NEW YORK – In the wake of a two-year investigation by Takepart in association with The Jewish Channel into the finances of Yeshiva University, the university’s President Richard M. Joel released a short statement in which he denied that the university was some $550 million in debt.
He released a chart that seemed to show YU’s finances in better shape than was claimed by The Jewish Channel. Any losses were due to the 2008 recession and the fraud of the Bernard Madoff investment firm, in which YU was heavily invested, Joel said in the statement. The university is in the process of heavily revamping its investment operations, he said.
A closer look at the chart the university provided raises a few questions.
Joel compared the performance of the university’s “long-term investment pool” – a poorly defined term that is found nowhere else in any financial data – to the median of other universities with similar endowments. The long-term-pool, which tracks back 11 years to 2002, the year before Joel took the reins at the school, includes the endowment, but it is not clear what other assets are included in this “pool,” and the numbers do not clearly line up with any single entry in YU’s financial reports.
A larger chart provided to The Jerusalem Post by the investigative team at The Jewish Channel shows just how fuzzy the numbers YU provided are. The data on the YU endowment’s performance – using numbers from the National Association of College and University Business Offices – as compared to the median performance of other US universities with endowments of similar size, shows YU’s endowment growing barely faster than that of the average university in a one-year comparison, and severely underperforming when three- and five-year periods are compared.
Over 10 years, YU’s endowment grew by 29.5 percent, and the average university with a $1 billion endowment grew by 122%.
The Jewish Channel reported that under Joel’s tenure, the university had been selling its Israel bonds and other safer investments, and heavily moving money into riskier investments such as hedge funds. According to Steven I. Weiss, who headed the investigation, while most schools of a similar size might have around 20% of their endowment in hedge funds, YU had around 65% in hedge funds.
Weiss told CBS New York that it is hard to know what would have happened if Joel had maintained the investments his predecessor had in place. “It certainly seems like they wouldn’t have lost as much money and they wouldn’t have spent as much on the assumption that these investment gains would be there,” Weiss said.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, Moody’s has repeatedly downgraded Yeshiva University’s credit rating, which now stands at Baa1. The agency warned that YU might run out of money at the end of the 2015 fiscal year.