MIDDLETOWN, CT - Wesleyan University has transferred $500,000 into banks in Middletown and Bridgeport, CT, becoming one of the first universities in the nation to adopt investment practices designed to support underserved communities.
The university has moved $250,000 into both Liberty Bank (Middletown, CT) and the Community’s Bank (Bridgeport, CT), which were chosen by the Wesleyan Committee for Investor Responsibility (CIR) as the two banks near Wesleyan most committed to serving disadvantaged communities. Wesleyan’s initial investment is one of the largest among the very small group of universities nationwide that have made similar investments. The CIR, in coordination with the Wesleyan Finance Office, hopes to expand upon these initial investments in the future.
Community investment is the fastest growing area of socially responsible investment in the United States. Over the past three years, community investment has grown from $25 billion to $41.7 billion in assets.
Liberty Bank was chosen based on its consistent and strong support for organizations in the surrounding community where many Wesleyan students volunteer. Since 1997 the Liberty Bank Foundation has provided nearly $6 million in grants to nonprofit organizations, such as the Green Street Arts Center, in its service area. In 2011 it won the Robert Haller Memorial Award for Outstanding Community Service. This is awarded annually by the Connecticut Commission on Children to an individual or organization that distinguishes itself through its support for the education and well-being of children in the state.
An investment was made in the Community’s Bank based upon its social mission. It is the only bank in Connecticut that is minority owned and is certified by the U.S. Treasury Department as a Community Development Financial Institution. The Community Bank earned perfect scores on both metrics used by the National Community Investment Fund Social Performance Metrics Database, giving it by far the highest ratings in Connecticut.
The CIR hopes that Wesleyan’s initial investment in Liberty Bank and the Community’s Bank will be the start of an ongoing relationship that will continue into the coming years and possibly expand in the future.
The mobilization, originally scheduled for March 1 but now also including actions on March 5, has been coordinated and organized by Occupy Education. "We refuse to pay for the crisis created by the 1%," Occupy Education's website reads as the rallying cry for the mobilization. While there have been a number of disparate agendas on different campuses, almost all are united against the multiple crises facing higher education in the United States that have led to ballooning student debt parallel with budget cuts for education across the nation.
The Responsible Endowments Coalition and students in REC's network support the demands of the March 1st Day to Defend Education. Wall Street was behind the financial crisis that has been one of the major causes of this austerity. Wall Street continues to spend money to prevent regulation and taxation all while refusing to pay their fair share of taxes.
At campuses like the University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis and Warren Wilson College (NC) students are demanding that their schools and student governments break up with their big banks and work to end schools' investments in major Wall Street. We believe in building more just, equitable, transparent, and democratic higher education institutions and that higher education must be fully funded and affordable for all.
By JACK HAMILTON, SANDRA Y.L. KORN, and JENNIFER SHEEHY-SKEFFINGTON
As members of Occupy Harvard, we are writing in response to your letter to the members of the Harvard Community sent on Monday, Nov. 21.
Thank you for recognizing the important conversations our movement has generated, and of the centrality of free speech and debate for Harvard as an institution of higher education. We appreciate your concern for the safety of all members of the Harvard community, including the occupants of our encampment in Harvard Yard.
However, we are concerned with your characterization of our movement. As stated in a motion passed at our first general assembly on Nov. 9, we have been committed to being peaceful in all our actions. Exceptions to peaceful conduct from that night can be cited from both sides, but these isolated events do not speak to the broader principles and behaviors that drive either side. You make reference to incidents of sexual assault at other Occupy sites, which are abhorrent. However, we invite you to compare the number of such incidents with that of sexual assaults occurring, for example, on Harvard’s campus and in final clubs.
Given that we have made a public commitment to nonviolence, we request that you do the same. In light of brutal institutional acts carried out by police at the University of California Davis and Berkeley, the Harvard Undergraduate Council passed a resolution calling for “the continued support of the right of students to peaceful protest without violent response by the Harvard administration, the Harvard University Police Department, as well as student unions, university administrations and police departments across the US." We share that sentiment, and we ask that you make a public commitment that the University and its agents will refrain from the use of violence against Occupy Harvard.
As we share your concern with violence, so do we share your concern with free speech. A number of faculty have written to you asking that you open the gates of the Yard, and some are holding classes off-campus in protest against the gate closure. We agree with this sentiment, we think that speech cannot genuinely be free in a location heavily locked down by security, with public access largely eliminated.
