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May 27, 2011

Zimmer calls SRIC creation “unlikely” at student meeting

President Robert Zimmer, a member of the Board of Trustees, and the University’s Chief Investment Officer met with two students on Monday afternoon to discuss the prospect of creating the Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC) that students demanded in a referendum last month.

Although the April referendum passed with a sweeping majority of the student body, the Administration remains fundamentally opposed to the formation of such a committee.

“The board is unlikely to want to establish an SRIC. More conversation is useful and important to have, as this is a situation where reasonable people can disagree and both come to reasonable conclusions. But ultimately it’s up to the Board to decide,” Zimmer said in an interview yesterday.

Third-year Nakul Singh, the incoming liaison to the University’s Board of Trustees, and fourth-year Craig Johnson, an active member of Students for a Democratic Society, represented the group of students who collaborated on the referendum.

They discussed how the University could reconcile such a committee with its past adherence to the Kalven Report, which the Administration has repeatedly cited to defend its stance of political neutrality.

Over the course of the meeting, the administrators explained how the University makes its investment decisions, detailing how it subcontracts 200 managers to invest its $6-billion endowment in various areas, according to Singh.

“Knowing this, our proposal has always been about standards for investment. We want some additional standards to be directed towards the firms and individuals that invest the University’s money,” Johnson said.

Yesterday, Zimmer said that before there can be any conversation about establishing an SRIC, both sides need to lay out certain facts about the endowment itself.

“There’s a lot of important things to be understood about what the University is investing in,” Zimmer said. “Questions about the endowment, about where it comes from, [need to be addressed] before one even talks about an SRIC.”

Both Zimmer and Alper invoked the sentiments of the Kalven Report, and the University’s stated commitment to free speech and discourse, as reasons for concern about the establishment of strict ethical standards for investment.

Despite the Administration’s resistance, both Singh and Johnson are hopeful that the dialogue will continue into the next school year, and they aim to establish an SRIC by the spring of 2012. They want to address fears students raised during an open forum this month with President Zimmer that momentum for establishing an SRIC would dissipate over the summer.

Johnson and Singh also said that the meeting with the Administration gave them a stronger understanding of where to take the initiative. “Though we didn’t exactly get the go-ahead for the formation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee at this meeting, I am confident that we can work together to reach a solution,” Singh said.

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