Endowment is nothing to hide

Last year Northwestern’s endowment grew to $4.2 billion, making it the 14th largest endowment in the country. But as the old saying goes – it’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it.

The board of trustees invests NU’s endowment behind closed doors, and students want to know where that money is being invested. In order to protect their investment strategy, the board is unable to fully disclose the amounts and recipients of their investments. But, it’s unfair for students to be completely excluded from the board’s investment decisions, which may have political and ethical implications.

For three years the Students for Economic Justice has been lobbying to create an advisory committee to make recommendations to the board. Other universities have successfully worked with similar institutions. In 2005 a committee of students successfully recommended that Stanford divest in companies with ties to the genocidal Sudanese government.

Who reaps the benefit of NU’s sizable endowment? Are alumni donations being used to exploit child labor, squash human rights and line the pockets of the Bush administration? Once again, silence from the university allows student imaginations to run wild. The truth is probably far more mundane, but the public will never know.

Administrators have responded to SEJ’s lobbying with cautious optimism, but NU needs to take a more active role in involving students in investment decisions. Student activism will never be as fast or as efficient as a mandate from above.

Students have an important stake in the University’s $4.2 dollar endowment. It’s time to give them a say in where that money goes.