Massachusetts state Senators Michael Moran and Pat Jehlen recently co-sponsored a bill that would strengthen state financial disclosure requirements for private universities. The bill calls for more transparency and accountability in endowment practices or other investment procedures of universities. This bill is an initiative that students should support, because it will promote better practices and ensure the financial stability of the institutions of which we are part.
The recent financial crisis significantly hurt school endowments. For example, the University of Massachusetts endowment lost 17% of its value from 2008-2009. The lack of oversight and transparency on Wall Street created problems that affected all, and made it even more imperative for universities and colleges to closely monitor their financial situations. However, schools of higher education often fall prey to the same mistakes that Wall Street did, by not incorporating enough transparency and accountability into their endowment or investment management.
Endowments can and should be handled responsibly. The Higher Education Right-to-Know Act aims to define and implement ways that universities can improve their financial stability to the benefits of the schools themselves and the communities of which they are part. For example, if the bill were passed, colleges and universities would have to calculate the amount of subsidies and tax exemptions they receive from the government and report that figure. They would also have to provide listings of their assets and real property and report that figure, as well. These increased reporting would ensure that universities were honest about their holdings, and that their tax exemptions were fair. Furthermore, colleges would have to list all employees making over $250,000 a year, and ensure that individuals on their boards file conflict of interest disclosures. These steps would make legislators, citizens, stakeholders, and students more equipped to monitor if endowments were being managed soundly and in the interest of the students and community – not in the interest of generating personal wealth. The bill allows universities to retain opaqueness in their individual investments, but ensures that this investment is done in a safe and fair way.
My group, Students at Tufts for Investment Responsibility, supports this legislation. I hope that other Massachusetts students will also fight for the bill’s passage. Students in other states should also look to this bill when advocating transparency, as it provides clear examples of tangible transparency goals. Hopefully, these goals will turn into a reality.
Want to help get this historic legislation passed? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you get involved.
On Tuesday, The Harvard Crimson published an article titled "Putting the Green in Green" which nicely encapsulates Harvard's "green" image and that to be truly sustainable, Harvard should disclose it's investments, make more responsible investment choices, and support the Higher Education Transparency Act, introduced by Rep. Michael Moran in the Massachusetts State Legislature. Author Sandra Korn writes:
With such a large endowment, Harvard has the potential to put enormous pressure on unsustainable corporations to improve their environmental practices and support companies committed to sustainability. But due to the Harvard Management Corporation’s lack of transparency, donors to the University and students like me have absolutely no idea if Harvard is investing in environmentally friendly companies.
And further explains why Harvard University should support the bill:
Fortunately, the Higher Education Transparency Act , a bill introduced recently to the Massachusetts State Legislature, would require that Harvard and other private universities in the state make information about their investments available to the public. This increased transparency will allow more critical discussion about the ethics of Harvard’s investments and hopefully lead to a more socially just endowment. Students, faculty, and administrators alike should support and encourage increased transparency not only as a means to financial accountability, but as the only way for Harvard to become a true green University.
Check the rest of the article out here.
Committees at Carleton College, Macalester College, and the University of Louisville are exploring the development of their committees as well as different potential strategies for this year and the next.
The Brown University Open the Books Coalition hosted an open panel / forum on the eve of the Board of Trustees’ decision to not reinvest in HEI, which REC attended. Besides the HEI decision, topics discussed included the recent transparency legislation in Massachusetts and the state of the national movement.
Loyola University of New Orleans is in the early planning stages for a responsible investment campaign and proposal, and is working with REC on developing their goals!
Mt. Holyoke College’s responsible investment committee continues to develop and strengthen proposed responsible investment guidelines, while also planning an awareness-raising event for the community.
REC has been in touch with PEAR (Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility) about potentially integrating responsible investment into an environmental campaign at their school.
Stanford University’s chapter of STAND (Students Taking Action Now in Darfur) is hosting a conference in April that will bring both students and company representatives together in order to learn how to take action against the sale of conflict minerals. Following the passage of the first-ever proxy voting guideline specifically concerned with conflict minerals, STAND and attendees will be exploring other responsible investment tools.
