April 26, 2011

Monitoring the money

Administration should not ignore student calls for fiscal transparency

Last week, the student body voted to approve the creation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC). Even though the referendum is non-binding, meaning the Administration is not obligated to create a committee, it would be prudent of the University to take the vote seriously.

For one thing, the resolution passed with over 80 percent of the vote, an overwhelming consensus for a campus as argumentative as ours. Furthermore, concern over the way our university invests its endowment is far from a new concern. Whether they be about apartheid South Africa in the 1980s or Darfur today, University investment decisions have been a contentious issue on our campus for decades.

Despite this staggering student support, much is still unknown about how the proposed committee would function on a day-to-day basis. In the days ahead, it will be important for the architects of the initiative to be as clear as possible about in defining the mission of the SRIC. Given that this is a new idea, and given what a change in University policy it would be for this committee to be created, we recommend a pragmatic set of goals for the SRIC. The Committee should focus on gathering information about University investments, publicizing it, and using the opinions of the student body as a whole to guide the Committee’s relationship with the Board of Trustees.

As of now, students concerned about University investment decisions lack even basic information regarding precisely what our endowment is being spent on. Even if the SRIC fails to change anything in the U of C’s actual investment policies, providing students with more information about a subject that has been shrouded in secrecy for too long would be commendable in itself. Clearly, students care about how this University chooses to invest its $5.5 billion endowment. If the SRIC can help fill the information gap, it will have already achieved significant progress.

Although transparency is in itself a good thing, the student body’s overwhelming endorsement of the SRIC resolution is a clear sign that students want more out of the proposed committee. The SRIC, according to the text of the resolution, is intended to “set and ensure the implementation of standards for the investment of the University’s endowment.” While this does not mean that the SRIC would have veto power over University investment decisions, it’s clear that voters want the committee to be an active representative of the general student body when an investment decision clearly conflicts with the ethical standards to which students hold the U of C.

In short, having the capability to bring investment concerns to the Board of Trustees and to advocate for their implementation is a more than reasonable demand on the part of students. Establishing a committee with precise and focused goals is the most practical method of making sure this happens. The University should take the outcome of the most recent election seriously; to do otherwise would be to say that student concerns don’t matter.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editor-in-Chief, Viewpoints Editors, and an additional editorial board member.