Last Tuesday, the Student Labor Action Coalition invited two financial experts and members of the Just Transition Fund of 1833, Kelly Grotke, OC ’89 and Kris Raab, OC ’89, to present research from their ongoing investigations into endowment. from Oberlin College. The talk was titled “The Million Dollar Question: What’s Really Going on with the Oberlin Endowment?” SLAC hosted the event in the Dye Boardroom, where students and community members gathered to hear Grotke and Raab discuss the College’s billion dollar endowment and recent budget cuts.
This semester, SLAC has worked to increase its political engagement after most of its organization, which began when Oberlin contracted out restoration and conservation workers in the spring of 2020, was hijacked. by the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past month, SLAC members have gathered outside the Stevenson Dining Hall, organized with United Auto Workers, and generated momentum through outreach activities on campus and around town.
Wilson Crook, third year of the College, attended the event and expressed support for the speakers’ efforts to shed light on the financial actions of the College.
âWe absolutely needed to get the student body talking again,â they said. âI feel like last year really derailed a lot of the action. [It] really showed me how much we need financial transparency from trustees and also how we don’t know where our money is going.
In their speech, Grotke and Raab assigned the majority of financial responsibility to the board, whose financial decisions often seem opaque to students and faculty. Grotke says the board controls the nominations of their members and is largely made up of people with a background in law or finance who are not otherwise affiliated with the College.
âNo one is in a position to know what happened with the money, which isâ¦ the driving force behind all of the disappointing and damaging austerity measures,â Grotke said. “To justify the sacrifices that have been demanded of Oberlin students and employees, and before they no longer demand – which they sure will do – the administration and administrators owe you, the Oberlin stakeholders , an independent audit. “
However, board chairman Chris Canavan, OC ’84, disputes this claim, stating that the information on endowment performance, asset allocation policy, investment policy and financial reporting of ‘Oberlin are available on the Oberlin website.
âWe have hosted at least two campus-wide webinars on endowment management,â Canavan wrote in an email to Review. âThe investment committee, which oversees staffing, includes faculty representatives, who report regularly to the general faculty. It is the only committee of the board with non-trustee members. There are many issues worth discussing in relation to our endowment. Transparency is not one of them.
According to Grotke, the measures adopted by the College – primarily those of outsourcing union work, eliminating 25 faculty lines, and cutting back on co-ops and benefits – can be attributed to their positive effects on the credit rating of employees. Oberlin bonds. Moody’s, a company that rates institutions like Oberlin, classified the college’s outlook as negative in 2019. Following the implementation of a number of cost-cutting measures as part of One Oberlin, this rating has been revised to a positive outlook.
Grotke, however, explains that the $ 2 million annual savings created by outsourcing child care and catering services is likely overshadowed by the amount of investment management fees paid to financial managers.
“If Oberlin pays close to $ 15 million a year or even $ 10 million a year, that makes all the austerity measures and [money] saved by the even more horrific dismissal and outsourcing of unionized workers, and that [$10â15 million] the charges go directly to Wall Street, âshe said.
Grotke and Raab, who as students were heavily involved in South Africa’s divestment activism, suggest the most effective way to tackle austerity is to demand transparency. This would allow College stakeholders to have some leverage in negotiating where money is spent and where budgets are cut.
âI think you, as students, are also extremely powerful, because you are here now; this is your institution, âsaid Grotke. âYou have a voice in there. “