Wrighton to consider creation of transparency committee
Chancellor Mark Wrighton met with undergraduate representatives from Fossil Free WashU and Washington University for Undergraduate Socio-Economic Diversity to discuss the creation of a transparency committee to increase accountability in the University’s investment, endowment and socioeconomic diversity March 22.
While Wrighton announced he would not divest the University’s endowment from fossil fuel companies last April, he was open to the idea of creating a transparency committee on the endowment. After this announcement, members of Fossil Free WashU shifted their focus as a student group from divestment to transparency.
In the meeting, the two student groups called for transparency in the percentage and amount of money invested in individual industries, geographic location of investments and how the endowment functions. They also inquired about socioeconomic diversity in terms of the amounts of loans taken out by students and parents, how partial aid packages have changed in past years and how the University tracks the satisfaction of low-income Washington University students.
To do this, the groups suggested the creation of a website that would clarify investment and financial aid data for undergraduates. They also proposed a structure for the transparency committee, which would include undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty.
Fossil Free WashU member and sophomore Allie Lindstrom explained that one of the group’s main goals was to keep member nominations open and accessible.
“We do want to make sure that students have a say because a transparency committee needs to be accessible to the student body,” Lindstrom said. “Even if you don’t have an opinion now about the University or you’re not engaged in the future, it should be something that you know your peers are working on and you can reach out to them, not the person who happens to know the chancellor.”
Fossil Free WashU member and sophomore Dugan Marieb said that the group decided to collaborate with Washington University for Undergraduate Socio-Economic Diversity (WU/FUSED) to call for transparency on multiple fronts.
“We realized that transparency could benefit us both,” Marieb said. “Although the chancellor had said endowment transparency, we thought…we could also talk about financial aid transparency.”
At first, the chancellor wanted to appoint the members of the committee himself, but he eventually agreed to a compromise where members could be nominated by anyone, then selected by the chancellor.
“Students won’t look at this as a valid committee if you just assign everyone,” Marieb said. “We thought that election process would be a lot more transparent.”
According to Marieb, Wrighton declined to include financial aid transparency on the committee.
“The chancellor thought that anything to do with financial aid was out of the purview of what he wanted to do with the committee,” Marieb said. “We pushed back on that…we see an inherent connection between the endowment and the way it’s spent, especially when it comes to financial aid.”
According to Marieb, WU/FUSED will try to gain transparency through a task force on student success. Until then, Wrighton plans to follow through on focusing on the endowment.
“I enjoyed meeting with two students each from WU/FUSED and Fossil Free WashU,” Wrighton wrote in a statement to Student Life. “It is my intention to follow through on a commitment that I made a little over a year ago to establish an Advisory Committee to the Chancellor on the Endowment.”
Marieb and Lindstrom expressed their hope to meet with other members of administration, including Associate Vice Chancellor for Finance & Treasurer Mark Amiri and Chief Investment Officer Scott Wilson. However, they were told that the chancellor wanted to meet with them by himself.
“We felt like it devalued the meeting, especially because someone like CIO Scott Wilson will know what we can and can’t tell,” Marieb said. “We didn’t really get into the details of that because he wasn’t there.”
Marieb believes that having more administrators involved would increase efficiency and accountability of the committee.
“Being the chancellor of the University, [Wrighton] is a very busy person, and I feel like [the committee] will be kind of be left to the wayside and will take a really long time to make if he’s the only person with this,” he said.
Because the chancellor has announced his upcoming retirement, members of Fossil Free WashU hope that the committee will be instituted in the next year. It will be a standing committee with a charter and by-laws, which they believe will ensure its longevity.
“We can hold the committee accountable to that,” Lindstrom said. “It will last longer than Chancellor Wrighton’s term, or our campaign, and will be here for a very long time.”
“This is important to us because transparency isn’t about achieving some ultimate goal,” Marieb said. “We don’t know what students will want to know in the future, but we want to have a mechanism, so they can know it, and so that it’s a committee that’s accountable for that.”