Advisory committee for endowment transparency approved
Washington University approved a request for the school’s investment arm to receive student and faculty input on the social policies of companies it invests in.
The Washington University Investment Management Co. (WUIMC) agreed to a student-faculty advisory committee that student leaders had proposed as a way to improve endowment transparency.
Called the Washington University Investor Responsibility Advisory Committee, the group will advise the investment arm on companies’ social policies. The committee will also encourage the investment arm to use its shareholder voting power to push companies to become more socially responsible.
Over the past few years, students have voiced concern about endowment transparency, eventually culminating in the fall of 2009 with the student group Washington University Students for Endowment Transparency (WUSET). Student Union Senator Daniel Fishman and WUSET President David Warnock, both seniors, put the new advisory committee into motion.
“This is a real, tangible difference the student body can make and in a very real way,” Fishman said. “The establishment of this committee brings students into the discussion and makes our endowment more socially responsible.”
The two worked closely with Kim Walker, WUIMC’s chief investment officer, to have the advisory committee approved by the rest of WUIMC. Walker was unavailable for comment.
The committee will be composed of 10 to 15 undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members.
Although the committee’s recommendations to WUIMC will not be not binding, its creation is a step toward making the investors aware of student and faculty concerns and opinions. Its members will pick issues that they think are universally important to the community—such as nondiscriminatory policies, employment diversity and support for human rights—and advocate for them to WUIMC.
Though the committee’s votes won’t be binding, Warnock said similar programs implemented at other schools have succeeded.
“We would be asking of the companies we own, ‘Are there some that do not have a nondiscriminatory policy in place?’ And if they don’t, let us use our power as a partial owner of the company to get them to institute that,” Warnock said.
SU will hire a third party company to let the advisory committee know what shareholder resolutions are up for review at the companies in which WUIMC is invested. If these resolutions involve prioritized social justice issues, the committee will cast a vote advising WUIMC how to vote.
Although WUIMC is not bound to this vote, other schools that have implemented the program have been successful.
“The schools where such a committee has been instituted have a 90 percent success rate of being listened to,” Warnock said. “That is because we work very hard at giving these committees a certain amount of legitimacy. It’s not only a student committee.”