The historian Beverly Gage, who has run the Grand Strategy course since 2017, says the university failed to stand up for academic freedom amid inappropriate efforts to influence the curriculum.
The Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy is one of Yale University’s most celebrated and prestigious programs. Over the course of a year, it allows a select group of about two dozen students to immerse themselves in classic texts of history and statecraft, while also rubbing shoulders with guest instructors drawn from the worlds of government, politics, military affairs and the media.
But now, a program created to train future leaders how to steer through the turbulent waters of history is facing a crisis of its own.
Beverly Gage, a historian of 20th-century politics who has led the program since 2017, has resigned, saying the university failed to stand up for academic freedom amid inappropriate efforts by its donors to influence its curriculum and faculty hiring.
The donors, both prominent and deep-pocketed, are Nicholas F. Brady, a former U.S. Treasury secretary under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Charles B. Johnson, a mutual fund billionaire and leading Republican donor who in 2013 made a $250 million donation to Yale — the largest gift in its history.
Days after the 2020 presidential election, Professor Gage said, an opinion article in The New York Times by another instructor in the program calling Donald J. Trump a demagogue who threatened the Constitution prompted complaints from Mr. Brady.
Four months of wrangling over the program later, Professor Gage resigned after the university administration informed her that a new advisory board it was creating under previously ignored bylaws would be dominated by conservative figures of the donors’ choosing, including, against her strong objections, Henry A. Kissinger, the former secretary of state under President Richard M. Nixon.
Her resignation, which Yale has not yet made public, raises the question of where universities draw the line between honoring original agreements with donors and allowing them undue sway in academic affairs. It’s a question that can become turbocharged when colliding political visions, and the imperatives of fund-raising, are involved.
Since taking over the program, Professor Gage has expanded the syllabus to include grass-roots social movements, like the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the civil rights movement in the United States. Until late last year, she said, she had received no criticism from the donors or the administration about the course’s direction.
In a statement, Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, offered praise for her teaching and scholarship. But the administration disputed her claims that Yale had given in to donor pressure.
Pericles Lewis, the university’s vice president for global strategy and vice provost for academic initiatives, said the university was simply adhering to its 2006 agreement with the donors, which Professor Gage had resisted.
“It wouldn’t have a controlling power,” he said of the board. “But I can understand why that would not be her cup of tea.”
What the administration sees as legitimate oversight, Professor Gage, who remains a tenured professor in the history department, sees as a sudden effort by the donors to establish “some form of surveillance and control” over the program.
“It’s very difficult to teach effectively or creatively in a situation where you are being second-guessed and undermined and not protected,” she said in an interview.
The idea was to teach leadership through an eclectic curriculum of classic texts, case-studies and crisis simulations, incorporating thinkers and topics from Thucydides, Sun Tzu, and Machiavelli to the Cold War.
The course “arose out of the desire to reaffirm the power of the big idea,” the journalist Molly Worthen wrote in “The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost,” her 2005 biography of Mr. Hill. “It came from the professors’ alarm at the rise of the ‘wonk,’ the Clinton-era policy expert with no concept of broad context.”
The course quickly drew admirers (and imitators) well beyond Yale, along with plenty of suspicion on the predominantly liberal campus, where some saw it as a cultish bastion of retrograde “great man” history.
In 2006, it was formally endowed with a combined gift of $17.5 million from Mr. Johnson and Mr. Brady. In a 2013 article in The Yale Daily News, Professor Gaddis said Mr. Brady had given a single directive: “Teach common sense.”
“Grand Strategy” is a capacious but slippery concept, one that has generated continuing debates about its meaning. In his 2018 book “On Grand Strategy,” Professor Gaddis defined it as “the alignment of unlimited aspirations with necessarily limited capabilities.”
Professor Gage, 49, has incorporated social movement strategy into the course. (In a recent essay, she described herself as someone who “was as likely to be a protester as a policymaker.”) She said she has sought to bring in a demographically, politically and intellectually diverse group of practitioners as teachers and guest speakers. Recent invitees have included the former defense secretary James N. Mattis; the conservative intellectual Yuval Levin; the civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta, and the racial justice activist Heather McGhee.
Professor Kennedy said he supported the direction of the course under Professor Gage. “She is a very gifted leader and teacher,” he said.
Professor Gaddis echoed the sentiment, adding: “I don’t think the Yale administration has sufficiently insulated her. It is traditionally thought that the faculty determine the curriculum, and I think that’s how it should be.”
Professor Gage, who was recently nominated to the National Council on the Humanities, was renewed by Yale as program director in July 2020. (She is also a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and has written opinion pieces for The Times.) She described her previous relationship with the donors as supportive.
