With his fired-up speeches on behalf of Yale’s striking labor force temporarily behind him, the Rev. Jesse Jackson has found a new opportunity for activism at Yale. Jackson has called on the Yale Investment Office to increase its work with minority financial management firms by placing at least 5 percent of its assets in the hands of minority financial managers. University officials have responded unequivocally, stating they have no intention of letting Jackson dictate their investment strategies.
We were at first surprised by the University’s hard-line response, but we believe it is justified. Although we support Jackson’s cause, we cannot support his attempts to govern Yale’s financial practices. The University absolutely should work toward racial equality, but on its own terms, not on Jackson’s.
Jackson has called upon institutions with significant financial resources to give control of five percent of their assets to minority asset managers. Jackson, who has already arranged meetings with officials from corporations like General Motors and Citigroup, has specifically named Yale as a focus of his campaign and said he hopes to meet with University officials soon.
In calling upon Yale, Jackson criticizes the University’s history of race relations, including the 2001 report that nine of the 12 residential colleges are named after former slave owners as well as Yale’s history of contentious labor relations, which Jackson became personally involved with in a visit to campus last fall. As great an activist as he may be, we are beginning to tire of Jackson’s seemingly endless campaign against the so-called evils of Yale. Bogged down, as usual, in rhetoric, Jackson’s call for an increase to 5 percent shouldn’t carry much weight with the University.
Yale’s endowment has been extremely high-performing, and has even done well during the financial downturn of the last few years. In addition to being successful, the University’s investment strategies are explicitly secret, and the University does not seem likely to suddenly disclose or change its practices for Jackson.
But the cause Jackson is fighting for is a noble one, and we agree with him in principle. The University should keep the diversity of its financial managers — and indeed of all its employees — in mind and should strive to well represent minorities. But it should do this because it’s something its members believe in, not because Jackson, or any other activist, tells it to do so.
Because of the secrecy surrounding Yale’s investment practices, it’s hard to know what the role of minority asset managers currently is, and we’re not sure how much change Jackson’s seemingly arbitrary goal of 5 percent would involve for the investment office. Yale should make an effort to increase representation, but adhering to a quota system is not the answer. Rather, Yale should be mindful of the power its successful investment office wields, and how its practices can and do affect the world around it. But for Jesse Jackson to dictate how Yale manages its own assets is entirely inappropriate.