February 28, 2013

Invest in your peers

Senior Class Gift boycott only risks hurting the programs and opportunities that make UChicago great.

An op-ed in Tuesday’s Maroon (“The greatest gift of all”) makes some important points, illustrating potential deficiencies in the way the University makes and discloses investment decisions, especially compared with peer institutions. Like many of our fellow Maroons, we agree that a healthy concern for the ethical and humanitarian consequences of our investments should factor into the Board of Trustees’s decision-making process. Further, we agree with Ms. Sizek that the community as a whole would greatly benefit from an increase in transparency with regard to these decisions.

In making these arguments, however, Ms. Sizek has inappropriately and incorrectly targeted Senior Class Gift (SCG). First, some facts:

• The University has a total endowment of just over 6.7 billion dollars as of last year, according to the 2012 Report of the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

• Even if SCG meets its stated goal of 85% participation, counting the gifts committed as incentives by alumni, it can only expect to raise about $90,000.

• The Gift goes directly, and exclusively, to the College Fund, a primary source of support for the programs and initiatives of the College.

• The Senior Class Gift is not invested, ever.

The College Fund serves as a general support for students by funding those programs and initiatives that might otherwise go unfunded. From financial aid and internships to study abroad and student life, you would be hard-pressed to find an undergraduate here who has not been impacted positively in some way by the College Fund. Indeed, most students have likely benefited from the Fund in more ways than one. Since all money raised by SCG goes directly and immediately to the College Fund, there is no connection between SCG and irresponsible investment practices.

By arguing that the Senior Class Gift in some way “indirectly” supports the University’s continued decisions to make the unethical investments that she cites, Ms. Sizek vastly misunderstands the magnitude of the University’s investments. $90,000 or, to be extreme, even a few million dollars, is essentially pocket change from the perspective of a Board of Trustees sitting atop an endowment of six billion. To think that a boycott of Senior Class Gift will in some way “teach them a lesson” is misguided at best and delusional at worst. There are certainly more pertinent and effective ways to demonstrate to the administration the significance that we, as a community, place on responsible investment practices. By utilizing methods more suitable to the cause at hand we could expect a higher chance of success without unnecessary collateral damage.

Indeed, by denying the College Fund the proceeds of a successful SCG campaign, as Ms. Sizek implores us to do, we would do nothing more than take money from the programs and environment that we have so benefited from, fundamentally threatening the experience that we valued for those who come after us. It is, in fact, the College Fund that enables many of the experiences that open our eyes to the very humanitarian concerns that Ms. Sizek raises with respect to University investment practices. Beyond this, the College Fund promotes equity through its funding of scholarships and financial aid, ensuring equality of opportunity for all students.

In her op-ed, Ms. Sizek raises some valid concerns, but does so at the cost of factual accuracy. Boycotting the Senior Class Gift is a lose-lose endeavor: It will not cause the Board of Trustees or the University administration as a whole to suddenly transform its investment practices, but rather will threaten the very initiatives that make the “spirit of intellectual inquiry” in our community so strong. Donating to Senior Class Gift is not “signaling our approval” of the University’s investment practices; it is professing our desire to sustain the College that we love.

DJ LoBraico and Stephen Lurie are fourth-years in the College.