April 19, 2011

New referendum aims to guide U of C investments

An independent group of students is leading the charge to form a committee to guide the University’s investment policy, which they believe is not socially responsible.

The group has written a referendum that is up for vote during this week’s SG elections, and if it passes it will show SG and the Administration that the rest of the student body agrees that the U of C’s social investments are ethically questionable.

The Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC) would act as an advisory committee composed of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and administrators to evaluate the University’s current investments in “legally and ethically questionable endeavors,” according to the Facebook group’s mission statement.

Despite student criticism in the past, the Administration has continued to defend its actions with the Kalven Report, a guiding document which dictates the University’s official stance of neutrality. The report extends to the investment of endowments and has prevented politically motivated divestment.

Third-year and candidate for undergraduate liaison to the Board of Trustees Nakul Singh believes that a focus on fundamental values will convince the University Administration to pursue the new investment course.

Singh pointed to a passage of the report that reads, “In the exceptional instance, these corporate activities of the University may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as to require careful assessment of the consequences.”

“I think this committee will be able to go about including all members of the University to formalize what those paramount social values are,” Singh said.

Fourth-year and active Students for a Democratic Society member Craig Johnson said that historically the University has not acted responsibly in its investments.

The SRIC will “provide an apparatus through which the University can do things that companies normally do when they invest in companies that have illegal or unethical practices,” Johnson said. “When the rest of the academic community was divesting from apartheid South Africa, the University didn’t have any way to do that.”

“This committee will create some standards for how the University invests. The University doesn’t have any way to exercise its capabilities in that way,” Johnson said. “We’re not just talking about not exploiting workers; we’re talking about not violating the law.”

“Obviously, the University will not accept—and we don’t want a committee that has mandatory binding power on the University’s investments, which is exactly the way that all of our peer institutions run it,” Johnson said.

Though the SRIC could not force the Administration into compliance with the committee’s recommendations, both Johnson and Singh believe that the rising trend of socially responsible investment is enough to compel the University to reconsider prior stances.

“It’s not like they’ll be making a bunch of impossible recommendations, but, the idea is that the committee will be a way for the community to express its opinion about University investment,” Johnson said.