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October 11, 2011

Once rebuffed, students press for ethical investments

Five months after students voted for its creation, a committee aimed at monitoring controversial University investments is rethinking its strategy.

The Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC), which emerged from a student-run campaign last spring, aims at challenging the University’s investment policy. The SRIC would review University investments, making sure that they met certain ethical standards.

Although the referendum authorizing the SRIC passed with over 80 percent student approval last spring, fourth-year Nakul Singh, one of the students who spearheaded the campaign, says there are serious issues that University officials must reconcile in order to create the committee. The first is that the U of C continues to stand by the Kalven Report, which “asserts the neutrality of the University as an institution,” according to the text of the report.

The committee, if created, would also have to achieve a balance between social responsibility and profitability.

“We’re trying to figure out how it would be feasible, with a reviewing process, for six people to look at everything and still maximize profits,” said Singh, who also serves as undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees.

The University’s annual financial report indicates that investments make up 11.9 percent of its total endowment, which is valued at $6.31 billion as of June 30. As the endowment’s largest asset category, the investments provided a return of 18.8 percent in fiscal year 2011, implicating the difficulty of maintaining similar returns while imposing a different set of standards on University investments.

Though President Robert Zimmer said that the creation of the committee was “unlikely” in a private meeting last spring and Singh has not met with the administration since May, student organizers are currently working with faculty members as well as former administrators on a new proposal that would maintain the core goals of political neutrality and profitability of the SRIC.

Fourth-year Caitlin Kearney, who helped organize the SRIC campaign, will be attending the Responsible Endowments Coalition’s national conference later this month. The Coalition is a national network of college students encouraging their campuses to integrate environmental, social, and governance issues into university investment policies.

“Attending the conference isn’t specific to [establishing a socially responsible committee] but it is a general way of working towards it,” Kearney said.

Despite the obstacles that face the committee, Singh will continue to work towards its creation.

“We haven’t forgotten about it,” Singh said of the SRIC. “We’re still coming up with new ideas.”

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