SEIU is increasing their outreach to college students as the fall semester is about to begin and their Sodexho campaign heats up by providing students the tools necessary to research college and university endowments. How endowment funds are invested and under what conditions those funds could be tapped are usually kept secret by higher education administrators. The Responsible Endowments Coalition, formed in 2004 by student activists, pushes colleges and universities to become ethical global actors by providing their key investors (students and alumni) with the information necessary to research the funds and identify ones that respect human dignity. SEIU’s new effort, which promises more resources to come, changes that model. Rather than ask students to research the endowments to push for more responsible investments, they want folks to follow the lead of students at Dartmouth who argued that their university’s significant endowment should be tapped before the administration cried poverty in an attempt to lay off unionized employees. Here’s the story from SEIU’s blog:
University Endowments: An untapped funding source to raise workplace standards
Many college and university administrators are talking about severe belt-tightening in the wake of market drops and investment losses. However, schools also have a pool of money at their disposal that at least in part, can be considered a rainy day fund to use and invest: the endowment.
As students continue their fight to help raise standards for campus Sodexo workers–calling for university-wide policies to provide livable wages and affordable benefits–using knowledge of the endowment can be a powerful tool in communicating with their administrators.
What is an endowment?
Endowments are created through donations from alumni, corporations, and foundations. Universities invest the endowment money to help it grow more than it would by just relying on donations because its purpose is to support the core mission of the college for both current and future generations. Schools also use a small portion of the endowment money every year to help pay for expenses.
The way an endowment is managed can have a direct impact, both positively and negatively, on the campus community. A drop in the university endowment due to market downturns can lead to budget cuts. And when layoffs and program cuts occur, the entire community suffers – making staff, students, faculty, and the larger community all stakeholders.
How student activists saved worker jobs using the endowment
Last October, Dartmouth announced massive budget cuts and layoffs in the wake of severe investment losses that caused the endowment to drop 23%. The SEIU local union representing over 500 workers on campus sprang into action to make sure that the College didn’t try to pay for its investment mistakes on the backs of workers. Students formed the group Dartmouth Students Stand with Staff.
The students and workers’ launched a faculty petition, held rallies and held a candlelight vigil attended by more than 400 people coinciding with a Board of Trustees meeting on campus. Efforts also included a financial analysis that called into question Dartmouth’s financial status claims–which included looking at the health of Dartmouth’s endowment.
When the final announcement was made, all of the workers in the bargaining unit were spared layoffs. However, President Jim Yong Kim did announce two small rounds of layoffs among non-bargaining unit staff. Many of the students, union members, and community allies expressed relief that the cuts weren’t deeper. Students digging around the endowment status helped win the victory of saving so many jobs.
Taking action on your own campus
In the next few days, we’ll be introducing a student financial toolkit that will help you learn about the endowment at your own college or university, and talk to your administration about how its financial practices may be affecting your college community.
Tune in later this week, and be sure to sign up to our student email list to learn more on how to clean up Sodexo on your campus.