Yale’s Alumni Donations May Suffer Amid Free Speech Debate

November 17, 2015

By Serena Elavia at FOX Business News

In light of the recent campus protests at Yale University in New Haven, CT, many in the alumni community are upset with the current campus climate and are threatening to cease donations if the University censors free speech.

This Ivy League institution has become the center of a free speech debate after two conflicting emails were sent out to students about Halloween costumes. The first email, sent to the campus by the Intercultural Affairs Committee, which seeks to promote an inclusive and diverse campus, requested that students avoid wearing “culturally unaware or insensitive” Halloween costumes, including Native American dress, redface and blackface. In response, faculty member Erika Christakis, sent an email saying students should be free to wear whichever costumes they choose. Both were cited by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

After the second email, many students felt that Christakis had created an unsafe space on campus according to reports. Since then, students have held a 1,000 person protest, submitted demands to the University and even shouted down Christakis’ husband, who is also a Yale faculty member. That account was captured on YouTube (GOOG).

According to the Yale Daily News, the student newspaper, students have skipped classes and midterm exams, or requested extensions citing emotional distress as rendering them unable to fulfill academic obligations.

Now, hundreds of alumni are frustrated with how Yale has handled the crisis. For many, they’ve threatened to withhold future donations if the administration favors protesting students.

Michael Knowles, a 2012 alum, started a Fundly campaign called Concerned Yale Alumni that is raising money to send copies of free speech books to Yale President Peter Salovey, faculty and students.

“The implicit message of this campaign is that alumni will not be sending a penny to Yale University until they make very clear their unconditional commitment to the exchange of free ideas,” says Knowles who says he has spoken to hundreds of alumni.

While the campaign to date only has 17 public donors raising $1,118, Knowles says he has received private checks from alumni totaling several thousand dollars who did not want their names publicly displayed on the campaign.

A 2011 Yale alum who spoke to FOXBusiness.com on the condition of anonymity says that “North of 90% of alumni that I talk to would not donate to Yale currently.”

And Yale’s official fundraising efforts may also take a hit. Ahead of the 132nd Harvard versus Yale football game on Saturday November 21, a sporting rivalry steeped in tradition between the two institutions, Yale has called off its fifth annual fundraiser, according to sources connected to the campaign and alumni.

Historically, the fundraiser runs for ten days leading up to the game and challenges Harvard and Yale alumni to compete for who can raise the most money. According to the fundraiser’s page, Yale has seen upwards of thousands of donors participating in the challenge with 3,870 in 2014, 3,999 in 2013, and 1,010 in 2012.

“This could not have come at a less opportune time for Yale fundraising,” says Knowles.

Multiple calls and emails for comment to Yale’s Office of Public Affairs regarding both the football fundraiser and the impact on alumni donations were not returned to FOXBusiness.com. Nor was an email to Yale President Peter Salovey.

One alumnus who will continue to donate is Stephen Schwarzman, class of 1969, and the founder and CEO of investment bank Blackstone (BX) who gave a landmark $150 million gift to Yale in May 2015. In a statement to FOXBusiness.com, he said: “The gift is intended to bring the Yale community together and the need is more important than ever.”

Another one of Yale’s biggest donors, Charles Bartlett Johnson, class of 1954, and a former chairman of the mutual fund company Franklin Resources (BEN) gifted a $250 million donation to Yale in September 2013. At the time of publication, Johnson had not returned a request for comment to FOXBusiness.com on whether or not he will continue to donate to the University.

On Thursday November 12, a group of Yale students referring to themselves as the “Next Yale” submitted a list of demands to President Salovey with a deadline of November 18. Salovey told the Yale Daily News that the administration will “seriously” review the demands and provide a response this week.

Schools: Yale University Cases: Yale University: Protesters at Yale Threaten Free Speech, Demand Apologies and Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email