The financial crisis in the United States has started to affect operations of smaller colleges and universities. The New York Times
reported yesterday that Wachovia Bank has limited access to a fund used
by many smaller institutions for short-term financing of their
day-to-day operations. This move has forced some institutions to
scramble to find the money for payroll and other immediate obligations.
Until Monday, Wachovia Bank served as the trustee for the Commonfund,
where some 1,000 institutions in the U.S. deposited their cash
receipts, then drew out funds using lines of credit to pay staff,
purchase supplies, and conduct other day-to-day transactions. On
Monday, according to the Times, Wachovia resigned from its trustee role
with Commonfund. The bank also limited access by institutions to the
estimated $9.3 billion in the Commonfund to 10 percent of their
accounts’ value. On Tuesday, Commonfund was able to sell some of its
government-backed securities to increase its liquidity.
For institutions depending on Commonfund, Monday’s announcement hit
hard. The University of Vermont says that half of its liquid
assets–some $79 million–are in Commonfund. The University of Akron
had $800,000 in Commonfund, but could withdraw only $80,000 when it
heard the fund was in trouble. Many institutions have been forced to
negotiate separate lines of credit with other institutions at a time
when credit is tightening.
was one of the banks hit particularly hard by the financial crisis.
Citigroup announced this week the purchase of Wachovia’s banking
operations. Commonfund had invested its funds in high-rated government
and corporate bonds, avoiding the the mortgage-backed securities
considered among the root causes of the financial crisis. But the
central role of Wachovia with Commonfund appears to have crippled the
The Times also reports that Boston University,
while not a Commonfund participant, announced a freeze on hiring and
new capital projects as a precaution, given the uncertain financial
UPDATE, 3 October 2008: Associated Press reports this morning that Wells Fargo & Co. will acquire all of Wachovia’s assets, pushing aside the earlier deal with Citigroup.