Light & Verity

Grand strategy director resigns over donor involvement

The president apologizes after a New York Times article breaks the news.

For a course enrolling only about 20 to 25 students a year, Yale’s Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy has a big reputation. Founded in 2000 to train future leaders in big-picture thinking, the year-long course has attracted media attention and such high-profile guest lecturers as Henry Kissinger, James Comey, Samantha Power ’92, and David Petraeus. So when the program’s director, history professor Beverly Gage ’94, resigned over what she considered interference by a donor, it was front-page news in the New York Times.

As Gage tells it, the events that resulted in her resignation began in November 2020, when Yale political science professor Bryan Garsten, who teaches in Grand Strategy, published an op-ed in the Times that was strongly critical of President Donald Trump. Nicholas Brady ’52, who with Charles Johnson ’54 gave $17.5 million to endow the program in 2006, wrote in an email to Grand Strategy lecturer Charles Hill that the essay was “not what Charlie Johnson and I signed up for,” the Times reported in its article on Gage’s resignation. (Brady and Johnson declined to comment for this article.)

Gage says Brady began to ask questions about the way the program was being taught, and eventually invoked a clause in the 2006 donor agreement that called for a “board of visitors,” a five-person panel of outsiders that would weigh in on appointments. The board had never been created, but the university soon moved to do so. The final straw, Gage says, was when Yale accepted Johnson’s list of names—including Kissinger’s—for appointment to the board. Gage then told Yale she would leave her post as director at the end of 2021. (She remains at Yale as a history professor.) Associate director Michael Brenes was to become interim director in January.

The donors’ concerns, Gage says, were “kind of vague,” but were a combination of “methodological, ideological, and political.” Since taking over as director in 2016, Gage says, she had made some adjustments. “The major intellectual change was to expand from great-power foreign policy issues to also think about domestic policies and social movements,” she says. Defending the program’s continued quality, she notes that, in the same month that Brady first raised his concerns, three students in the program were named Rhodes Scholars, and one of its guest practitioners, Jake Sullivan ’98, ’03JD, was appointed national security adviser.

On October 1, the day the Times story appeared in print, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD released a statement, saying he was “genuinely sorry that [Gage] did experience more unsolicited input from donors than faculty members should reasonably be expected to accept.” Salovey acknowledged that “we must take care to ensure that gifts we receive do not infringe on the academic freedom of our faculty.”

That same day, the history department issued a statement supporting Gage and asking for “explicit reassurance that the university administration will protect the academic freedom of all faculty members and the integrity of all departments, programs, centers, and institutes on our campus.” And on October 17, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on the university to establish a committee to examine existing gift agreements and to “recommend gift agreement policies that protect academic freedom.”

FAS Senate president Valerie Horsley notes that some universities have specific gift policies that make the limits clear. “Our preference is to make the policy more transparent,” says Horsley.  

4 comments

  • Ronald Cheney
    Ronald Cheney, 4:28pm January 17 2022 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I applaud Professor Gage's courage to stand for independence free of the strings attached to and subtle pressures exerted by large donations and donors. A quiet hero in the midst of today's black money and co-option of public institutions. Happy to see that she remains as a history professor where she can continue to protect against any pressures on exercising academic freedom.

  • George Huthsteiner '74 TD
    George Huthsteiner '74 TD, 2:11am January 24 2022 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    <> I say return the $17.5 million to Mr. Brady and Mr.Johnson. In 1995 Richard Levin returned $20 million to Lee M. Bass'79 because of Mr. Bass's desire to influence faculty appointments to the Bass Program of Common Study in Western Civilization. <> Mr. Brady and Mr. Johnson could take heart that Yale has already "educated" some of Trumpist America's leading intellectual black holes -> Elmer Stewart Rhodes J.D. 2004, founder of the Oath Keepers <> Ron DeSantis B.A. 2001, governor of Florida <> Josh Hawley J.D. 2006, senator from Missouri. <> Or better still, Mr. Brady and Mr. Johnson could, as individuals, consider reading history more widely and with more skepticism. Yale faculty members Timothy Snyder (On Tyranny) and Jason Stanley (How Fascism Works), are authors they should add to their reading lists.

  • Andrew McGarrell
    Andrew McGarrell, 11:05am January 25 2022 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    "President-Elect Donald Trump" in November 2020? That's not how I remember the situation then.

  • Mark Branch
    Mark Branch, 11:27am January 25 2022 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Andrew McGarrell: Oof, you're right. Thanks for pointing it out. Corrected!

Post a comment