Over the past weeks, we have received strong support from the Harvard community and have enjoyed productive conversations with many students at the encampment. At the same time, the closure of the Yard has divided the campus community, and created an atmosphere of anger and frustration that has stymied constructive debate within Harvard and strangled exchange with the world outside it. It has enabled, rather than prevented, individual acts of verbal and physical abuse directed at the encampment by certain inebriated students late at night. If Harvard genuinely cared about freedom of speech, the health and well being of its own campus, and its obligations to a community larger than the one that lies within its walls, it would open its gates
Let us now focus the discussion on one of the real issues at hand. Controlled by the world’s second-largest non-profit, Harvard’s $32 billion endowment is larger than the gross domestic products of more than half the countries in the world. Why are Harvard’s investments opaque to the Harvard community? How can we be confident that Harvard’s investments are socially responsible? We appreciate that you, as the President, play multiple roles within this university. You are both the leader of a community of scholars and an employee of the Harvard Corporation. When conflict arises between these two allegiances, whom do you serve?
We want to know, and we want Harvard to be held accountable. The scholars who contribute lifetimes of hard work and research, elevating Harvard’s prestige, winning grants and garnering huge donations, should have a say in how our contributions to Harvard are impacting the broader world. As far as we know now, there is a deep void of transparency and accountability with regard to the broader impact of Harvard’s investments. This is not only a problem of management, but also a problem of morality.
We invite you to a discussion of this and other issues that have led to the creation of the Occupy Harvard movement and maintain hopes that we will have substantive opportunities to engage with you on the pressing issues of integrity and fairness that are causing growing discontent on campus. Members of your administration have declined to attend any of the general assemblies to which they have been invited and have pulled out of two discussion events to which they had previously committed: the general assembly of Nov. 10 and the Dudley House discussion forum of Nov. 21. We are a horizontal and democratic movement and we invite you, again, to attend one of our general assemblies, which take place on Mondays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. in the Yard, right outside your office.
By the time this letter appears in print Harvard Yard will have been locked down for nearly three weeks. A movement rooted in the reclamation of public space and an enhanced engagement with fundamental ideals of democracy and equality has been met with repression and a retreat into exclusion, a breed of fear that is the most regrettable byproduct of privilege. We call upon you, and our University, to do better.
Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington ’14 is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology. Jack Hamilton ’12 is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of American Civilizations. Sandra Korn ’14 is a joint History of Science and Women and Gender Studies concentrator in Eliot House.
REC Interview: Steve Schueth, First Affirmative Financial Network - Perspectives on 20 years of work in responsible investment
REC: How did you get involved with responsible investment?
I went to school at Marquette where basketball was the big thing, and we didn’t have anything like the Responsible Endowments Coalition. I had a gradual awakening, but I wish that he had woken up earlier when I was in college, it was 14 years before I got into socially responsible investment.
I joined Calvert in 1989. Previously I had been the director of development at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business and then was working in the financial services industry. While I was there I met Wayne Silby and John Guffey who founded Calvert in 1981 and were integrating values into investment and learning about the Buddhist tradition and philosophy of ‘right livelihood’, which was a big aha! moment for them. I had been in financial services since 1976 and when I began to learn about the emerging field of socially responsible investing, doing good with money, it was a coming home, it just felt right for me.
For me there are two kinds of people in the world. The majority of folks feel very comfortable having their money disconnected from the rest of their lives. They are okay making as much money as they can and giving a little bit away to solve some of the world’s problems. They aren’t as socially conscious.
The other group of folks is people that are doing good work with their money. We want our money doing good things and making money at the same time. We’re conscious how our money is working in the world and know that it has an impact if we realize it or not. I would have been very grateful if I had realized this in college.
REC: It’s the same way now for a lot of people.
In college most people are thinking about sports and boys and girls. It’s hard to break through the excitement that is happening and the process of leaving home. REC has an important role to play bringing these insights and ideas to students.
REC: Why do you think colleges and universities should be involved in responsible investment?
Think Sustainability. It can be applied to just about everything, companies, colleges, countries, planet. This idea of being sustainable so that everyone lives well for a long time—forever, hopefully—built into that concept is long-term thinking. Schools are places for cultivating long-term thinking. Institutions are long-term investors. Colleges and universities have a really important role shifting the paradigm from short-termism to long-termism. If you look back at the genesis of most of the problems in most of the markets, most of it can be traced to short-term thinking. Even if a college doesn’t get to the point to invest in a more socially conscious way—it needs to spread the message about long-term.