But she said the tone abruptly changed last November, a week after the presidential election, when Bryan Garsten, a Yale political scientist who teaches in the program, published an opinion article called “How to Protect America From the Next Donald Trump.”
The next day, Professor Gage received an email from Mr. Hill saying Mr. Brady had called “to grouse” about the article, “complaining that there was no grand strategy in it.” According to the email, which was viewed by The Times, Mr. Brady also said that “this is not what Charlie Johnson and I signed up for.” (Mr. Hill died last March, at 84.)
In a phone call with Professor Gage that day, Mr. Brady reiterated his view and began asking about the syllabus and practitioners. “It was strange, because none of that had changed much in the past three years,” she said.
Representatives for Mr. Brady, 91, and Mr. Johnson, 88, said they were unavailable for comment.
In another phone call, on Nov. 13, Professor Gage said, Mr. Brady lamented that the program isn’t “what it was.” When she pressed for specifics, he said she wasn’t teaching Grand Strategy “the way Henry Kissinger would.”
“I said, ‘That’s absolutely right. I am not teaching Grand Strategy the way Henry Kissinger would,’” she said.
Later that day, Mr. Brady sent her an excerpt from the 2006 donor agreement, outlining an outside five-member “board of visitors” that would advise on the appointments of the practitioners.
Professor Gage had never heard of this board, which had never been established. Dr. Lewis, the vice provost, told her he would look into it. Two weeks later, Dr. Lewis said he had confirmed details in the donor agreement, and Yale had a legal obligation to create the board.
Professor Gage wasn’t happy. But if it were created, she insisted to Dr. Lewis, it would need diversity across generational, ideological, methodological, racial and gender lines. And the donors could not be allowed to appoint its members.
Yale, she said, seemed to agree. What followed were nearly two months of back and forth, with Dr. Lewis sending along a string of suggestions — most of them Republicans or conservatives, Professor Gage said. She said she told him most would be fine, as long as the board had a diverse mix.
But in late February, things “started to head downhill.” she said. In a phone call, she said, Dr. Lewis told her that the donors were threatening to sue to reclaim the remaining Grand Strategy endowment. And it was suggested that Mr. Johnson’s $250 million donation might also be in doubt.
Dr. Lewis also said that Mr. Brady wanted a researcher whom he had previously commissioned to write a 2016 book about the program to observe class and report back.
On March 4, things came to a head. According to Professor Gage, Dr. Lewis told her that Mr. Johnson had what Dr. Lewis said was a mistaken impression that he could choose the board, and that he wanted to name Stephen J. Hadley, former national security adviser to George W. Bush; Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey; and Mr. Kissinger.
Professor Gage told him the board lacked the necessary variety, and that she objected to Mr. Kissinger. “He represents the opposite of the generational shift I have been trying to make,” she said in the interview.
The next week, Professor Gage said, Dr. Lewis said Dr. Salovey was moving ahead with a board including those three men. And it would not include anyone with social-movement expertise, because the donors didn’t want that.
That evening, she spoke with Dr. Salovey, who asked her to see things “from the university’s perspective,” as she recalled it, describing it as a donor-management situation that would likely settle down.
She told him that unless Yale came out more strongly in favor of academic freedom and in support of the current program, she would resign. Several days later, she did so, effective in December.
Dr. Lewis called Professor Gage “an outstanding historian and a great teacher.” But in an interview with The Times, he pushed back on the notion that Yale had been swayed by donor pressure. Aside from a strong desire for Mr. Kissinger, he said, the donors did not pick any board members, beyond wanting an international relations focus (which he called “the original remit of the program”).
Dr. Lewis said the donors had not relayed any political concerns about the board or the program. “The way they expressed to me, it was more about wanting to be sure the goal of international engagement and so on was there, and that we had distinguished practitioners,” he said.
As for the suggestion that Mr. Brady’s researcher might attend class and report back, Dr. Lewis said the thought was that it might be time for “an update” to her book, which was published in 2016 — an idea, he said, that he ruled out.
Asked about Professor Gage’s claim that Dr. Salovey informed her that he intended to include three people on the board she has been told Mr. Johnson wanted, a spokeswoman for Yale declined to comment. “We’re not going to confirm this level of detail about private conversations,” she said.
Dr. Lewis said he did not recall if Mr. Johnson’s $250 million donation came up. Nor did he recall any threats of legal action, though there had been discussion whether the remaining funds could be put to other uses “if for some reason we felt Grand Strategy had reached the end of its time.”
Despite those conversations, Dr. Lewis said there were no plans to discontinue the program, which he called “one of the jewels in the crown of the Yale curriculum.”
