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Endowments Deserve Scrutiny

Danny Schwartz ’13 writes for NBC News:

In June, Amherst College participated in a match campaign that raised $183,000 for charities like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and my alma mater Williams College made a suite of promises that included a pledge to donate at least $500,000 to racial justice causes over five years. Around this same time, at the height of the George Floyd protests, Williams β€” whose endowment nearly doubled from around $1.5 billion to $2.9 billion in the last decade β€” actively solicited alumni donations, providing the option to give to the school or the pandemic- and racial equity-related causes. Williams President Maud Mandel argued in a statement that β€œthe most effective and long-lasting manner in which Williams can work toward this goal [of fighting inequality and injustice] is by providing students with ways to hone their analytical and argumentative skills, which they can channel toward such ends.” These overtures suggest that the school would rather offload social justice accountability onto students and alumni than let its own wealth do the work.

1) Well, yeah. Williams has enough trouble just trying to be a good college. It should no more work directly on social justice in the wider world than Google should raise cows. Organizations should focus on their core missions and comparative advantages.

2) I like Maud’s rhetoric in this. In fact, this is the same line she used at 2019 reunions, and probably on many other occasions. If you — rich alum with checkbook in hand — care about X (whether X is global warming, inequality, police brutality, malaria or . . .), then the best thing to do is to give money to Williams because we train the people who will change the world by fighting these battles. Of course, this is self-serving — Williams wants your money — but it is coherent, plausible and, perhaps, even true, or at least tru-ish.

How would you like to see Maud address these issues?