I’ve been involved in some efforts of the last 20 years on responsible investment campaigns on campus. In all cases a small group of committed students was lobbying the university with professional support, and the university successfully stalled and the passion died. REC plays an important role in keeping that flame alive.
Changing policies at schools is challenging: there are many interests. I would not approach them with exclusionary concepts. Encourage them to approach investing by weighting their portfolios with the most responsible corporations.
If you happen to be where, say, Altria is located, you don’t want to totally exclude that stock, but can own less of them. Sustainability in investing is not only very doable, but frankly is necessary.
REC: What message would you send to students advocating for positive changes to investment policies on their campuses?
SS: Students are thinking long-term. Socially conscious investors are very long-term. Investors tend to be there every year. That discipline is important. If you can establish institutional memory, that’s incredibly helpful. You need to be smart about identifying pressure points. Understand the climate and players, and who has influence. If you understand the situation you can be much more effective and efficient in the way you are advocating for change. Maintain information for and educate the next group of students.
REC: How would you convince a university to make community investments?
SS: I think the best is working with a local organization. You can also use an organization like the Calvert Foundation, which can focus on your local area, but get important diversification. Some mutual funds do community investment like Community Capital Management’s CRA Fund and Access Capital Strategies. Pretty much all of our clients get some exposure and don’t even know it. Fixed income in community investments is very competitive.
Also, understand the culture of the situation and the politics. Be positive with trustees and talk about how admirable it is that they are for working with the university. Talk about how from an investment perspective you need to think about the future of the world your students are graduating into, a conversation that can lead to a more conscious set of decisions.
Also, students might remind them of the LA Times investigative report on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation where they were invested in companies causing the diseases where they were building clinics. There was such a cognitive dissonance.
REC: Anything you’d like to add?
SS: More and more clients are interested in the advocacy that we are doing. They are interested in what we’re doing to poke and nudge companies to be better corporate citizens and to identify companies embracing sustainability. From a client perspective there does seem to be a shift towards a social improvement type of strategy and there is more recognition that companies have a huge impact on quality of life.
I see a massive erosion of trust in both government and companies. People have turned to us to manage money in a different way. If you have board members and people who are mistrustful, you can use that approach. You can also look at qualitative analysis of impacts, behaviors, and culture. Sometimes research is a way to open eyes and open minds.
This year we also infused quite a bit of new energy and material into the week. Dan gave a thorough overview of community investment as an effective strategy to empower communities and make a statement against the practices of the big banks. Julian Hattem from the Huffington Post joined us for a discussion of the success of the Move Your Money campaign, and Vonda Brunsting from SEIU discussed their efforts to move institutional money away from big banks and towards local institutions.
Overall we had a great week. Thanks to Starlet, Dave, and Jack for joining us – it was great to meet you and hear your contributions! As for the participants in this year’s student organizer program, you’ll be learning a little bit more about them soon. Thank you also to the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, the Center for Place, Culture and Politics at the CUNY Grad Center, and the SEIU New York Regional Office for hosting us. Without you none of this would have been possible!
Interested in attending a future REC training? We plan on holding them every summer and winter. Email email@example.com and watch our ‘upcoming events’ section to learn more!
We left for Detroit Monday morning, deciding to drive to save on money and greenhouse gas emissions. In the six days of the trip – Monday through Saturday – there were not many moments that I wasn’t engrossed in conversation or listening to an amazing presentation. 15,000 activists and organizers from around the country overwhelmed downtown Detroit to the point that, driving around the city, you always knew someone—and it wasn’t hard to find a good discussion.
REC planned two workshops in Detroit. In one, we did an overview of our work and of the possibilities for universities in changing their endowment investments. Out of that great group, we met some new allies including the Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns and the Food Project along with representatives from schools around the country.
The other workshop REC worked with the United States Student Association and North American Students of Cooperation (links), the largest student-run student group in the country and the leader in cooperative housing and cooperatives at colleges and universities, to talk about the democratization of colleges and universities and the higher education system as a whole.
While REC focuses on changing the way endowments are invested, we believe that is important to engage with other groups working on issues like financial aid, community engagement, and housing in order to build a stronger, more diverse, and more comprehensive movement for making universities more accountable to their numerous stakeholders. In the workshop we discussed free higher education, more community engagement and student control, and how to make these things happen—with groups coming to work together.
