Northwestern says it will increase transparency on investments

Tyler Pager, Managing Editor

Northwestern plans to sign the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing to provide greater transparency on its investments, the University announced Friday.

The principles address environmental, social and corporate governance issues for investors to consider. NU becomes only the third U.S. university to sign onto the principles, joining Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley.

“Becoming a signatory to the U.N. Principles provides guidance to the external investment managers with whom we work that these are principles to consider as part of their investment strategy,” William McLean, NU’s vice president and chief investment officer, said in a news release. “It doesn’t tell them what investments they can or can’t own, but that they should take these things into consideration.”

As part of the agreement, NU will submit a document that details the University’s organization and investment process. This document, which will be made public, will not include individual investments or external investment managers.

The announcement came the same day Fossil Free NU, a student group that lobbies the University to divest from coal companies, protested outside a Board of Trustees meeting.

SESP junior Christina Cilento, a spokeswoman for Fossil Free NU, said the University’s decision to sign the principles is a step in the right direction, but she said she is skeptical of what change it will bring.

“It seems like an evasion tactic to say we are committed to environmental sustainability but not actually enact these principles,” she said. “They have stated they are committed to environmentally sustainability, but they have to actually show that. They have to put their money where their mouth is.”

Cilento added the principles, which have a social justice component, could be helpful for other divestment campaigns at NU such as Northwestern Divest, which calls for the University to divest from six corporations the group says violate Palestinians’ human rights.

NU Divest did not respond to requests for comment.

Former University President Henry Bienen told The Daily in April universities often try to follow U.S. government policies to guide investment decisions. He said donors aim to maximize the investment of their gift.

“People who are on your board tend not to like divestment,” he said. “Their preference is to not have politics attached to investment decisions for lots of reasons.”

This story was updated at 10:49 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22.

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