Amanda Ciafone: Endowing the Neoliberal University (PDF)

Amanda Ciafone: Endowing the Neoliberal University (PDF)
Work & Culture,
Working Group on Globalization and Culture, Yale University

Notably absent from the burgeoning and persuasive literature on “academic capitalism” and the “entrepreneurial university” is a discussion of perhaps the oldest and most overt form of university profit-making, investment of endowment funds. The neoliberal conditions of the last three decades has increased the need for private funding of universities while also encouraging the possibility of profiting in neoliberal markets, leading to an explosion in the importance of endowment wealth to both private and public universities. A more fully developed analysis of university investments is critical, not least because of their sheer force in the economy: U.S. university endowments constitute $230 billion dollars in a global financial market that has undergone massive deregulation and internationalization in the last three decades (Peterson). Analysis of university investment portfolios also sheds glaring light on the major contradictions between institutions’ stated goals of furthering the public good and the conflicting consequences of their bottom line. This paper examines the importance of endowments and investments to the neoliberal university through the example of Yale University. Although locally specific, this analysis has application beyond, as changes in the Yale endowment are indicative of broader changes in university investments and financing; in fact, Yale shares the same funds with several other universities, both public and private. As a leader in endowment returns, Yale’s model of investment success influences the broader “field” of colleges and universities in the U.S. and increasingly in the entire global north, while simultaneously being influenced by this larger field in the competition to maintain its comparative position. But, however massive the force wrought by the endowment and its investment managers, they are not the only actors in these changes nor this paper which then turns to union and student activism around endowment investing. Yale activists’ efforts to track and intervene in the movement and effects of university capital, uncovering the experiences and resistances of those who have “lived on the other side of the Yale portfolio,” as one Yale professor put it, point to the challenges and possibilities of new affiliations within and without the neoliberal university.

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