Staff Editorial: WashU, keep your word and put the endowment to good use

Graphic by HN Hoffmann

When you think about Washington University in St. Louis, a lot of different things come to mind — the size of the campus and how beautiful it is, its prestige as a top-20 university and how much money it has, among other things. The latter applies now more than ever. On Sept. 20, the University announced that WashU’s managed endowment pool had a 65% return, increasing its value to $15.3 billion and “giving Washington University in St. Louis a significant financial gain that the university will use to bolster its support of students and strategic academic initiatives.” 

As students, we know how we want to see the endowment used. We want to see the University keep its word and actually put the funding toward student support and programs that directly benefit the WashU and St. Louis community — not towards aesthetic changes and facility expansions that have no real impact on the WashU student experience. We want to see more funding put towards mental health resources on campus and increasing the staff at the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention (RSVP) Center. 

We want campus to be accessible for everyone. The University’s failure to implement accommodations has caused many students with disabilities to struggle to navigate campus or get to their classes. Every residence hall should be ADA accessible; some dorms don’t have elevators, and that’s not acceptable. Every student should have the ability to live on campus safely without regard for their physical capabilities. WashU, we want you to level the playing field. It’s already difficult academically to be a student at WashU; don’t make it harder by diminishing the quality of life for some students just because you don’t want to remodel a few buildings.

Over the years, student groups and activists like the WashU Undergraduate and Graduate Workers Union (WUGWU) have laid out clear initiatives for how University funding could impact the lives of not only students but also employees — listen to them. Take their demands into consideration. For example, Dining Services is severely understaffed and underpaid. Pay the people who keep our campus fed a living wage.

But will this be what the endowment is used for? What exactly is the endowment? As students, we hear a lot about the wealth the University has, but the majority don’t know where it comes from or how we get it. The term “endowment” is thrown around a lot, but it can be difficult to get a clear understanding of what it is or exactly how much of that money can actually be used for campus initiatives. While Chancellor Martin should be applauded for his 2020 blog “Endowment 101,” there are still a lot of lingering questions. The blog was a good start to transparency, but in the wake of the recent growth in the endowment, we need an update: one that makes clear exactly how much the University can afford to spend on the programs that will directly impact and improve the WashU student experience.

Last year, Chancellor Martin mentioned in his blog that “we still have significant work to do to grow our endowment, especially its capacity to fund the amount of financial aid we aspire to provide. Admittedly, we are not as well-positioned as our peers in that regard, and we need to double down in order to eventually practice need-blind admissions.” Now that the endowment’s grown, make good on your promise: double down and practice need-blind admissions. What is stopping us?

And while the funding will have an impact on students, we can’t forget where we are. The University has a lot of impact in the community. As one of the biggest employers in St. Louis, it’s important to recognize the consequences of over-expanding and taking resources from the community. We are in St. Louis, not against it. Because we are a tax-exempt entity, University City and the St. Louis community at large are losing out on revenue that could improve the place that we call home for a few short years. When we’re gone, the people here still have to deal with the ramifications of the spending from a powerhouse institution like WashU. The University should take that into account and invest more in local organizations and communities that would benefit from the tax dollars WashU isn’t paying. 

With this much money comes great responsibility, and we will hold the University accountable. We want to see real, impactful change that is directly related to what will benefit the most people in our community, not surface-level change that reflects what the administration thinks we want to see. We’re telling the administration what we need and what we want. Now it’s time for the University to listen.

 

Staff editorials reflect the opinion of the majority of our editorial board members. The editorial board operates independently of our newsroom and includes members of the senior staff. 

Editor-in-chief: Matthew Friedman

Managing Editors: Jayla Butler, Isabella Neubauer

Senior Forum Editors: Reilly Brady, Jamila Dawkins

Senior Scene Editors: Olivia Poolos, Julia Robbins

Senior Cadenza Editors: Jordan Coley, Gracie Hime

Senior Copy Editor: Jordan Coley

Senior Multimedia Editor: Jaden Satenstein, HN Hoffmann

Senior Social Media Editor: Sabrina Spence

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