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Thursday, September 15, 2016

OSU's endowment threatened by Wall Street and Congress

Berlin university students carrying away the library from the home of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld on May 6, 1933 for a May 10-11 Nazi book burning. New York Herald Tribune, May 17, 1933

PHOTO: Berlin university students carrying away the research library from the home of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) on May 6, 1933 for a May 10-11 Nazi book burning, (New York Herald Tribune, May 17, 1933). (See previous post OSU Foundation Magnus Hirschfeld Fund Agreement (1/4/12), which I named in honor of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, and also my previous posts "PBS features gay Nazi Joseph Goebbels" (5/29/2006), where I mentioned the May 11, 1933 Nazi book burning after the May 6, 1933 plundering of the sex research institute, and Magnus Hirschfeld Book notes 37 to 39 - final post (11/2/2010) that includes a list of the previous posts on Hirschfeld's book.

Oregon State University asked 15 firms to bid for its $505 million fund this year, selecting a division of New York-based Perella Weinberg Partners to replace consultant Mercer, a unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos. according to an article by Michael McDonald , "Asset Management, Wall Street Bids for Endowment Billions," Bloomberg Businessweek, Sept. 5-11, 2016, p. 35-37, online as "Wall Street Redoubles Fight to Manage $100 Billion at Endowments," posted August 29, 2016, which also linked to related stories by Janet Lorin, "University Endowments," posted Aug. 29, 2016 and Janet Lorin, "The Pill That Made Northwestern Rich," Businessweek, Aug. 22-28, 2016, p. 39

Both of these business articles on university endowments prompted me to write the following opinion piece for the local professional newspaper in my college town:

As Oregon State University starts up the Fall Term of 2016, some members of Congress are proposing to tax OSU's endowment, which is worth over a half-billion dollars, as a way to pay for Obama's noble goal of free tuition at two-year community colleges.

Concurrently, Wall Street has been aggressively competing for a cut of the billions of dollars held in university endowments, including the one at OSU that in April selected the bid of a New York-based asset manager Weinberg Partners to run OSU's portfolio, according to a story by Michael McDonald in the Sep. 5-11, 2016 print edition of "Bloomberg Businessweek" magazine.

Wall Street "asset managers" promise a better return for an undisclosed, but estimated annual charge of roughly one percent of assets under management.

"Businessweek" quotes (on p.36) a University of Michigan business professor who cautions how this situation "is an old recipe for disaster and embarrassment."

I learned firsthand about the importance of endowments when I witnessed how the genesis of Silicon Valley (located in the San Francisco Bay Area) was fueled by Stanford University's endowment, now worth $22.2 billion dollars, while I was leading advanced research programs at Stanford for Hewlett-Packard, which is a company started by Stanford alumni Bill and Dave and whose offices were literally located on Stanford's land.

City of Corvallis leaders during the 1970's sought a similar synergy between OSU and HP, which at the time included the 1954 OSU electrical engineering alumnus and soon-to-be HP President John Young, but anti-growth Corvallis voters almost prohibited it from happening because they were still suffering from problems created by the rapid growth of Corvallis after World War II, which were problems much worse than those related to the more recent doubling of enrollment at OSU.

Four decades ago I was fortunate to personally benefit from a then scarce OSU endowment, which allowed me to obtain a graduate degree debt-free, without having to also work as a "Teaching Assistant," because it paid me as a "0.5 FTE Research Assistant."

After personally benefiting from an OSU endowment and then experiencing the importance of Stanford's endowment, I decided to become the founding benefactor of the OSU Foundation Magnus Hirschfeld Fund for multidisciplinary research at OSU in all academic disciplines, for example, research in subjects disparate as animal science and theoretical computer science.

I named this Fund in honor of Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, whose Berlin research library was infamously burned by Nazis in 1933 -- an atrocity that my grandfather vividly recalled from when he was a visiting research professor of chemistry at Berlin University.

I am not a billionaire and all of my ancestors died almost penniless, therefore my initial OSU endowment is relatively small, but I am hoping it will inspire a generous addition to it by a billionaire who also cares about research at OSU.

Although it is true that research paid for by Stanford's endowment has led to companies, such as HP, Intel, Apple Computer and Alphabet Google, paving over orchards previously used to grow oranges and McIntosh apple trees between San Jose and San Francisco, I sincerely believe that a larger OSU endowment would not necessarily cause a similar urban area being built between Corvallis and Portland.

In fact, I'm planning on Corvallis remaining as a nice, small college town because I plan on living here the rest of my life.

Finally, while it is also true that much of OSU's endowment is kept in separate funds that are legally bound by contracts for specific purposes, it still must be protected from Acts of Congress and Wall Street profiteers.

(Quoted from Thomas Kraemer, "As I See It: Protecting Oregon State's endowment," Gazette-Times, Sep. 15, 2016, p. A7)

University endowments can be funded many ways other than rich billionaires, for example, over the last decade the Northwestern University's endowment of nearly $11 billion dollars grew from less than half of that thanks largely to the windfall of money they are receiving from their research that led to the Lyrica drug research, according to the article by Janet Lorin, "The Pill That Made Northwestern Rich," Businessweek, Aug. 22-28, 2016, p. 39.

A related issue for OSU is the possible drainage of funding toward the needs of a new campus that is being set up in Bend, Oregon, which is mentioned in the newspaper editorial by Mike McInally, "Think Too Much: Why OSU's Bend cmapus matters here," Mid-Valley Sunday Editorial page of Gazette-Times, Sun. Sep. 11, 2016, p. A8, which included a discussion of enrollment numbers at OSU -- see below. (Note: this was printed in the Suday paper, but it wasn't available online until Tuesday.)

One student praised the new OSU Bend, Oregon campus for having "Room for research," which was a sub-headline in the print edition of the article by Anthony Rimel, "OSU celebrates opening of Cascades Campus," posted Sep. 14, 2016.

See the following links and previous posts of interest: