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My non-resignation letter

You may have noticed that on Monday, Yale University and Yale Alumni Publications, Inc.—the governing board of the nonprofit that publishes this magazine—released a joint statement announcing that much is changing at the Yale Alumni Magazine. Starting July 1, we will become a department of Yale.

The reactions have been mixed, but one in particular made me realize that our readers could use more information. Eric Weinberger ’89 wrote, in a comment on our website, “I don’t know why the editor hasn't resigned.” Two reasons:

First, resignation would be an appropriate move, maybe the only move, in response to a hostile takeover. But in our situation, Yale’s action is much more like a rescue.

Our business model has been slowly but steadily failing. Our budget depended for decades on the Yale College class treasuries: the individual classes covered the subscriptions for all of their classmates. Who funded the class treasuries? The fraction of alumni in every class who paid their class dues. The system worked, and everyone was happy, as long as that dues-paying fraction was comfortably large—big enough to fund both the magazine and class activities. And so it was, until recently.

Today, the class dues system is dying off in colleges around the country, including Yale. In the Yale College classes of 1971 through 2013, an average of only 17 percent pay their dues. Class treasuries are strained. As for the magazine, we have been increasingly subsidizing the class subscriptions. We have watched our revenue from class subscriptions moving downward, step by step. We cut back, we increased our fundraising, we investigated other subscription and publishing models—but it became apparent to our board and to me that we were heading toward financial failure.

Second: Yale has committed to maintaining the magazine as a publication of high-quality journalism, not a mouthpiece. Yes, the Yale administration will unquestionably have more input than before. But Yale has pledged, in the formal agreement with our board, to support “robust journalistic coverage of the University” and to “accord a great deal of editorial discretion” to the magazine. To preserve the magazine’s individual voice and point of view, it will not become part of the communications or development departments. Moreover, our board will remain in place, including three prominent American journalists, and it is charged to meet at least twice a year and “explicitly give counsel about whether the Yale Alumni Magazine is delivering sophisticated journalism through rigorous reporting.”

And so I believe it is much better for me to stay and to give this new model my best shot. Both Yale and our board had asked me to remain, and the staff and I deeply appreciate their confidence in our work. The Yale Alumni Magazine has been delivering its particular brand of lux and veritas for 124 years. I regret that our old structure could not last forever—but I’ve heard somewhere that few things do. So I’m relieved and glad that we will continue in a very similar form. Our mission statement retains its directive to “impartially explore the achievements, issues, and problems of the University—of its administration, faculty, and student body—in order to convey a complete, fair, and accurate understanding of Yale today.” And that is what we plan to keep on doing.

We rely on our readers to keep a careful eye on our progress: to let us know, as you always do, whether we’ve lived up to your best hopes and expectations. Beginning with the September/October issue, we will no longer be published by an independent nonprofit. But the staff and I will still be guided by our constant question: are we delivering to the alumni what they need and want to know? I’ve said publicly many times that we work for you. It’s still true.


  • Jerry C. Waters, Class of 1993
    Jerry C. Waters, Class of 1993, 5:25pm June 04 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Thank you for your statement and for your excellent work over the past years. I look forward to receiving and reading future magazines. Its great knowing that you will continue as editor of the Yale Alumni Magazine Jerry C. Waters

  • Joseph McCabe
    Joseph McCabe, 8:18am June 05 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Good for you and good for the University.

  • Chris Ogden '66
    Chris Ogden '66, 10:26am June 05 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    This was a smart and helpful explanation. Thank you. YAM's content has been vibrant in recent years thanks to the efforts of you and your colleagues. May this help you keep it up.

  • Peter Richmond
    Peter Richmond, 10:27am June 05 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Thanks for taking the high road and the good road. You've created a great mag, and as long as you're there, no doubt it'll stay that way.

  • Eric Weinberger '89
    Eric Weinberger '89, 11:28am June 05 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Kathrin Lassila has responded with typical grace and courtesy, and I did think, before she wrote, that it might be a hopeful sign that Paul Steiger - creator of the investigative ProPublica website - was staying on the board.

    But leopards and people don't change their spots, and it's hard to think of anyone whose life's work has been as presidential first-and-last advisor (I'm speaking of Linda Lorimer) truly tolerating an independent and probing magazine newly in her charge. Yale had the chance to at least pay lip service to a longstanding YAM concept--ironclad "editorial independence"--but it seems the best it can offer is to “accord a great deal of editorial discretion,” which sounds to me equally a warning as it does a promise. If Ms. Lassila is willing to give it a try and see how it works out in practice, one can only wish her the very best.

  • Flash Sheridan ’82
    Flash Sheridan ’82, 12:05pm June 05 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I’m not convinced that this is either the high road or the good road, but it does seem clear that it’s the only road. FWIW, for quite some time, I’ve paid only the portion of my class dues that corresponded to your subscription cost. I’ve found the magazine valuable, and I hope that you remain as editor and can maintain some of your independence.

  • James G. Luce, '66
    James G. Luce, '66, 4:03am June 06 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Dear Ms. Lassila,
    Thank you for staying on as editor of YAM. Your readers look forward to hearing about all the news from New Haven that you deem fit to print. To paraphrase Aunt Augusta's comment in The Importance of Being Ernest "Freedom of Expression is like an exotic fruit. Touch it and the bloom is gone." We hope that the new oversight will look but not touch.

  • Michael Montesano
    Michael Montesano, 1:05am June 09 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Kathrin Lassila has addressed this change in the status of the YAM with typical dignity, intelligence, and good spirit. One more reminder of how lucky we are to have her at the helm of the magazine.

    There are many confusing aspects to this change, at least two concerning Linda Lorimer.

    First, I thought that Ms Lorimer had retired from Yale, that she would be serving part-time only through the end of 2016. One must wonder, then, how Yale will oversee that YAM after that time. For the new arrangement is to last three years, in the first instance. One hopes that this can be clarified soon.

    Second, one of the issues with which the YAM has struggled most clearly in recent years has been how to cover former President Levin's bizarre decision to hire Yale out to the government of Singapore to create a liberal arts college in that Southeast Asian hub. Ms Lorimer took a leading role in that initiative. Yet a reckless lack of transparency has characterized the initiative. That lack has been most evident in the continued--and unexplained--secrecy surrounding the text of agreements binding Yale to Singapore. Such a lack of transparency involving a project with which Ms Lorimer has been so closely associated leads one to wonder about the judgement that President Peter Salovey exercised in placing her in charge of a publication whose value lies in its commitment to examining Yale without fear or favour. Sooner or later, at least some of the text of Yale-Singapore agreements will be leaked. And one cannot now be optimistic that, notwithstanding its putative independence, the YAM will be in a position to publish those leaked documents for the edification of Yale alumni.

    Michael Montesano '83

  • Steven R. Weisman
    Steven R. Weisman, 10:04am June 11 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    As a former chairman of the board that oversaw the Yale Alumni Magazine in a turbulent time, I want to express my support for Kathrin Day Lassila as she navigates this new and challenging era for a publication of vital importance to Yale graduates. With typical intelligence and grace, she has described the circumstances that led to the change. No one should underestimate the sensitivities on all sides. But let's give Kathrin, Linda Lorimer and the board, especially its journalist members--I'm showing my bias of course--a chance to live up to their stated commitment to maintain the tradition of editorial objectivity and excellence. Good luck, Kathrin! We are rooting for you and your fine staff!

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