At the University of Texas, the Longhorns for Investing Responsibly presented a proposal to the UT Investmnet Management Company to incorporate a responsible investment policy into their mission statement, which received significantly media coverage.
REC visited the University of California at Santa Barbara in March, speaking at a Social Entrepreneurship event and engaging in conversations about potentially bringing a responsible investment committee proposal to the administration before the end of the year.
The Penn Conflict Minerals Campaign at the University of Pennsylvania joined the Responsible Endowments Coalition and is working on taking action.
Vassar College hosted an event about hydraulic fracturing on campus (“fracking”) bringing in representatives of different constituencies. You can read more about the event here.
Students at Wesleyan University are planning a responsible investment event and inviting REC! Contact us for more details.
This Sunday is the final day to register for PowerShift 2011, a conference sponsored by the Energy Action Coalition (a partner group of REC), dedicated to furthering the youth climate movement. The conference has taken place every other year since 2007. At the inaugural PowerShift, political leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Van Jones addressed the crowd of over 6,000 promoting economic and environmental justice with the creation of millions of “green jobs.” Students left the conference and began organizing politically around green-collar jobs and clean energy, looking toward the 2008 elections. However, the momentum did not stop there. In 2009, a group of 12,000 members of the movement got together in Washington, DC to discuss, learn, and create campaigns to bring back to their communities. Here, thousands of students engaged in the Capitol Climate Action, successfully shutting down Washington DC’s coal-fired power plant.
This year students, organizers, entrepreneurs, workers, youth from all walks of life reconvene once again. This time the goal is to create a comprehensive strategy that will be able to be implemented by attendees across the country. The focus will be much more centered on movement building than ever before, working on three main campaigns: “Catalyzing the Clean Energy Economy,” “Campus Climate Challenge 2.0,” and “Beyond Dirty Energy.” Attendees will attend workshops to gain the skills necessary for launching these campaigns on their campuses and in their communities.
The Responsible Endowments Coalition is just one of 50 partner organizations involved with the Energy Action Coalition (EAC), promoting social, economic, and environmental justice. However, most of these organizations are more traditional environmental groups, organizing campaigns around clean energy on campus or creation of green jobs, REC has a slightly different and complimentary approach. While the work of the EAC on the ground is vastly important to the success of the youth climate movement, REC likes to hit people where it hurts: their wallets. REC campaigns on university campuses have the potential to shift large millions of dollars away from destructive environmental practices and towards alternative energy. Institutional investors have successfully filed resolutions to work towards a cleaner future with banks and companies including JP Morgan Chase, XTO Energy, ExxonMobil, and ConocoPhillips. Universities are institutional investors and can have the same power when filing a resolution to promote alternative energy. Most notably, in 2010 Loyola University of Chicago filed a resolution with JP Morgan Chase concerning financing of mountain top removal, an extremely environmentally hazardous form of coal mining in Appalachia.
Climate change is a real problem that can only be stopped by us. We need people on the ground demanding for green jobs, reduced carbon emissions, and clean air and water for all. But we also need people on campuses pressuring their universities to take a stand with their money, using their considerable wealth to say to the corporations practicing mountain top removal and offshore drilling, pumping our air full of dangerous carbon emissions that they need to give us something better. So join REC and the EAC at PowerShift 2011, This could very well be the 11th hour.
For more information and to register for PowerShift 2011 visit http://www.powershift2011.org.
If this has the familiar ring of The New School, it is an idea that is now gathering speed at colleges and universities across the country. On Friday, February 25, the ACIR joined the Responsible Endowments Coalition to co-host a national meeting of students, faculty, and trustees from across the United States to examine how universities can consider and improve the environmental and social effects of the more than $350 billion in collective endowment dollars they have to invest. Terra Lawson-Remer, assistant professor of International Affairs and ACIR chair, welcomed representatives from as far away as Stanford University and Colorado College, and as close as Columbia and Wesleyan. Nationwide, more than 40 universities have joined The New School in forming similar committees.
“The New School is renown for its fervent commitment to social and environmental change,” Frank Barletta, senior vice president for Finance and Administration. “The ACIR provides a means to harness that commitment by channeling input from across the university to guide investment decisions."
Jeremy Pearce is a Financial Advisor with Progressive Asset Management, the socially responsible affiliate of Financial West Group.
