Organizers of the Responsible Endowment Project on Monday accused Yale of placing endowment dollars in ethically questionable investments and called on the University to curtail the practice.
At a panel discussion that drew an audience of about 150, REP leaders argued that some of Yale’s investments support environmentally unsustainable practices and worker mistreatment. To humanize the issue, speakers at the event included California hotel worker Jose Landino — who says he and his coworkers have been exploited by the Yale-supported company HEI Hotels and Resorts — along with Dartmouth professor Sydney Lea ’64 GRD ’72 and environmental activist Steve Keith, who have expressed concerns about unsustainable logging in Maine and other environmental infractions.
The group invited attendees to sign a petition urging the University to support ethical and sustainable investment.
“The only thing we ever hear about the endowment is the rate of return, and we have cases in the past and evidence of investments where Yale profited off of worker exploitation and environmental destruction,” said REP co-founder Hans Schoenburg ’11.
A Yale spokesman could not be reached for comment to respond to the allegations Monday night.
During his presentation, Landino said he and other hotel workers face serious mistreatment by HEI, decrying the wage cuts, excessive workloads and barriers to forming unions he and his coworkers face under HEI’s management.
“The employees of the Long Beach Hilton are suffering a persecution,” Landino said. “I come here and ask you for help so that I can go back and tell my workmates that there will be help.”
By extension, REP leaders argued, HEI’s dangerous and unethical policies boost profit not only for the company but also for the Yale endowment — something that should concern students.
The Yale endowment also logged 350,000 acres of Maine forest purely for short-term gain, REP leaders said. Now, due to overaggressive logging, sustainable harvesting must wait 40 years while the forest recovers, they said.
Lea said he wrote to Yale Investment chief David Swensen GRD ’80 about the dangers of irresponsible logging but did not receive the response he was looking for.
The Investments Office has repeatedly refused to entertain REP’s concerns, Schoenburg said. After attempting unsuccessfully to meet with an investment officer, REP’s case was referred to the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, which addresses questions concerning sustainability and ethics in the Yale endowment.
Schoenburg criticized the committee, saying it does not have sufficient oversight over investments and did not address REP’s complaint.
The Yale endowment’s lack of transparency is another REP concern. Only 3 percent of Yale’s endowment holdings are accessible to the public, while the rest is either entirely undisclosed or is invested through intractable hedge funds or private equity, panelists said.
In the Sustainable Endowment Institute’s endowment transparency report card, Harvard University received a C and Columbia University a B, while Yale received an F.
Yale’s endowment, at $22.9 billion, is second only to Harvard’s, which now stands at $36.9 billion.