austerity or a just recovery

austerity or a just recovery

A few weeks ago, Yale President Peter Salovey solemnly marked the year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bells rang from Harkness Tower at noon on March 11 over a campus much emptier than usual. In his short message to the Yale community, President Salovey encouraged reflection on the loss and sacrifice that so many of us have experienced over the last year.

But talk is cheap. And the cost of Yale’s failure to act as an institution with moral clarity at a time of such suffering is high. Even though voters repudiated the hateful and violent politics of Donald Trump last November, Yale continues to showcase massive donations from some of Trump’s staunchest allies. Even though workers across the university have kept Yale profitable through the pandemic, Yale’s leaders have decided to denigrate their labor. Even though our state and local elected officials are bringing unprecedented resources to help working people in our city recover, Yale continues to hoard its wealth from its neighbors in New Haven.

Last December, we both traveled to Georgia to knock doors with UNITE HERE to take back the Senate. For one of us, this meant once again delaying plans to see family for the first time in almost a year due to the pandemic. For the other, it meant leaving behind a family that was grieving the deaths of a father and cousin, and living away from a son and daughters after already having spent months in Philadelphia in the campaign to beat Trump.

We sacrificed to fight against four more years of hate and against policies that would further drive working people into poverty while the elite got rich.

Our efforts, and the efforts of so many other people like us, got results. We won back the U.S. Senate and the presidency, and we expanded the Democratic majority here in the Connecticut General Assembly. The American Rescue Plan will bring over $180 million to New Haven for its schools and city services, and billions to Connecticut. Largely due to the efforts of Rep. Rosa DeLauro, it will expand the child tax credit that will deliver hundreds of dollars every month to working families. Sen. Martin Looney and the Connecticut Democrats have passed a tiered PILOT bill that could bring an additional $49 million to New Haven annually. The National Labor Relations Board has backed off their Trump-era attempt to take labor rights away from graduate teachers and researchers. Yale University can no longer rely on Trump to suppress graduate workers’ desire to form a union and negotiate a fair contract.

Leaders at Yale, meanwhile, claim to care about protecting democracy and uplifting working families, but their actions tell a very different story.

Yale honors donors like Charlie B. Johnson, who backed Trump and other far-right elected leaders. After receiving $250 million from Johnson, Yale named one of its new colleges after Benjamin Franklin, someone who has tenuous ties with Yale but a clear tie to Johnson’s family business Franklin Templeton Investments. Johnson is a notorious backer of far-right politicians like Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, who has made public jokes about lynchings. In addition to donating to Trump, Johnson also donated to 12 far-right candidates who challenged the 2020 election results, supported Q-anon theories, or took extreme stances against the Black Lives Matter movement. One of these candidates was Kelly Loeffler, who ran a racist campaign against the Rev. Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Remarking on Johnson’s political donations, the president of San Francisco chapter of the NAACP said, “Mr. Charles Johnson has shown that his heart is on the side of oppression, terror, lynching and racist practices.” Meanwhile, President Salovey praised Johnson as “one of Yale’s most loyal alumni,” and now New Haven is stuck with a tax-exempt monument to him.

Yale University is also New Haven’s largest employer, the largest landowner and the holder of an endowment worth more than $31.2 billion. While nationally we are reckoning with the deadly combination of over-policing and under-investment in Black and brown communities, Yale’s real-estate tax exemption starves New Haven’s public schools, youth programs, elderly and mental health services while laying bare a brutal history of segregated development. Yale’s failure to honor a 2015 hiring commitment has deprived dozens of New Haven families in low-income neighborhoods of the economic security and healthcare of a good union job during the pandemic.

On May 1, we joined dozens of others to paint “Yale: Respect New Haven” on the street outside President Salovey’s office. If you look up Prospect Street now, a long blue stripe shows the size of Yale’s endowment compared to the small contribution they make to New Haven in lieu of paying additional taxes.

Yale administrators like to offer platitudes about unity, respect, and sacrifice in times of unrest and difficulty. Now, they can decide to turn empty words into moral actions.

We have set the stage for a just recovery — now is the time for leaders at Yale to be our partners in realizing this vision.

Adam Waters is a graduate teacher in the Yale History department and a member of Local 33- UNITE HERE, the union for graduate employees at Yale. Remidy Shareef is the executive director of outreach for Ice the Beef and a key leader in New Haven Rising.

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