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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Bankers in the Ivory Tower: The Financialization of Governance at the University of California


This paper examines the recent changes in the relationships between public research universities and financial markets, using the University of California as a case study. Between 2003 and 2011, UC’s outstanding bond debt to investors more than doubled. Funds raised through borrowing were invested into medical centers, dormitories, and athletic facilities at the same time as core university functions were scaled back due to cuts in state appropriations. We argue that these divergent trends are best understood as the financialization of university governance. We first trace the precipitous growth of UC debt beginning in the early 2000s. We then show howthe university has partnered with Wall Street firms to expand its borrowing activities through the use of a broad array of financial instruments. These changes occurred as UC’s administration empowered financial managers and recruited Wall Street veterans to positions as senior university executives and members of UC’s Board of Regents. Finally, we discuss the consequences for university governance of this reorientation towards financial strategies and financial markets.

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