I need you and everyone you know to be socially responsible investors. Your age or socio-economic status doesn’t matter. Your investment experience doesn’t matter, whether you are a new investor or have been investing in a retirement account for 25 years. You can still achieve your financial objectives AND promote positive social change. Socially responsible investing (SRI) gives power back to the investor—the shareholder—who wants to see our businesses be better community members. As a socially responsible financial advisor, I help my clients daily make responsible investment decisions that do just that.
As a recent grad new to investing, you should ask yourself three questions. One, what issues are important and how do I want my investments to screen them? Two, do I want a retirement account, or a non-retirement account? Three, what is my investment profile, that is, risk tolerance and investment objectives? The answers are like fingerprints. However, a young investor might say, “I want an investment that eliminates companies that have a poor history of employee relations and includes those companies that provide a fair wage and benefit package. “ She’ll continue, “I need to start saving for retirement, I want to be an aggressive investor, and I want to see my investments grow!” Bingo!!
Obviously, I recommend you call a financial professional, like myself! Advisors who specialize in SRI are able to discuss the different screens out there as well as how to construct and monitor an appropriate portfolio given your needs and wants. But if you must do it on your own, seek a well-diversified, socially-screened mutual fund. Some funds are comprised of a fixed mix of stocks, bonds, and cash equivalents, and can be rebalanced periodically to help with capital appreciation, (ahem, growth). These funds have varying minimums for the initial investment, but a recent graduate would be wise to set up a monthly deposit and investment arrangement, commonly referred to as a periodic investment plan.
Socially responsible investments are growing in popularity and variety, due in large part to their successes as agents of change and better-than-expected returns. However, we always need more socially responsible investors. So, get started. Call an advisor if you can. But most importantly, accomplish your financial goals AND make the world a better place. We all need you to do this.
The article is here, though it's behind a paywall.
Check out the school at www.strose.edu.
As families and communities continue to struggle economically across the country, and mega-banks devise new ways to squeeze money from their smallest customers, Green America is pleased to provide a new resource on banking and investing options that strengthen marginalized communities. Green America has worked for many years to highlight community investing and banking opportunities that give low and moderate income communities access to responsible financial services, capital, and financial planning support.
The new Community Investing Guide provides inspirational examples of how community investing works to support initiatives such as homeownership under responsible terms, green business, renewable energy, fresh grocers in the inner city, and economic uplift in countries around the world. The Guide includes resources and contact information for finding banks, credit unions, loan funds, mutual funds, and other vehicles that promote community development. Now more than ever, community investing and sustainable, just banking are needed to get our nation on an economic track that supports populations hardest hit by the economic crisis and that is driven by a desire for broad prosperity, not driven by greed.
Download the Guide Here!
REC recently began a substantial research project into the practice of responsible investment in universities. Already a few interesting numbers are surfacing.
While it is no secret that universities lost substantial amounts during the recent financial crisis, it appears that by 2009 endowments had shrunk on average by 26% from their 2007 peak. While some bounce-back occurred in 2010, endowments are still down on average about 20% on their 2007 levels. This equates to losses of tens of millions of dollars for typical endowments, a number which increases to upwards of ten billion for the largest ones. So, how should schools respond to these figures?
One possibility is to simply redouble their efforts doing the same things as they did before. Schools have a lot of ground to make up, and the habits of their investment managers, which have been ingrained over many years of training and practice, must be hard to shake. But, of course, it was arguably those habits, and the logic that informed them, that resulted in such unsustainable investments being made in the first place. From REC’s point of view, this is a concerning possibility as it may make schools less sensitive to the merits of responsible investing.
Alternatively, schools could allow this experience to prompt a radical rethink of investment practices. On the one hand, by investigating the social and environmental impact of specific investments, ethical considerations can become part of investment decision-making. But beyond this, schools will develop a greater pool of knowledge about the investments they are making, allowing a more informed and thus more accurate assessment of the risk to which they are exposed. Had schools traced their investments through to the unsustainable lending practices prevalent in the mortgage sector leading up to 2007, they could have been better placed to protect themselves when the house of cards finally tumbled.
