Update from Wash U

by Dave Warnock, Midwest Student Organizer

I must say that I am excited for this semester.  We closed out the last one on a very positive note.  Our Chief Investment Officer, Kim Walker, seems supportive of our efforts to move forward.  Certainly, this doesn’t mean that nailing down the Committee this semester will be easy, but I’m eternally a cautious optimist.

So on that note, I’m seeking advice on how most Committees operate, and generally conduct their routine business.  I’m hoping to understand things such as how often they meet, how they get a hold of the relevant proxy votes, and submit their own shareholder resolutions.  If anyone can share on how their Committee carries out its work, I’d appreciate it very much.
The advice that I’ve gotten so far, I must say, has given me a lot to ponder more broadly speaking.  I’ve been wondering a lot about the relationship that students have with their school, and how SRI processes can change them for the better.  So I’m going to break with my usual “regional update” and instead offer a broader vision of SRI.

My general sense has been that there is a divide between the students and the operations of the school.  It is a rather sad commentary to note that in the hierarchy of University structure, its beneficiaries are placed at the bottom.  It frequently can feel that way for me, and I’m sure that many others could corroborate that sense.  I feel a certain commitment to small-d democratic principles, which is why I have felt somewhat bothered by the notion that students need to be told what is in their interests by someone else.

I am quite content (more than happy in fact) that we hire people with expertise in investing to handle the Endowment.  I care very deeply about the long-term success of my school.  I suppose I see Committees on Investor Responsibility as a way to demonstrate the care and attention that students are willing to put into the success of their school.  At the very least, it feels that way at Washington University.

It is for this reason that I find myself as one of Kim Walker's biggest cheerleaders (a sentiment that never ceases to draw odd looks from other activists).  It was a validating experience to affirmatively hear from an administrator that she values student opinions and perspectives on matters.  For instance, she likes it when we bring her a copy of the Student paper for her to read (her office is off-site).  Certainly she resists many of the changes we are lobbying for, and yet she makes her disagreement upfront, genuine, and respectful, which I know is a sentiment students at many schools find lacking.

So, I think that our Committee, in addition to being an SRI outlet, can help bridge the divide many feel between students and administration.  The constructive relationship that I have with Kim Walker is the type of relationship that all students should have with their school’s leadership.  Small-d democracy is a process; one that demands a respectful give and take between the concerned.

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