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David Swensen Rips 'Cowardly' Yale Student Journalists in Email Spat

An email exchange published by the university's student newspaper shows the endowment CIO criticizing the paper and calling its editor's actions "disgusting" — criticisms he repeated to Institutional Investor.

Yale University's student newspaper has made public a series of emails between university CIO David Swensen and the newspaper's editor-in-chief in which Swensen expressed outrage over a decision to eliminate a sentence from a column he had authored.

The Yale Daily News published the email exchange on Sunday, alongside an editors' note addressing the criticisms from Swensen. The emails show Swensen responding angrily to the edit made to his opinion piece, calling the student journalists' actions "inexcusable" and "disgusting." In a later email, he called the newspaper's editor-in-chief, Yale junior Rachel Treisman, a "coward."

When reached by Institutional Investor over email, Swensen doubled down on these criticisms, again using the terms "disgusting" and "cowardly" to describe Treisman's actions.

Swensen's column had been in response to a Yale Daily News article published on February 5 that covered a teach-in event led by student activists critical of the endowment's investments. The op-ed, published on March 1, asserted that some of the student activists' claims about the endowment were untrue and argued that the Yale Daily News staff should have done more to fact check the claims before publishing the article. The paper later issued a correction addressing Swensen's points about the claims.

Swensen told II in an email that he had instructed the Yale Daily News staff in all-caps that they were not to edit his column before publishing it. However, in the original version of the op-ed, the student paper had removed a single sentence that they believed to be inaccurate.

According to the editors' note, "Swensen wrote that the reporter of the Feb. 5 story did not contact Yale's Investments Office before the story's publication when, in fact, the reporter did."

The emails published by the Yale Daily News show that Treisman contacted Swensen at 10:05 p.m. on March 1 informing him that the newspaper's editors had decided to omit the line in question.

"We are happy to run this piece but have to cut out that factual inaccuracy," she wrote. "I understand that you do not want your column edited and we respect that request, but cannot in good faith include that part of it."

The published email exchange shows that Swensen replied early the following morning that he was "furious" about the edit. 

"Don't you understand simple English?" he asked, reiterating his instruction that the piece be published without edits. "What is the matter with you?"

In his email to II, Swensen said that Treisman and the reporter of the February 5 article had "repeatedly acted [in] an unethical and unprofessional manner," calling the publication of the email exchange "yet another ethical breach."

According to Swensen, the "factual inaccuracy" in his column was "technical in the sense that [the reporter] gave my colleague a heads up that an article was running, but there were no requests for fact checks or context." He added that the error could have been "easily fixed" if the Yale Daily News staff had engaged with him instead of "rushing to publication."

In a statement given to II, the Yale Daily News editors said their staff "strives to report responsibly and accurately on campus issues" and that the paper is "always open to publishing criticism of our work." The students wrote in their editors' note that they were "disheartened that a Yale administrator considers this an appropriate way to voice concerns to the News."

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