SU resolves involvement, responsibility in endowment
Since the board of trustees was revealed to have CEOs from major energy companies, students have had an increased interest in the board and its operations. The establishment of Washington University Students for Endowment Transparency (WUSET), meant that change is in the air regarding the way the endowment is managed and the input students have about it.
On Wednesday, Student Union Senate passed a resolution in favor of more student input and responsible investing of the endowment.
The premises of the resolution stem in part from the discrepancy between the University’s mission statement and its board of trustees’ investing practices. The statement says that the University aims to “enable [students] to be useful members of a global society” and “to be an exemplary institution in our home community, St. Louis, as well as in the nation and the world,” and hold itself to the highest standards.
SU fails to see this mission playing a role in the University’s investment practices.
“We want to make sure that we are not violating our mission statement and doing the best thing for us as a community…to be the best we can be,” junior Daniel Fishman, an SU senator and co-sponsor of the resolution, said. “We want to make sure the endowment is a positive investment.”
They fear that too much money is invested in socially irresponsible ways. Because the endowment is not transparent, it is impossible for anyone to know what exactly the University is investing in.
“Currently they could be investing in things that go against what the University stands for,” Fishman said, citing the University’s stance against tobacco and its potential to simultaneously be investing in tobacco companies. Students also worry that they could be investing in coal companies, especially with the CEOs of Peabody Energy and Ameren on the board of trustees. In order to try to rectify the potential discordance between the mission statement and investment policies, SU passed a resolution resolving that the mission statement applies to all areas of the University, including the Washington University Investment Management Company (WUIMC).
“[The resolution] keeps it an issue. It formally states SU’s policy on this issue and how students feel about the endowment,” Fishman said.
The resolution also urges WUIMC to adopt socially responsible investment policies similar to those of other peer institutions, such as Yale University, Columbia University, Duke University and Brown University.
These schools “have implemented policies allowing for greater student input on investment strategies and ensuring that investments are in harmony with stated institutional values without compromising returns,” according to the resolution.
According to Fishman, Walker has said that WUIMC will have a website up and running in the next two to three weeks. The website will contain basic asset allocation information. The board has agreed to put up this website ever since the formation of WUSET early in the academic year.
This summer, the board will be hiring a student to help research how socially responsible investing will affect returns.
SU and WUIMC will now be working together to figure out the best way to institutionalize student input in investing practices.
“[Walker] said they’re looking to research how these socially responsible investment policies and student involvement will affect the endowments’ rates of return,” Fishman said. “She doesn’t want to hurt the rate of return and neither does SU.”