Other workshops were also inspirational. Grace Lee Boggs, who at 95 years old is truly a mother of many of the movements today, spoke about her experiences as a community organizer for more than seven decades in Detroit and where she thinks the movement should go.
Just having so many people doing important work together in one place was incredible. It gives so much hope, knowing that if there are 15,000 people willing to come all the way to Detroit for five days, there must be many times that number working in their communities every day for a more just and sustainable US.
Finally I especially want to thank our hosts, the Fialka-Feldman family, truly a family of organizers, particularly Micah, a disability justice pioneer (http://www.throughthesamedoor.com/), to the organizers of the US Social Forum, and to the entire City of Detroit for welcoming all of us.
It's the end of the semester and many campaigns in our movement are wrapping up with student government resolutions supporting demands for responsible and accountable investment policies at our schools. These resolutions are often the results of hours of petitioning, tabling, and teach-ins designed to educate the campus community and gain support for ethical endowment practices. Two of those resolutions come from committed REC affiliates at Washington University-St. Louis, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and Macalester College.
Washington University-St. Louis students organized Washington University Students for Endowment Transparency (WUSET) last year after learning that many members of the Board of Trustees are connected (by Boards or employment) to dirty energy companies in order to give students and the campus community, not industry interests, a say in how the school's money is invested. After months of rallying, petitioning, meeting with officials, and otherwise raising a ruckus the WUSET has successfully convinced the student government to support their efforts to bring accountability to Wash U investments, predominately by establishing a Committee on Investor Responsibility like those in place at the top universities in the nation. The school plans to begin reviewing other responsible investment policies and develop recommendations this summer. A website about this effort is expected this month.
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor graduate and undergraduate students from Net Impact and environmental groups successfully passed a resolution supporting responsible investment practices of the endowment. That resolution focuses on developing proxy voting guidelines on environmental and social issues to add to the existing guidelines in use for governance and financial issues. If the UM administration agrees it will be largest public university endowment voting environmental and social proxies!
Macalester College students recently passed a referendum defining socially responsible investing for their campus. They have since met with administrators who are eager to integrate students into the investment process and are open to using the guidelines students approved! You can read the referendum here.
If your group is currently pushing a resolution, or has successfully passed one, let us know! We'd love to share the news and are happy to provide you with copies of previously submitted and passed resolutions from other schools as well. For access to those resources email organize (at) endowmentethics (dot) org.
We're working on gathering signatures on our petition to show student support, and finishing our Community Investment proposal. Our group is expanding and many alumni have expressed support.
We're currently working on a widespread information spreading campaign on campus, and we're finishing our proxy voting guidelines.
Brown became the first school to take action on labor abuses by HEI, a private company that operates several hotel chains in the U.S. Read more at http://www.yaledailynews.com/crosscampus/2010/03/15/brown-speaks-out-embattled-investment-yale-alleged/
Students for Staff are offering teach-ins the first week of spring term, culminating when the trustees are meeting. Hoping to change the structure of the ACIR so it has greater power over investment decisions
Students on their CIR are busy voting proxies this season and supporting students who have entered the Cornell SustaInvest competition for sustainable investment.
Students on their CIR are actively outreaching to other CIRs to learn how they operate. They are also interested in pursuing a community investment campaign as well as getting Drew to sign on to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment.
Officials have refused to respond to repeated inquiries about the status of their responsible investment policy, which was suspended last year after the Palestine divestment situation.
Students hope to include SRI in the Earth Day activities and are continuing to work to open the campus credit union to students.
Loyola University of Chicago
The CIR filed a shareholder resolution against financing mountaintop removal mining at JP Morgan Chase. The resolution was omitted but the company has agreed to take a public stand against mountaintop removal mining. You can read more at http://www.endowmentethics.org/news-media/archives/205.
Students submitted a proposal for an SRI committee at the end of last semester and have been meeting with a fairly receptive administration regarding next steps.
Swat representatives attended the REC roundtable on shareholder engagement and hope to pursue greater collaboration with other area universities. They plan to host a similar collaborative roundtable this fall.
UC Berkeley and the UCs
The UC Coalition for Responsible Investment continues to organize around proxy voting by bringing speakers to campus and raising awareness about the issue in advance of the upcoming Regents meeting. Students for Justice in Palestine at Berkeley successfully got a student senate resolution that asked the university to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territory. The student president vetoed it but the senate will consider overriding his veto later this month.
