Why We Support the March 4 Protests

The financial crisis of the last three years has exposed the harsh realities of our global economic system, including the ways we are all connected. What many thought was growth turned out to be a speculative bubble of immense proportions that was based on predatory lending practices and the proliferation of complex and nearly unintelligible financial instruments. While the rich were getting richer, and the poor poorer, our universities have turned a blind eye to the role they were playing in this get-rich-quick environment. Now, we’re all paying the price.

What is the role of universities in the financial crisis? Universities are major institutional investors, and at the peak of the market they held 400 billion in their endowment coffers. And what, exactly, were these tax-exempt, public-benefit organizations doing during the heady years leading up to the crash? They were leading the charge into alternative investment vehicles, like private equity and hedge funds that turned out to be some of the economy’s worst offenders. They were raising tuition, constructing fancier campuses, and giving themselves raises, all while cutting tenured jobs for adjuncts, and union-busing staff efforts to organize. They made cozy contracts with corporations with poor records on labor, human rights, and the environment, producing or offering everything from student loans to soft drinks.

With little transparency or accountability to their multitude of stakeholders including their students, faculty, workforce, and host communities, colleges and universities were largely free to do as they pleased to maximize their investment returns, without regard to their investments’ effects or conflicts with their missions. Even after the crash and the extreme losses that resulted, there continues to be a lack of discussion about the effects of these decisions on our communities and our economy.

We call on our universities--students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members—as well as taxpayers and policy makers to reevaluate the role of the American university. We must not only fund education pre-K through graduate school for free, because education is a right, but we must also ensure that our institutions are accountable to us, not only to a group of very powerful elites, mostly white men, who sit on boards of Trustees or Regents.

To find out more about how REC is working to make universities more accountable to their communities and how you can get involved email organize@endowmentethics.org.

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