NEW YORK – Already groaning under the weight of a sex-abuse scandal and hundreds of millions in an ensuing lawsuit, Yeshiva University is now facing down an investigation that claims the school lost $500 million on a “high-risk investment portfolio” – mostly hedge funds and corporate stocks.
Combined with the $100m. loss the university took after the Bernard Madoff financial scandal, the investigation said YU has lost around $1.3 billion since 2007, and is now around $550m. in debt.
Amid the swirling allegations of financial instability, Richard M. Joel, the president of Yeshiva University, released a statement on Monday rebuking all accusations of financial mishandling, along with a chart that seemed to indicate YU’s financial standing was, while not exactly blossoming, also not shedding copious amounts.
“Like many other institutions, we were severely impacted by the 2008 recession, yet chose to continue to build,” Joel said in a statement. “The endowment remains secure and as of June 2013, the endowment of Yeshiva University and its affiliates was $1.17b.”
The chart released by the university shows that 2009 was the year with the biggest financial loss, but the university also underperformed in 2011 compared to the median return for all other US colleges and universities: YU’s pool of investments grew by only 14.5 percent, and the median grew by 19.8%. The 2012 and 2013 fiscal years showed some small growth over the rest of the pack.
The investigation said YU had 21.7% of their endowment tied up in hedge funds and investments, more than three times the average school with a similar investment size.
Other signs of financial stress were apparent in the university’s sale of 10 apartment buildings for $72m. on May 20, reported by The Real Deal, and the ceding of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to Montefiore Medical Center on May 27.
The report also found that the school increased its spending between 2001 and 2008 by 68%, although revenues only increased by 25%, and that since 2008, spending had increased another 33%.
Moody’s Corporation has also downgraded YU’s credit rating a few times since 2008.
It was most recently downgraded from A2 to Baa1 in July 2013, “reflecting ongoing sizable operating deficits and very weak operating cash flow, thin unrestricted liquidity, very modest growth of net tuition revenue, and increased use of line of credit for working capital purposes,” Moody’s said.
Despite the 2008 downturn, much money, Joel wrote in his statement, was spent on investing in faculty, student academics and the physical infrastructure of the school.
In 2009, Joel said YU revamped their oversight practices for university investments, established an investment office to oversee day-to-day activities and “develop a strategic vision for the endowment.”
That office is now “executing a strategy that prudently balances the safety of the investments, expected return of the portfolio, and liquidity and flexibility to support the university,” he said.
In a previous statement, the university said that it was “not given sufficient opportunity to react to the article, which is full of half-truths and inaccuracies from as far back as a decade ago.”
The investigation was a two-year effort looking into YU’s finances, by TakePart and The Jewish Channel, and written by a reporter who admitted he attended YU and was “not invited back” before his senior year.
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