REC’s research project is still in its early stages, and hopefully will yield some more profound insights as it progresses. Nevertheless, it is important to consider how the endowment losses it shows schools to have experienced could produce two quite opposing reactions. This provides an indication of the situation with which REC is faced. We must work hard to elevate the advantages of the latter interpretation of these losses above the temptation to pursue the former one.
How has your endowment responded?
When organizing our campaigns, it is often all too easy to focus on people as targets rather than allies. After all, activism is all about revolution and establishing an all-too-French Reign of Terror, right? Wrong. When establishing our campaigns to bring positive social gains to our institutions, communities, and the world, we need to be engaging as many stakeholders as possible. Obviously, undergraduate students will probably be a large part of any movement, given their easy accessibility and larger amount of time and energy to devote to the process. However, although drive may come from a small, committed group of undergraduate students at first, the eventual goal is for change to become institutionalized and be a priority in everyone’s minds. When building your committee, it is important to strategize about stakeholders who are useful and plausible participants.
If you are enrolled at an university that offers graduate programs, graduate students are also important stakeholders to include. At many universities, graduate students often seem as elusive as a mythological creature; you have may faith that they exist, but you may never see or speak to one. Their classes are housed in different buildings and at different times, so the undergraduate population seldom has contact. In addition, graduate students often hold day jobs or internships, which makes contact that much more difficult. However, as students of the university, graduate students also have just as much stake in the investments of the university. Therefore, there are many graduate students who are incredibly interested in participating in socially responsible investment campaigns, but are not ever contacted. At Seattle University, our committee charter includes permanent positions on our committee for graduate students. To fill these positions, we work close with our Graduate Student Council to contact and reach out to potential members. So far, we have had a fairly good response and our graduate students have been real assets to our committee in the past. Overall, although graduate students are often overlooked, it is important to tie them into the grand scheme of responsible investment.
Integrating faculty and staff is often a great idea for strengthening your movement as well. Although they may not pay to be at the university, as employees, they have just as much stake in the university’s endowment. In addition to allowing faculty voice to be heard through an organized and informed body, involving faculty and staff can also strengthen movements by providing expertise and/or valuable connections. Although we often like to think that we, the students, are the only ones with social lives, faculty and staff also spend a great amount of time networking with colleagues and higher administration. By involving staff and faculty in your movement, you thereby wrangle in their connections, including valuable relationships with administration, and engage a wider audience. In addition to connections, faculty and staff often bring certain amounts of expertise and access to resources. For example, by involving professors from your business school or staff from the finance department, you have access to much more insight into the investment process. At Seattle University, for example, we have had a great amount of support from our campus sustainability manager. As a member of the first committee, she assisted the committee in establishing several action items including a community investment plan and a sustainable investment clause. Now, although she is not a member of a committee, she is still very supportive of any work being done and is instrumental in helping to reach out to the SU community about economic sustainability. By involving staff and faculty, your campaign is able to gain valuable assets with which to move forward.
Finally, another possible route of involvement is the alumni route. Considering the endowment often consists of money from alumni donations, it goes without saying that the alumni definitely have a stake in its proper investment. Alumni bring major political power, considering the money that they donate actually makes up the whole of the endowment. In addition, alumni often bring expertise and personal connections that faculty may or may not also bring. However, that being said, alumni are often trickier to get involved in a movement. Because they are often professionals outside of the university setting, they are harder to connect with in a working manner. Also, depending on how you would like to involve them, they may or may not be of use. For example, at this stage of Seattle University’s movement, we have decided not to include alumni on our committee because of the frequency with which our committee is set to meet, according to our charter. However, at other schools, there have been immense gains by involving the voices of alumni, writing letters in support of community investment strategies, including sustainable investment clauses, or filing resolutions against companies. Therefore, although alumni are sometimes more difficult to involve in ongoing campaigns, they can often be useful allies depending on the objectives at hand.
In conclusion, considering that colleges and universities consist of several different stakeholders, we as organizers must be cognizant of those that we are including in the process of change-making. Besides providing space and opportunities for all voices to heard, each group of stakeholders brings valuable perspectives, experience, or connections to the movement. By involving many parties in this process, your campaigns will involve a broader audience, open opportunities, and raise the legitimacy of the campaign ideas.