To the Editor,
We are former members of the Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, representing different political parties and times in office. What unites us is our love of the university that we so proudly served, and our frustration with the misimpressions of the university’s Investment Office and its relationship with U-M donors and benefactors created by a series of articles in the Detroit Free Press, the most recent of which ran on September 13, 2018.
Creating the Investment Office as a unit separate from the Treasurer’s Office in 1999 was an important decision made by university leaders at the time. These leaders, including the Board of Regents, understood well that with declining state support it was increasingly important to grow the university’s endowment through the generous private support of alumni and friends. And they knew it was important to make prudent investments with those funds that had the potential to generate strong returns to help meet our academic priorities as public sources of funding declined. These include scholarships for students with need, supporting research to find better ways to manage common diseases, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, and so much more.
Nearly 20 years of experience has continued to show the wisdom of this decision. Today, the university’s endowment stands at more than $11 billion. It is the largest public university endowment in the country other than the flagship universities in Texas, which receive oil royalties. It is no exaggeration to say that the University of Michigan would not be the university it is today — one of the best and most highly ranked universities in the world — without generous donors and wise and dedicated professionals who invest those funds to maximize returns for the public good.
The documented facts should speak much clearly and loudly: U-M offers free tuition to qualifying in-state students from families with incomes up to $65,000 a year; U-M’s investment performance puts it near the top of all endowments; and the distribution from U-M’s endowment has increased every year since 2003.
We are proud of our donors and alumni, who have helped us raise over $1 billion to support our students in this campaign alone. Attempting to disparage our donors is potentially destructive to the culture of philanthropic support at Michigan, which is one if its hallmarks. It is also hurtful to some of our most generous donors, whose wisdom and involvement has helped the university enormously. We are proud of our current Board of Regents and university leaders, including the executive vice president and chief financial officer and the Investment Office staff. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman has long served this university with distinction and her dedication to this institution is beyond reproach.
We firmly believe that the University of Michigan deserves better treatment by one of our state’s leading news organizations.
We take great pride in the success of our beloved institution and the positive impact it makes in the lives of the people in our state.
David A. Brandon
Laurence B. Deitch
Daniel D. Horning
Shirley M. McFee
Robert E. Nederlander
Neal D. Nielsen
Philip H. Power
Nellie M. Varner