Endowment 101: The Rodeo of Private Investing

The audience member bellowed at the speakers panel, “So do we invest in gambling? What about brothels?” Chancellor Thorpe shot him an annoyed glance. “I can assure you that we do not invest in anything ‘headline grabbing’ retorted Jonathan King, the  head of the firm who controls UNC’s 2.2 billion dollar endowment. Students laughed and snickered at the base question and the bizarre response. The rodeo had begun.

On Wednesday night, the UNC Environmental Affairs Committee held a forum concerning the $2.2 billion in endowments that the university has invested in a diverse range of assets: from horrible hedge funds to nasty and non-environmentally friendly oil and coal companies. It did not matter that Chancellor Thorpe assured them that the endowment invests in both the green industry and in evil polluting companies, while Mr. King gave non-answers and circumlocutions.

The audience member continued his rant, single-handedly taking up fifteen minutes of the forum’s time. The first panel member had just explained what an endowment was and how the money was used. An endowment is a donation, given to the university with conditions that the university must follow. Our endowment’s $2.2 billion comes with 1,137 different endowments, each containing certain stipulations and rules that cannot be changed. Including taking profits for their unintended use to offset an increase in student tuition  The university then takes the money, hands it over to a private firm to manage the money in the best interests of the university. (God help us all.)

Outrage ensued. Why are we unable to divest our money? Where is the transparency? The students were clear in their desire to see over 100 different portfolios; so they could pour over the investments. How dare a private firm, with a private business strategy that had been approved by board of trustees, who report to donors, keep their business strategy secret! Why are students not allowed in the meeting? Chancellor Thorpe simply responded that he was saving students from being skewered by a donor when a decision went wrong and when the donor received bad news. Shame on him, for wanting to protect unqualified students from attending private meetings where confidential information is shared.

The accusations continued to fly as the audience admonished the panel. Finally, after hearing enough of the questions, Mr. King and Chancellor Thorpe reiterated that dastardly capitalistic idea that the goal of endowment was to maximize profits. Student outrage was palpable. Why in the world should we invest in stocks that help better our university? Why should we take this oil money and other stocks; the $55 million in payments where 42.8% goes to professors’ salaries, 23.9% goes to scholarships and financial aid, and 13.7% goes to fund individual university departments?  The horror, the horror, the capitalistic horror!

2 comments

  1. Of course- UNC has no moral compass or other values other than maximizing profits. Why isn’t the Chancellor selling a few guaranteed admission slots on the open market? Why isn’t tuition as high as the market will bear? Why are we phasing out coal by 2020?

    You might be aware, especially if you don’t believe climate change science is a hoax like our genius GOP lawmakers, that our system of capitalism actually has done a bad job accounting for environmental costs as externalities and it does produces horrors. Remember the times the Cuyahoga river caught fire in Ohio because of all the chemical waste dumped into it? Finally GE was forced (by court order) to pay taxpayers to recoup some of the cost incurred for we the people to clean it up, but this definitely is not being done with climate change, and there is actually capitalistic horror- and these students are actually working within the framework of capitalism to address this.

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