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November 14, 2011

Undergrad liaison Singh pleased with Zimmer meeting

Undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees Nakul Singh expressed satisfaction with his latest meetingwith high-level administrators regarding socially responsible investment.Last Wednesday’s meeting between Singh, fourth-year Caitlin Kearney, President Robert Zimmer, and Chief Investment Officer Mark Schmid was Singh’s second meeting with the president since last spring. At the first meeting, Singh advocated the creation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC), an idea that Zimmer rejected on the grounds that it violated the Kalven report.Last week, Singh, who based his election campaign on delivering an SRIC, offered two new proposals that he believed would be more palatable to the administration and Board of Trustees: (1) a “transparency” proposal under which the university would send surveys to its 200 investment managers asking them how they include social factors in their analyses of assets, and (2) a proposal to invest a small portion of the university’s endowment into a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).Here’s what Singh had to say about the administrators’ reactions to the proposals:In response to the Transparency Proposal, President Zimmer noted that ultimately, the decision to implement such a questionnaire is a Board [of Trustees] level decision. But, he said we was impressed with how the proposal addresses the concerns raised in the meeting in the Spring. Moving forward, he said that he will put this to the Board of Trustees. CIO Schmid said that such a questionnaire would get responses from the managers.

In response to the CDFI proposal, President Zimmer said that this would fall under the responsibility of [incoming] VP [of Civic Engagement Derek] Douglas, and that we should talk to him when he arrives in January. Similarly, he noted that the motivation behind the proposal was in line with how the University is approaching its engagement with the community.

All in all, I have high hopes for these proposals. I think both proposals address student concerns about how the University invests the endowment, and they offer solutions that are feasible and allowable by the Kalven report.

While it’s heartening that both proposals appear to have a chance of moving forward, there is an argument to be made that they betray the spirit of the original SRIC movement that produced a successful ballot referendum last spring. What do you think? Are the new proposals a concession of defeat, or a legitimate strategy toward introducing a dash of social responsibility to the university's investment policies? In any case, the change in Singh's strategy highlights the immense role of the Kalven report in shaping the administration's thinking on issues that even loosely connect to academic freedom.

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