Professor Gage said that at a time when many people are concerned about the lack of political diversity at elite campuses, it was ironic that the Grand Strategy program had come under fire.
“This program really tried to be something that lots of people say they want universities to be: a place of open engagement across ideological lines,” she said.
Public health experts have savaged President Donald Trump’s decision to cut U.S. funding to the World Health Organization (WHO), which he says failed in its “basic duty” during the coronavirus pandemic by promoting “disinformation” from China.
“Today I’m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess [its] role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus,” Trump said at an April 14 briefing.
The move represents another stunning turnaround for Trump, who in late February praised the WHO for “working hard and very smart,” before souring on the world body in recent days as the U.S. death toll soared. Still, it remains in line with his longstanding distrust of multilateral institutions more generally.
Critics have accused the President of attempting to shift blame away from his own torpid response to the pandemic. The WHO declared a public health emergency on Jan. 30, after which Trump continued to speak at rallies and belittle COVID-19 as “the flu.”
Trump’s funding announcement has already drawn condemnation from all quarters. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a statement that this is “not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the [WHO] or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus.”
Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of the Lancet medical journal, wrote that Trump’s decision was “a crime against humanity. Every scientist, every health worker, every citizen must resist and rebel against this appalling betrayal of global solidarity.”
Critics agree the WHO’s response suffered missteps at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. There was a
- focus on government information rather than non-official sources, such as whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang.
- Officials could have investigated how many healthcare workers had become infected, which was
- clear evidence of human-to-human transmission before official confirmation came Jan. 23.
- It advised nations not to close borders.
“The WHO could have been more diligent in determining the nature of the outbreak and how serious the problem was,” says Dr. Yanzhong Huang, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Trump’s scapegoating of the WHO comes after he spent two months ignoring warnings about a disease that has now killed more than 26,000 people in the U.S., the highest national death toll. In late January, influential White House economic advisor Peter Navarro wrote a memo to Trump that warned COVID-19 had the potential to claim hundreds of thousands of American lives and derail the national economy unless immediate and sweeping containment efforts were implemented.
Trump’s sluggish response stands out against the examples of other nations. South Korea, for one, confirmed its first case of COVID-19 just one day before the U.S. Yet a robust public health response that tested three times as many citizens per capita has kept reported cases under 11,000 compared to more than 600,000 in the U.S., which also has a triple the fatality rate.
“President Trump is trying to rewrite history to divert criticism from his own administration’s failures,” Adam Kamradt-Scott, associate professor specializing in global health security at the University of Sydney, tells TIME. “Lives will be lost as a result.”
Yet most public health professionals agree that the WHO is desperately in need of reform. It has been for a very long time. Despite a sprawling global mandate, the U.N. agency, which was founded in 1949, has an annual budget of just $2.2 billion—smaller than the largest American hospitals and a fraction of the $11.9 billion allocated to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The U.S. is the largest single donor to the WHO, contributing over $400 million in 2019 including both assessed (mandatory) contributions and voluntary top-up donations from government and private sources (Though, in fact, the U.S. is currently $200 million in arrears.)
The WHO’s shoestring budget is largely because assessed contributions were frozen in the early 1980s amid the Reagan Administration’s outrage that U.N. bodies—particularly UNESCO—appeared to be tilting toward Moscow as more Kremlin-aligned third-world states joined up. As a result, assessed contributions have not risen in real terms since then and continue to be based on a combination of GDP and population. The U.S. today still provides around twice the assessed contributions of second place China.
But assessed contributions only account for $246.8 million in 2020, meaning over 80% of the WHO’s total budget comes from voluntary contributions. The U.S. comes top again while China’s voluntary contributions are negligible. But the greater problem with voluntary funds is that they are ringfenced for specific purposes and so cannot be diverted to address sudden crises, such as Ebola or COVID-19.
Ultimately, the WHO has little freedom to decide for itself where to spend its meagre resources; those decisions are made by the donors, whether government or charitable entities like the Gates Foundation. This is why 27% of the WHO’s total budget is spent towards polio eradication despite just dozens of cases annually. “The funding structure is unpredictable and allows donors to dictate the agenda,” says Huang.
This lack of resources contributes to various missteps. In 2009, the WHO was criticized for declaring a pandemic for H1N1 flu too early and for a virus that wasn’t sufficiently virulent. During the 2014 West Africa Ebola Outbreak, it was condemned for delaying the declaration of a public health emergency.
The irony of Trump’s funding cut is that, by its own questionable record, the WHO’s COVID-19 response was “fairly good,” says Kamradt-Scott.
