In 2019, the Yale-Harvard football game came to a halt as students desperately protested the two universities’ roles in distressed Puerto Rican debt and climate annihilation. Terrified by the scientific consensus about the planet’s apocalyptic future, protestors rejected the practice of investments in the fossil fuel industry, which is uniquely culpable for the destruction of the climate. With 50 arrested and countless others storming the field, those who shouted amidst the crowds of the Yale Bowl understood that they could not allow Yale’s complicity to continue. Garnering national news attention, this protest represented a hopeful culmination of years of tireless student activism.
The movement against Yale’s destructive practices has been long, as students have been forced to endlessly protest against the University’s practice of profiting off of suffering and the structures that enable it. This movement has witnessed the coalitional courage of students who occupied Beinecke Plaza, living in shantytowns for an entire year to protest Yale’s immoral investments in apartheid in the ’80s. It has seen the disruptive bravery of a group of united students who organized sit-ins in the Yale Investments Office to demand divestment from fossil fuels. And after The Game, this movement hoped that Yale might finally listen.
However, on Oct. 14, those same students had to confront nauseating dread and disgust: Yale had just had one of its most profitable years in history, generating over $11 billion in the midst of a global pandemic and recession. Through the perverse structures of global capital and wealth hoarding, the University continues to profit wildly year after year. This year, the absurdities of the endowment’s billions were made grossly apparent, as a 40.2 percent return could generate a sum so preposterous that it is over 18 times larger than the entire operating budget of the city of New Haven for 2021. Still, Yale refuses to pay its fair share of $157 million to New Haven.
These very structures of Yale’s wealth hoarding are destructive and dangerous; however, the University also has profited from and continues to amass this wealth through investments in imperialism, such as distressed Puerto Rican and Argentine debt, and climate destruction, coupled with austerity in the New Haven community. Although the University’s mission statement says it is committed to “improving the world today and for future generations,” Yale profits from and exists because of the suffering of others, not for the betterment of all. When considering its roots in the transatlantic slave trade, theft of the land of the Quinnipiac and other Algonquian-speaking Indigenous peoples, private militarized police force, refusal to pay taxes or recent profits from selling distressed Puerto Rican debt, the only words that seem fitting to apply to Yale are nefarious and villainous. This cannot continue. This must stop.
Yet, ignoring the obscenities of its financial greed, Yale has the audacity to elicit even more wealth for itself. On Oct. 2, the University announced its For Humanity campaign, an University-wide effort to amass an additional $7 billion for the endowment. This campaign announcement confirmed that Yale’s financial system is designed to protect its own future, not the future of humanity. When humanity suffered amid the COVID-19 pandemic — in loss of jobs, housing, education and lives —Yale profited, and it did so massively. The egregiously large endowment represents the University’s core value: profits over people.
Yale is not for humanity. If the University can have one of its most profitable years ever while the world is in crisis, Yale cannot be for humanity. In fact, Yale is often not even for itself: it forces low-income students to work to cover the Student Income Contribution, refuses to invest in mental health, outsources library positions that could be New Haven union jobs and disrespects and disregards its workers. Truly, Yale can be said to be for one thing above all else: the growth of its endowment.
Thus, it is no surprise that the University has already stated it has no major plans for this year’s returns. For Yale, the endowment is an elite project divorced from material need, one which must grow for the sake of growth rather than serve to meet the needs of the community. Many students believe this is due entirely to restrictions associated with specific donations or to Yale’s spending rule, a policy which suggests expending only 5.25 percent of the endowment value each year in order to ensure “that we do not hoard the income from strong financial years at the expense of investing in our current programs and people,” according to a statement from the Office of the Provost’s website. In accordance with the outdated beliefs that investment returns and inflation are roughly equal to 8.25 percent and 3 percent, respectively, Yale deploys the spending rule with the claimed goal of maintaining the endowment’s value over time. Yet the endowment continues to grow, and billions of dollars’ worth are board-designated, meaning their use is functionally unrestricted. In reality, Yale makes much higher than 8.25 percent returns — this year, an astounding 40.2 percent — and inflation is lower than three percent. This results in continual endowment hoarding. Yale violates its own rules with its austerity, and its doing so is unconscionable. Yale has no justification for its greed.
As students, we are disgusted by the University’s policies, and we plan to continue to force Yale to recognize the harm and destruction caused by its actions. The Endowment Justice Coalition is organizing a protest to express our anger at Yale. On Nov. 5, we call on students to gather at Beinecke Plaza, the site of the shantytown occupations of apartheid divestment, to once again try to force Yale to understand that this cannot continue. That it cannot continue to invest in suffering.
LUMISA BISTA is a sophomore in Grace Hopper College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org GARRETT FYRE-MASON is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at email@example.com. CRAIG BIRCKHEAD-MORTON is a sophomore in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. AKIO HO is a junior in Silliman College. Contact them at email@example.com. They are all members of the Endowment Justice Coalition (EJC). You can contact the EJC and the authors at firstname.lastname@example.org.