Alumni elect David Thomas ’78 B.A., ’86 Ph.D. to Yale’s Board of Trustees
Distinguished scholar and Morehouse College president David Thomas ’78 B.A., ’84 M.A., ’84 M.PHIL., ’86 Ph.D. has been elected to serve as an alumni fellow of Yale’s Board of Trustees, known formally as the Yale Corporation, in worldwide balloting of university graduates. He begins a six-year term on July 1.
Before being appointed president of Morehouse College, in Atlanta, in 2018, Thomas served as dean and William R. Berkley Chair of the Georgetown University McDonough School of Business from 2011 to 2017; as the H. Naylor Fitzhugh Professor of Business Administration at Harvard University from 1990 to 2011; and as assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School from 1986 to 1990. His scholarly work focuses on the intersection of race, careers, and organizations.
Joining Thomas on the ballot this year was petition candidate Victor Ashe ’67, a former ambassador to Poland and mayor of Knoxville, Tennessee.
In this, the 2021 election, 15.5% of eligible voters voted. Of them, 36% voted for Ashe, and 64% voted for Thomas. Voting for the election ended on May 23. On May 24, Yale Board of Trustees Senior Trustee Catharine Bond Hill ’85 Ph.D. announced that the board had voted to end the petition process as a path to alumni fellow candidacy starting with the 2022 election.
“I am delighted that David A. Thomas will join the university’s board of trustees on July 1,” said President Peter Salovey. “In addition to his extensive record as an educator and leader at institutions of higher education, Dr. Thomas is renowned for his scholarship in organizational development. His expertise and experiences will benefit the board’s strategic goals and decision-making. I admire his passion for creating enriching, rigorous, and diverse educational environments for students.
“I also am grateful to Victor Ashe. He has engaged deeply with alumni from across the country and around the world in pursuit of service to Yale. I appreciate his efforts to further connect Yalies to the university and to its leaders.”
Each year, eligible Yale alumni vote to elect a new alumni fellow to the 19-member Yale Corporation, the university’s governing board and policymaking body. This year, Thomas was nominated by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee (AFNC), a group made up primarily of volunteer alumni leaders, most of whom serve on the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors.
“Thank you to all the alumni who were engaged in this process, from its earliest stages all the way through the final days of voting,” said Xiaoyan Huang ’91, chair of the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee. “I’d like to congratulate President Thomas, who brings to the board years of expertise in organizational behavior, and exceptional experience in educating future world leaders and leading an academic institution.”
Thomas, a first-generation college student from Kansas City, Missouri, arrived at Yale in 1974. An administrative science major and Timothy Dwight resident, he was particularly intrigued by the study of organizational behavior and relished the freedom to explore the power of his intellect.
“I still remember the group of folks I met in my first-year English class, who I’m still close with today, who challenged every assumption I had — about religion, about economic systems, about race, about power,” he said. “You discover who you are and you discover what you can do with your smarts.”
As one of the co-chairs of the Black Student Alliance at Yale, he closely observed the example of leadership set by then-Yale president Kingman Brewster.
“He had this way of treating you like, if you’re in a room with me, we’re equals,” Thomas said. “‘I’m going to expect that you come prepared, I’m not going to talk down to you, and I’m going to treat you like you could be me.’”
After receiving a master’s degree at Columbia University, Thomas returned to Yale as a doctoral student in organizational behavior.
“My graduate years at Yale were profound in terms of demonstrating to me the importance of focusing on being excellent, having high integrity as a scholar and researcher, and being focused on doing work that could better the lives of other people,” he said.
During those years, he met his wife Willetta Lewis, who then worked on the staff of Yale’s Afro-American Cultural Center. Together, they have three adult children: Sommer, David Jr., and Nelson.
Thomas’s innovative leadership at Morehouse — the only historically Black college or university (HBCU) dedicated to the education of men — has expanded the institution’s reach, with an online program that gives men of color greater opportunity to return to college and complete their college degree. He has also kicked off an ambitious fundraising campaign, raising $150 million over his first three years as president and leading plans for a historic capital campaign.
Thomas has been widely recognized for his scholarship on issues of equity, advancement, and diversity, publishing numerous studies, articles, and three books on these subjects, and has received awards for this work from the Academy of Management and from the National Executive Forum.
In addition to his work in academia, Thomas has consulted widely as an expert in organizational and leadership development. He has served on the boards of the American Red Cross, Commonfund, Partners HealthCare (now Mass General Brigham), Shady Hill School, DTE Energy, and the Cambridge Trust Company, and is a co-founder of Harvard Divinity School’s Urban Ministries Executive Program as well as the Black Corporate Directors Conference.
Thomas also has remained closely connected to Yale through volunteer work, having served from 2001 to 2005 on the Yale School of Management Board of Advisors.
As a trustee, Thomas looks forward to supporting Yale’s mission and ensuring that new generations, through transformative education, are empowered to make an impact on the world around them.
“The primary role of higher education is to create great and well-prepared citizens,” Thomas said. “That requires not only teaching technical know-how and subjects but also creating an environment where young people can encounter the questions of ‘What do I believe?’ and ‘Who am I?’; define those questions for themselves; and then leave with a set of values that will guide them as citizens in our global community.”
Karen N. Peart: firstname.lastname@example.org, 203-980-2222