A New and Improved Tufts Committee!

by Caroline Incledon, Community Investment Campaign Organizer

Recently, the Tufts’ Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR) had an exciting victory. After an informal negotiation between the committee and school administrators, the committee was granted the ability to include graduate students and faculty as research advisors. The team was previously composed of just 3 undergraduates, who were the only ones privy to certain investment information and had to take on a large amount of work. This expansion will give the committee enhanced legitimacy and increase their capacity. Ideally, the new and improved committee can take on more and do a better job, implementing a deeper institutional commitment to responsible investing. Yet with these new and exciting responsibilities come some interesting questions.

Firstly, what does an ideal committee look like? Models can vary in size and inclusiveness. For example, Columbia’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing includes not just students, faculty, and alumni, but a non-voting administrative member (the Executive VP for Finance at Columbia) as well.  The original student activists behind the creation of Tufts’ ACSR called for a 10-person committee comprised of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and alumni, but only a 3-person undergraduate committee was approved. In trying to restructure their committee, should the ACSR seek to reclaim the original and diverse 10-person committee? That has yet to be decided.

Every school has a difficult decision to make in how to form a committee. Even with the support of one’s school, determining the most effective committee make-up can be difficult. Committees should contain a diverse set of school representatives, who can bring different interests, and perspectives to the table. They should also contain some people with knowledge of certain applicable areas to the committee’s work. At the same time, the committee should be a learning experience for all members, and not exclusionary to those without previous knowledge. In terms of numbers, a committee should be adequately sized to handle the task it has been given. It might be useful to ascertain your committee’s specific purpose before staffing it. But it is also important that the committee not be so large as to cause confusion about duties, scheduling conflicts, or over-delegation of responsibilities. Therefore, there is no “perfect” committee to copy. Every school is different, and Tufts’ Advisory Committee of Shareholder Responsibility and other committees need to take all these factors into account.

Secondly, what initiative(s) should the new committee tackle? It is likely that the increased input and diversity of opinion will lead to a shift in the ACSR’s strategy and priorities. It is equally likely that they will simply be capable of taking on more due to their increased manpower. Other schools starting committees (or expanding them!) should also think strategically about a) what responsible investment initiatives to prioritize, and b) what they can truly accomplish or are willing to undertake. Right now, the Tufts committee has chosen to pursue the promotion of responsible investment in all things “green” – from green technology itself to environmentally conscious companies.

Therefore, we have reached an exciting point on the Tufts campus. The expanded ACSR is a great victory for its current members and for those of us at Tufts working on endowment issues. It is especially exciting due to the potential it creates for future change. An enlarged committee has more power and can voice socially responsible investment concerns in a more informed and representative way. Creating the perfect committee and setting the correct agenda in the future will be a challenge, but it is one that doesn’t minimize the win itself.

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