The Rise and Redemption of [The New School] ACIR

reposted from The New School Free Press

Rey Mashayekhi

Roughly a dozen people attended an ACIR-led town hall discussion at Wollman Hall in October 2010. (Photo courtesy of NSFP Archives)For much of its existence, The New School’s Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility has fought for relevance within the university. Now, three years into its mission, recent activity — including a correspondence with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission — has seen the ACIR intent on emerging as a key organizational force at The New School and beyond.

The ACIR’s journey began when dozens of students gathered outside of Arnhold Hall on December 10, 2008, to protest New School trustee Robert Millard’s association with defense contractor L-3 Communications. Millard’s position on L-3’s board of directors left students and faculty concerned about The New School’s ties to a company whose activities appeared to go against the very fabric of the university’s values. One week later, many of those same students staged an occupation at The New School’s 65 Fifth Ave. building. Besides demanding that then-President Bob Kerrey and then-Vice President James Murtha step down, their conditions also called for Millard’s removal from L-3’s board.

Kerrey, Murtha and Millard all survived the controversy at the time. But 11 months after the occupation, the university established the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. The ACIR consists of students, faculty, staff and trustees who review The New School’s endowment investment policies, which are managed by the board of trustees’ investment committee, and advise the board on investment practices that account for environmental, social and governance factors — in essence, “responsible” investment.

The ACIR got off to a rough start; at an open house presentation at Wollman Hall in October 2010, where students were invited to speak with Kerrey and other administrators about the committee, less than a dozen people showed. The outrage that had led students to occupy a university building and call for Millard’s removal had seemingly died down, and with it the momentum necessary to implement change at the highest levels of the university.

“There’s always a ton of support to talk about transparency and accountability and fiscal responsibility [at The New School],” said ACIR member Chris Crews, a Ph.D student at The New School for Social Research. “It makes for an easy talking point or a bullet on the negotiating list of demands you want. But when it comes to sitting through two-hour long meetings every month and reviewing pages and pages of financial records, most students don’t care.”

Now, four years after that first student occupation at 65 Fifth Ave., the ACIR appears to have turned a corner. Last year, the committee succeeded in getting the trustees to pass a number of proxy voting guidelines that encourage The New School’s investments to stay consistent with its values in areas such as climate change, labor standards and animal testing.

Read More on The New School Free Press website.

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