University of Chicago
Students continue to push for a responsible investment policy and plan to submit a proposal to their administration by the end of spring semester.
University of Virginia
Students in the Socially Responsible Investment Organization successfully convinced their student government to support their proposal for the responsible investment of UVA’s endowment. You can read more at (http://www.cavalierdaily.com/2009/12/01/studco-expresses-support-for-investment-proposal/).
What is burnout? Burnout is feeling chronically tired, listless or depressed, decreased immunity, increased aches and pains, irritability, feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated, and worst of all, hopeless. It’s been described as feeling underwater, or being unable to ever catch up, or feeling bored or angry at colleagues. If you’re feeling this way it’s ok: it does not mean you are a bad activist or a bad person. It just means you—and the folks you work with—need to make some adjustments. (You can check to see if you’re burned out by visiting the ACLU's Burnout Prevention site.)
How do we get burned out? We take on too much, often without proper support, and fail to recognize the negative effects. We forgo celebrating or reflecting and instead focus only on the long to-do list in front of us. We neglect play. This is partly because of youth and zeal for our causes but part of it is also cultural. As activists we’re trained to put the needs of others first. Radical activism often operates in a culture of martyrdom that is defined by personal sacrifice. The trouble is this isn’t a realistic model or indicative of the world we’re trying to build.
So what can we do once we are burned out? What can we do to prevent it? Here’s a list, gathered from various authorities on the subject.
1. Colleen Holt, from Coaching for Social Change, recommends that we take “small sweet steps” towards recovery. Burnout can’t be fixed overnight, but if you make a commitment to do something every day that reminds you of your purpose as an individual, even if it just means watching the sunset each day, that’s a good step.
2. Rest! In an increasingly work-obsessed capitalist culture setting firm boundaries around rest and recreation is a radical act. Turn off your phone when you go on vacation. Sleep 8 hours a night. Schedule time for nothing.
3. Play! Stuart Brown, who has devoted his life to the science of play, has found that “the process of play allows us to deal with the craziness and allows generation of solutions to problems…in the absence of play we meet life’s paradoxes with bitterness and rigidity that prevents us from really engaging.” Basically, play helps us to maintain empowered strategic thinking. Without it we lose our edge.
4. Communicate. Let people know how you are feeling. We should trust the people we’re working with to build a better world to support us and recognize the capacity of the group. Ask people to reflect on this. You might even consider asking everyone to take the ACLU survey above.
5. Focus on virtuosity. Roberto Lovato, a highly successful community organizer, says “it is not enough to look good, it has to be good.” The only way our work can be strategic, nuanced, and have a lasting impact is if we give it the time and energy it requires. You can’t do that if you are divided among several groups or campaigns in a stressful harried schedule.
Burnout isn’t something that can be “fixed” overnight. In fact, to address it we have to look not only at ourselves, but also our organizations, our cultures, and our communities. Creating time for reflection for yourself and your group, and discussing burnout not as a tragedy but as a pitfall inherent in our work will help to empower you and others to make more sustainable choices. That will not only help us to continue to commit ourselves to social justice work, it will also make our movement welcoming to others.
What is the role of universities in the financial crisis? Universities are major institutional investors, and at the peak of the market they held 400 billion in their endowment coffers. And what, exactly, were these tax-exempt, public-benefit organizations doing during the heady years leading up to the crash? They were leading the charge into alternative investment vehicles, like private equity and hedge funds that turned out to be some of the economy’s worst offenders. They were raising tuition, constructing fancier campuses, and giving themselves raises, all while cutting tenured jobs for adjuncts, and union-busing staff efforts to organize. They made cozy contracts with corporations with poor records on labor, human rights, and the environment, producing or offering everything from student loans to soft drinks.
With little transparency or accountability to their multitude of stakeholders including their students, faculty, workforce, and host communities, colleges and universities were largely free to do as they pleased to maximize their investment returns, without regard to their investments’ effects or conflicts with their missions. Even after the crash and the extreme losses that resulted, there continues to be a lack of discussion about the effects of these decisions on our communities and our economy.
We call on our universities--students, faculty, staff, administrators, and community members—as well as taxpayers and policy makers to reevaluate the role of the American university. We must not only fund education pre-K through graduate school for free, because education is a right, but we must also ensure that our institutions are accountable to us, not only to a group of very powerful elites, mostly white men, who sit on boards of Trustees or Regents.
To find out more about how REC is working to make universities more accountable to their communities and how you can get involved email firstname.lastname@example.org.