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Sunday, May 24, 2020

 

A UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO THOSE WHO HAVE SUGGESTED THE SCHOOL SHOULD DIP INTO THE ENDOWMENT

To the esteemed members of our faculty and staff,

First of all, let me say that I sincerely hope you are all safe and healthy during this trying time. As president of this University, there is nothing more important to me than the health and safety of our community. Though I’m currently away from campus, summering on my private island off of Maine, my thoughts are almost always with you, and my secretary is literally always available to field your questions and hear your concerns.

What’s not here for you, however, is the University’s endowment.

I bring this up because a number of you have reached out to provide us with valuable feedback regarding our recently announced budget adjustments. Specifically, many of you have asked why an institution with a $46 billion endowment is freezing salaries, rescinding job offers, refusing to adjust tenure tracks, and laying off staff instead of using an endowment the size of Iceland’s GDP to keep our community afloat.

Let me say this: We hear you. You are valid. You. Matter. Secondly, and no less importantly, let me make something clear: The. Endowment. Is. Not. For. You.

I know what you’re thinking: “Sir, we dip into 5 percent of the endowment per year to cover operating costs, so why don’t we just go up to, like, 7 or 8 percent instead of leaving our employees to twist in the wind?” Let me personally assure you that I hear what you’re saying, and it’s horseshit. Under no circumstances may we touch the endowment. We would sooner take Henry Kissinger’s name off our Center for the Study of Human Rights than take another penny out of the endowment.

To be frank, I don’t even know how to dip into the endowment. Just after I was appointed president, in one of the most memorable luncheons of my academic career, the Board of Governors sat me down and forced me to sign a document promising to never ask them about the endowment. They told me the first rule of the endowment was “Never talk about the endowment.” At the end of every quarter, they blindfold me, take me to an undisclosed location which I suspect is the Chairman of the Board’s rumpus room, show me the quarterly returns, rough me up a little, then blindfold me again, and dump me on the lawn of my University-owned home. This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to the endowment, so good luck getting anywhere near that money.

The Board has, however, asked me to convey this message to our valued community: “What is good for the endowment is good for us all. All things flow to the endowment and from the endowment. We love our beautiful endowment…” It goes on like that for a while, but the gist is that, if you think about this whole thing less as a school with an endowment and more as an endowment with educational benefits, our budget adjustments start to appear quite reasonable, and you start to sound pretty crazy for even bringing up this endowment nonsense.

I’m sure you’ll have many follow-up questions, some of them likely pertaining to the perceived contradiction between our current cost-cutting measures and our decision to forge ahead with construction on the new racquetball center and the campus in Doha. Feel free to reach out to my secretary with these and any other concerns, but please know that the answer will almost certainly be that the endowment has spoken. Thanks for understanding.

Best wishes, stay safe, and keep positive!
Your University President

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