Ethics Presentation & Discussion Starter – Spring 2020
“The divine future breaks into the present with each thorny act of justice.” – E. Townes
“If your house is burning down and you asked a neighbor if your kids could stay at your house and your neighbor said ‘no,’ but here is a check so you could stay at the Econo Lodge across town, what would that tell you about your neighbor? It is in these times of crisis when people are exposed for their true selves. Everyone needs to do their part at this very difficult time and writing a check does not exempt you from that fact.” (1) These were Mayor Elicker’s words directed at President Salovey referring to Yale’s refusal to open up dorm space for medics, firefighters and other first responders to self isolate amid the pandemic crisis. Elicker then picked up the phone and called Steve Kaplan, president of U of New Haven and had a yes within the first 5 minutes of the call. Still today over 100 people experiencing homelessness do not have a safe place to stay. Meanwhile roughly 5,000 beds sit vacant in residential colleges.
The Yale endowment currently sits at 30.3 billion, earning roughly $8 million per day. David Swenson’s “Yale Model” for endowment investing has been replicated by nearly all colleges and university across the country. David is thus the highest paid employee on the Yale payroll, earning 4.7 million in 2017. Yale owns nearly 55% of the property in New Haven, most of which rests comfortably under a tax exempt status. Because of this, New Haven misses out on an estimated 146 million per year, making Yale’s 12 million dollar yearly “voluntary contribution,” which came through intense political battles throughout the 90’s a bit disingenuous. All of this in a city that is roughly 70% POC, where Yale has a history of hiring discrimination.
While only 10% of this endowment is public knowledge, the sliver that is known has been traced to Puerto Rican debt holdings, fracking and fossil fuel companies, private prison corporations, predatory student loan groups and payday loan centers. Professor Timothy Kreiner points out in his recent op-ed to the YDN entitled Corona Capitalism that “today, fully half or more of Yale’s faculty are instructional. Most are paid a fraction of what their tenure-track colleagues earn. Most hold short-term contracts and are paid by the course at rates that almost never rise regardless of performance or years of service. And many of those contracts expire — along with the health care they provide — on June 30th each year.” All of this to cut costs. To add insult to injury, Yale ran an 87 million dollar surplus last year, 89% of which came from money made by services provided by Yale School of Medicine. (Healthcare!)
Emilie Townes tells us that “an ethic of justice must be based on the community from which it emerges, for it can degenerate into flaccid ideology if it does not espouse a future vision that calls the community beyond itself into a wider and more inclusive circle” (2). Willis Jenkins tells us that “the most important interpretive resources lie in the tactics communities use to make their traditions confront new problems. Ethicists can help realize the potential of those tactics by cultivating and criticizing a community’s initial responses, working to make their trajectory more competent to the problems they face and more faithful to the traditions they use” (3). The one thing that we all have in common here is that we are Yalies. Love it or hate it. If I’m being honest, most days I feel more shame than pride in being a bulldog.
But there is hope. Currently students are mobilizing a #stepupyale petition drive with the following 3 demands: Repurpose un-utilized Yale facilities to serve EVERYONE who needs housing, food, and space to self-isolate for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. Stop all custodial YPD Arrests and release anyone currently held in custody. Stop collecting rent on all Yale owned properties for the duration of the crisis.
Further, through a political organizing group called Yale Forward, FES ‘15 graduate Maggie Thomas just announced she is running for a seat at Yale Corporation (which directs endowment funding) on a platform of divesting from all fossil fuel holdings immediately, cancelling Puerto Rican Debt, and inclusive and transparent governance. She needs 4394 signatures from Yale alumni to make the ballot. The Concerned and Organized Graduate Students (COGS) and the Yale Graduate Student Assembly just unanimously passed a resolution requesting a universal one year extension of graduate student funding. I wonder what other ways do you think we can organize together? A further question might be: following the lead of Emilie Townes ethic of justice, I’m curious to know what ways each of you reconcile and liberate your relationship to Yale?
1. Mackenzie Hawkins, Elicker Slams Yale for Lack of Cooperation, Yale Daily News, March 27, 2020
2. Emilie Townes, Ethics as an Art of Doing the Work Our Souls Must Have, Womanist Theological Ethics: A Reader, Katie Geneva Cannon, Emilie M. Townes, Angela D. Sims, Westminster John Knox Press, 2011, pg. 38
3. Willis Jenkins, The Future of Ethics, Sustainability, Social Justice, & Religious Creativity, Georgetown University Press, 2013, pg. 105