In turns of accountability, the WHO does now livestream its World Health Assembly meetings every year to boost transparency. But the lack of criticism—and fulsome praise—of China’s COVID-19 response despite obvious problems with the reported numbers of infected and dead has galvanized suspicions of politicization. WHO Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised China’s “extraordinary” efforts against COVID-19 that were “setting a new standard for outbreak response.”
There is unquestionably an effort to avoid an adversarial culture within the WHO’s 194 member states. It has consistently sought to try and cajole and co-opt countries into doing the right thing as opposed to publicly naming and shaming.
The notable exception was in 2003-04, when various WHO officials criticized China for downplaying the SARS outbreak. “It would have been much better if the Chinese government had been more open in the early stages,” said WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland said at the time.
In the review that followed that crisis it was decided that the WHO should in future take a less confrontational approach when dealing with member states. The U.S. was party to that conversation and has, arguably, been a key beneficiary over the years. The periodic rolling back of family planning provisions in the U.S. during conservative administrations has escaped censure from the WHO despite a documented deleterious impact on the health and wellbeing of women and children. The same could be said about the lack of comprehensive universal healthcare like that enjoyed in so many other developed nations.
Ultimately, of course, it’s not strictly up to Trump whether to keep funding the WHO. The White House is not technically allowed to block funding of international institutions mandated by Congress, though the administration has found creative ways around constitutional hurdles through the application of sanctions or diverting funds by other means.
Still, the very threat of slashing funding has the potential to turn Trump’s specious claims about a “China-centric” WHO into a reality. Beijing has steadily been increasing its influence and putting nationals into key posts in nearly all multinational institutions—from the U.N. and Interpol, to the IMF. As Trump orients the U.S. away from the world stage, a presumptive superpower like China stands poised to fill the gap. Says Kamradt-Scott: “It would seem that Trump has just given China an opportunity on a silver platter.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden will initially rely on a decades-old network of big donors if he enters the Democratic presidential primary contest as expected, in contrast to the small-donor base that many of his 2020 rivals are racing to build.
Mr. Biden’s campaigns in the 2008 and 1988 primaries netted a combined $18.5 million and were financed by big donors and public funds—which candidates in recent years have stopped using because of spending limits they trigger. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, by contrast, fueled his insurgent 2016 presidential bid almost entirely with contributions of $200 or less, amassing $238 million in a little over a year... There is little evidence that Mr. Biden, 76 years old, has worked to foster a base of small donors in the two years since he left office. He has expressed concern to Democratic fundraisers that he won’t be able to make a splash with early online donations the way Mr. Sanders and other candidates have.The political action committee that Mr. Biden started in May 2017 to help Democrats spent more than $550,000 in digital consultants, but that investment barely paid off, Federal Election Commission records show. The group, American Possibilities PAC, received $923,000 from donors giving $200 or less, out of the $2.6 million it raised.
.. The PAC had been paying Blue State Digital, a firm founded by Joe Rospars, the chief digital strategist for former President Obama’s two presidential campaigns and now an adviser to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign.
Mr. Biden, who has spent much of the past few years giving paid speeches and promoting his book, said he wants to fund his presidential bid on his own terms—and has ruled out well-funded help from outside his potential campaign. Representatives for Mr. Biden didn’t respond to requests for comment.
“I will not be part of a super PAC,” Mr. Biden said in a February appearance at the University of Delaware. “An awful lot of people have offered to help—and the people who are usually the biggest donors in the Democratic Party, and I might add some major Republican folks.”
Mr. Biden’s allies have been reaching out to their contacts in preparation for a campaign announcement, which could happen as early as Wednesday. Donors can give a maximum $2,800 per election.
Some of Mr. Biden’s longtime supporters are planning fundraisers for him soon after his likely campaign launch. Several donors said David L. Cohen, a Comcast Corp. senior executive vice president, is organizing a fundraiser that is expected to include former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and several top donors from the Obama and Clinton campaigns, planned in Philadelphia, where Mr. Biden has deep ties.
“The vast majority [of Obama donors] who I’ve talked to are with Biden—and have been waiting for him,” said Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia attorney and Democratic fundraiser who has committed to Mr. Biden.
Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina state senator and longtime Democratic fundraiser, said he plans to contribute the maximum to Mr. Biden “the second he announces.”
“He has a natural advantage with fundraising, but not a natural advantage in the digital universe,” said Mr. Harpootlian, adding Mr. Biden can use large checks like the one he will write to invest in a small-dollar online fundraising program.
The Obama donor network includes about 250 people who each raised $500,000 or more for his re-election bid. But those so-called bundlers, who aggregate donations and write lump-sum checks, aren’t acting in unison—some are writing checks to multiple candidates or have committed to other Democratic presidential contenders ahead of Mr. Biden’s announcement.