Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does UC Want to Invest Like Harvard?

I have a Huffington Post article on how several schools in New England have followed the same high-risk investment strategy that the UC has pursued for the last several years. According to the Tellus Institute’s study of Haravard, Dartmouth, Brandeis, MIT, Boston University, and Boston College, by moving their investments from more stable assets to volatile gambles (private equity, real estate, and hedge funds), these universities have produced a growing income inequality at their campuses. Moreover, since they have now been forced to stop ambitious expansion projects, the surrounding communities have been devastated.

An important lesson that the University of California should learn from this analysis is that the investment strategies of hired traders should be closely monitored; this study also shows that the trustees and regents of these wealthy institutions often have a huge conflict of interest. Since many of the people overseeing universities now come from the world of speculative finance, they are unlikely to shift money into more stable forms of investments. Moreover, due to the tax-exempt status of these schools, they are more prone to engage in high-risk trading.

Another issue discussed by the Tellus report is that since these schools pay very little taxes on their huge real estate holdings, they end up impoverishing their home towns and cities. Furthermore, all of these schools continue to increase their huge income disparities as money flows to the top, and low-paid workers see their salaries stagnate.

While this study does not look at pension investments, most of their finding can be applied to the UC retirement situation, and the central lesson is that there needs to be more faculty and employee oversight over risky investment strategies that cater to the interests of wealthy trustees and regents. As the stock market continues its rollercoaster ride, universities are motivated to seek out high-risk investments in order to make up for past losses; this is truly a recipe for disaster.


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