in a collapsing industry with significant downside risk that directly threatens our future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose groundbreaking assessments on global climate change have been supported by Yale’s research, has shown that existing global fossil fuel reserves vastly exceed the maximum allowable carbon budget that is necessary to mitigate the most extreme consequences of climate change by limiting global warming to 1.5° C. Put simply, climate risk is a material financial risk.

And yet, at a time when bold action and leadership are required, Yale has instead opted for half measures. Simply encouraging asset managers to discuss the financial risks of climate change with companies in which they invest will not solve the problem. The time for talk is over. It is impossible to reconcile the business models of an industry whose operations rely on the extraction, processing, and sale of fossil fuels with the scientific reality that, as a nation, we must halve our emissions by 2030 and transition to a 100% clean energy economy well before mid-century.

When Yale formally adopted guidelines from The Ethical Investor in 1972, the New York Times wrote that “the decision at Yale merely affirms that an institution with ethical goals cannot disclaim responsibility for unethical policies on the part of enterprises in which it owns a share. It is hardly neutral to condone corporate immorality or to profit from it.” We are calling on Yale to once again examine its role as an ethical investor and to now lead the way as a sustainable investor. Our aim is to establish Yale as an indisputable moral and academic leader in the fight against climate change and to proudly align our investments with our core values as an institution. That is why we must choose to reallocate our endowment toward a more sustainable and just economy, society, and future.

Yale Forward aims to address both the symptoms and the causes of Yale’s insufficient response to the climate crisis by making our governance more inclusive, bolstering our socially responsible investment practices, and giving a greater voice to the University’s most valuable asset: the Yale community. I am well aware that no petition candidate has been elected since William Horowitz successfully used the petition process in 1965 to become the first Jewish trustee in Yale’s history, adding religious diversity to the Corporation for the first time. Nevertheless, I am convinced by the passion of our fellow alumni and current students who are fighting for a better world that now is the time to stand for change and to do our part to move Yale forward.

I firmly believe in Yale University’s potential to be a champion of light and truth—lux et veritas—in our fight against climate change, and I want to work towards that future together. I hope you will join us.

Sincerely,

Maggie Thomas 

Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, MEM 2015

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