UChicago Students for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC), a group which urges the University to create a committee of students, faculty, and alumni to advise on the University’s investments, has scheduled a meeting with Chief Investment Officer Mark Schmid for next Wednesday.
In April 2011, students voted overwhelmingly in favor of the creation of such a committee in an SG referendum. But administrators, including Schmid and University President Robert Zimmer, have opposed it on the grounds that it violates the Kalven Report, the University’s statement of ideological neutrality.
According to third-year Grace Pai, one of the students heavily involved in the campaign, the meeting is meant to re-engage administrators on the issue. However, students will also bring up new proposals at the meeting that they hope could serve as stepping stones for encouraging more socially-conscious investment.
One such proposal is the creation of a Social Choice Fund, modeled on similar funds at Harvard and Brown. Pai said this would involve setting aside a portion of the University’s endowment to which alumni could contribute and which “would adhere [to] environmental, social, corporate governance concerns.”
“It would be a way to engage alumni who care about socially responsible investment, who are wary of how the money they donate to the University is used. Currently, there are no ways for alumni to do that,” she said. “We see it as an opportunity to really expand the ways in which the University can both reach alumni and…people who want to be able to support the University. I mean, I’ve had a great experience here. I want to be able to support the University, but I don’t want to do it in a way that is inconsistent with my values.”
The Social Choice Fund is one of six proposals the students plan to bring up, according to Pai. Others include increasing transparency on what investments are made and holding annual meetings between the Investment Committee and interested student groups like the Student Government Finance Committee – proposals the students consider “small asks.”
“Having an annual meeting would be a positive step, making it so that info is shared easily.…These are things that are relatively straightforward,” said fourth-year Michaeljit Sandhu, another student involved in the campaign.
Sandhu said they anticipate objection from Schmid on the Social Choice Fund, as it faced long administrative debates before it was implemented at Harvard and Brown, but plan to gauge how receptive he is to the idea.
“We think there’re going to be push back from it, but we don’t think there’s anything negative about this. In the meeting with Mark, we’re just trying to get a sense of how he feels.”
However, they are prepared to address potential objections during the meeting, such as financial considerations.
“[The Fund] doesn’t have enormous risk because it’s not the whole endowment, and there’s not a whole lot of volatility associated with the Social Choice Fund,” he said.
Sandhu also believes that the fund would not violate the Kalven Report because it only involves alumni rather than the University as a whole. He added that Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations Damon Cates expressed enthusiasm when the students met with him, and they plan to work with him to engage alumni.
According to Sandhu, the meeting emerged from the petitions delivered to administrators by UChicago Climate Action Network and Stop Funding Climate Change (SFCC) during winter quarter of this year. The students worked with Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College Eleanor Daugherty and SG Vice President for Administration Douglas Everson to facilitate the meeting with Schmid, though it was continually delayed. Sandhu said he was not sure of the cause of the delays.
Pai said she hopes to collaborate with SFCC to further promote awareness of investment issues, particularly given the recent referendum in support of climate change divestment.
“I think the referendum is a testament to the continuing interest in socially responsible investment,” she said. “They can support us, and we can support them, even though we’re not seeking divestment as our root.”
As a graduating fourth-year, Sandhu is confident that the SRIC campaign will live on, since it was part of the Impact Slate’s platform. “[Incoming Vice President for Administration] Sofia Flores attended one of our meetings, and the new Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees Brendan Leonard was involved in the campaign in the fall and in the winter, so we’re anticipating that it will continue.”
—Additional reporting by Ankit Jain