The Darker Side of University Endowments

As higher education activists, we all need to sit down and take some time to understand the economic realities of our academic institutions as well as the lenders and guarantors of our debts. We’re ever thankful to the Student Union of Michigan for their work in university economics. And lest we turn away from the fine print of our own university budgets out of the rampant fear of indecipherable joylessness, we should remember what David Foster Wallace says about boredom (and that there’s something superhuman on the other side of it): “The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air. The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

Student Union of Michigan

This is part of an ongoing series of printable pamphlets designed to explain how money flows through public research universities in general and the University of Michigan in particular. The pamphlets are intended to clarify arguments and push back against pervasive and seemingly “common sense” narratives about the crisis of public higher education that impede, rather than advance, meaningful political action. We hope tactics and strategies will emerge from these counter-narratives—after all, we can’t fight what we don’t understand. Download the printable version of this pamphlet here and see the Resources page for the entire series.

In November 2013, the University of Michigan launched its new capital campaign, “Victors for Michigan,” which aims to raise $4 billion from private sources primarily to be deposited in the endowment. If successful, it will be the largest in the history of public higher education, topping U-M’s previous campaign which raised $3.2 billion between…

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