May 4, 2012

Upstanding committee

The University must place its trust in students by instituting a Socially Responsible Investment Committee.

This past Monday, Students for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SSRIC) convened in the Reynolds Club for the “Senior Class Gift Withholding Pledge,” a protest against the University’s investment practices. This is SSRIC’s newest effort to regain Administration attention following last year’s referendum. So far the campaign has generated significant controversy, with supporters applauding the gesture and opponents arguing that the protest is ineffectual and misinformed. Regardless of the validity of either side’s argument, such controversy is only the latest addition to a growing body of evidence for a lack of student trust in Administrative decision-making. Due to these repeated protests, the University must take immediate steps to address investment concerns, specifically by allowing the creation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee.

The past year has witnessed major student unrest over Administrative decision-making regarding freedom of speech on campus. Since the failure of the SRIC referendum last spring to effect change, a number of other speech-related issues have followed, including the cancelation of the Henry Paulson-Condoleezza Rice event and changes in the student manual’s protest policies (viewed by many as a response to student protests against housekeeping and food service layoffs), not to mention other lapses in Administration communication regarding the University’s Planned Development and ongoing protests related to South Side health care facilities. The actions the University has taken in the past year in response to these issues—e.g. sending out an e-mail about the importance of freedom of expression and unproductive meetings between President Zimmer and SRIC supporters—amount to no more than thinly-veiled evasions. The inability of the University, time and time again, to provide satisfactory justifications for its decisions in the face of mounting student discontent will lead, if it has not already, to an unmanageable and volatile culture of distrust.

After so much evasion, this distrust can only be alleviated through the long-delayed formation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee. As has been asserted in the past, such a committee would not require the University to immediately divest in questioned investments. Rather, it would allow for a clearly delineated and defined entity responsible for expressing student unrest. It is understood that students have much to learn about the Board of Trustees’s opaque processes; a committee, rather than constant protests and futile open forums, is the most efficient way to achieve this understanding. SSRIC’s pledge, as of late Thursday night, had 252 signatures. Only 79 of these came from fourth-years, suggesting that students will care about University investment policy for years to come.

Granted, the U of C has a commitment to neutrality and practicality. This commitment, however, is by no means mutually exclusive with working with discontent students. The University has simply not made serious efforts to understand student disagreement with important policies, especially investment policies that necessarily involve our community. Creating a Socially Responsible Investment Committee, a committee that could evaluate and understand University investment, is the most practical way to both alleviate protests on campus and ensure that student voices are heard and properly countered. The University has demonstrated its trust in the Board of Trustees’s controversial investment practices; it’s about time it started investing some trust in its students, as well.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.