Northwestern to create socially responsible investment committee

Madeline Fox, Campus Editor

Northwestern will create a committee on socially responsible investment to advise NU’s president and chief investment officer on issues related to the University’s investment activities.

The committee will include alumni, students, faculty and staff, University President Morton Schapiro and Chief Investment Officer Will McLean announced Tuesday in an email to students involved in divestment issues and members of Associated Student Government.

Schapiro, who will co-chair the committee with McLean, noted many of NU’s peer institutions have created socially responsible investment committees — including Williams College, where he served as president before coming to NU.

“I’ve always supported (the creation of a committee),” Schapiro told The Daily on Tuesday. “It’s a great learning experience for us and it’s a great way for the student voice to be heard.”

Three student groups at NU are currently pushing for divestment. Northwestern Divest is pushing for divestment from companies it says are responsible for human rights violations in Palestine and Unshackle NU, which formed in January, is asking for divestment from private prisons and companies it says contribute to the prison industrial complex. Fossil Free NU’s campaign centers on divestment from coal and other fossil fuels. All three have advocated for the formation of a socially responsible investment committee.

The administration’s announcement, though, was met with negative reactions from divestment group members.

Christina Cilento, a member of Fossil Free NU who received the email, said she was “blindsided” by the announcement, about which she said she has reservations.

“What we’re concerned about most, in terms of involvement, is our three divestment campaigns being involved in the process moving forward,” the SESP junior said. “Our main concern is that they’re going to implement the socially responsible investment committee without really involving any of us.”

Cilento said she was also disappointed by the wording of the email, which discussed in multiple paragraphs the purpose of the university’s endowment and the importance of maintaining a “diversified portfolio of investments” before announcing the plan to create a socially responsible investment committee.

Weinberg junior Marcel Hanna, a member of NU Divest and Unshackle NU, said no members of either group received an email from administrators regarding the planned creation of the committee, though another student later forwarded it to him.

University spokesman Al Cubbage said McLean sent the email to students the investment office had been dealing with directly on issues of divestment, while Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, sent it to ASG leaders, he said. Cubbage said administrators had hoped students would “share the good news.”

Though Hanna said Unshackle NU has not had the opportunity to meet with members of the investment office, he added NU Divest had its first meeting with McLean last spring. He and Cilento were disappointed more students involved in divestment campaigns did not receive the email from administrators.

McLean was not available to comment.

Hanna said NU Divest led the push for a socially responsible investment committee in order to prevent future socially irresponsible investments and to provide an easier path for future student divestment movements. Hanna said he was unhappy with the committee as proposed, calling it a quick-fix solution.

“The university threw us a bone to have us stop asking for this, but we can see this is not going to amount to any tangible change,” he said. “The only thing this committee is doing is giving the university the ability to say they are working toward diversity and social responsibility, but they’re not.”

This story was updated March 10 at 2:45 p.m. with quotes from Al Cubbage, Marcel Hanna and Christina Cilento.

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