Five resolutions pass at WIRAC’s first voting meeting
After years of student efforts to increase endowment transparency, the Washington University Investor Responsibility Advisory Committee (WIRAC) passed all five proposed resolutions at its first voting meeting Friday.
WIRAC is a group that aims to help the University be involved in social issues associated with the companies that its endowment is invested in by suggesting resolutions for the University to support.
Members were inspired to start the group after discovering that the University was only voting on proxies for financial interest, ignoring resolutions that targeted sustainability or human rights issues.
At the meeting, a group of 14 students and University officials cast their votes to suggest resolutions for the Washington University Investment Management Company (WUIMC) to vote on to hold companies the school invests in accountable to certain environmental and social standards.
The resolutions pushed for Panera Bread to address concerns with Bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic chemical being used in its receipts; Occidental Petroleum Corporation to necessitate that an environmental expert be on its board; Equity Residential and Gentex Corporation to prepare thorough sustainability reports; and Sprint Nextel to guarantee net neutrality for its mobile network, not just broadband.
“As much as I want to believe in culture shift and people changing their habits, if we can target a top down approach, we can incentivize companies to change the way they’re thinking and incorporate some things…into the way their processes work. That’s huge, and that has a lot of a bigger impact than one individual,” junior Rachel Binstock, who also served as the Student Union executive adviser for sustainability during the 2011-12 school year, said.
Proxy resolutions are released by various groups around March, and shareholders have the next few months to vote on them or ignore them. WIRAC looked to find resolutions relevant to the student body through a student survey, and different committees researched each before putting them up to a vote at Friday’s meeting.
“I view myself as a consumer of Washington University by paying to go here, so therefore I feel like I’m indirectly connected and I’m an indirect consumer of the things that we invest in and the things we put our money into, and I want to be proud of where my money goes,” senior Kathleen Brophy said.
“It’s really important students start initiating and engaging and thinking more about Wash. U. as an institution in terms of our monetary decisions. We usually think about our school as it rests on this campus when really our greater potential and our greater effect on the world is through our endowment and through our investments.”
While the WUIMC is not obligated to follow the group’s suggestions in submitting proxies to companies it has invested in, WIRAC members said the investment company has been working with the group throughout the process, and the two have developed a solid connection over the past several months.
“They’ve been really receptive this entire time working with us. I think they truly understand why students should be involved in these decisions, and so we’re very hopeful they’ll agree with our recommendations because they are recommendations that go along with the values of this university and should extend to our investment choices,” senior Arielle Klagsbrun said.
While the group was not given information about how much the University has invested in each of the companies, members said they hope to receive that information sometime in the future to make progressively more informed decisions.
In the only negative vote at the meeting, Assistant Vice Chancellor Alan Kuebler voted against the resolution to make Occidental Petroleum Corporation have at least one environmental expert on its board of directors, noting concerns with the resolution’s phrasing.
While the first sentence of the resolution demanded that at least one environmental expert be recommended to the board, he noted that the last sentence seemed to require that the board appoint someone who satisfied all its criteria.
“I’m not at all diminishing the importance of the initiative; I’m just trying to figure out—it’s like a bill in Congress. Sometimes these things don’t get passed until language is cleared up,” Kuebler said.
The vote in favor of the resolution was 11-1 with two abstaining. Most of the other resolutions passed unanimously.
A representative from WUIMC was not able to make the voting meeting. Other than business professor Andrew Knight, all members of the committee were in attendance.