Board of Trustees approves advisory committee for responsible investment

Fathma Rahman, Development and Recruitment Editor

The Board of Trustees approved the establishment of a socially responsible investment committee on Friday, which will include students, to advise the Investment Committee on investments concerns regarding social, environmental and governmental issues.

The Advisory Committee for Investment Responsibility, spearheaded by University President Morton Schapiro and chief investment officer Will McLean, will make recommendations about concerns voiced by the campus community.

“This new advisory committee will provide a forum for thoughtful discussion of concerns that are raised by the campus community regarding the University’s investment policies and also provide an established mechanism for bringing those concerns to the trustees,” McLean said in a news release.

Associated Student Government President Christina Cilento, one of the student leaders involved in talks with administrators over the socially responsible investment committee charter, said the advisory committee will hold the Board of Trustees accountable for its adherence to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment, which the University announced plans to adopt in November 2015.

The advisory committee will consist of 10 voting members, including two faculty members, two undergraduate students, two graduate students, two alumni and two Northwestern staff members.

In March, Schapiro and McLean shared plans to form the committee in an email to ASG members and students involved in divestment issues. Although Cilento said the advisory committee gives legitimacy to divestment campaigns and provides an avenue through which campaigns can get their movements across, the SESP senior described the overall experience of getting to this point as a “long and trying process.”

“It really took a while until they agreed that they would actually create the committee and then there were multiple, multiple revisions of the draft,” Cilento said. “In the end we did get there, and this is a version that all students are relatively pleased with; faculty and staff and investment folks are, as well.”

In October, student leaders expressed frustration with administrators over the charter because the most recent draft did not include many of the proposed changes they had previously discussed. One proposed change said Schapiro would have to approve all voting members of the committee, and another said McLean would only have to forward recommendations of the advisory committee to the Board of Trustees if he concurs.

In the final draft of the charter, Cilento said, McLean no longer has veto power over the advisory committee and does not need to approve recommendations before they are presented to the Board of Trustees. Schapiro, however, still has to ratify members of the committee, she said.

“That was something that the divestment groups came to settle on that we were willing to compromise on so that we could get our other items,” Cilento said. “In general, everything we had a major concern with had been removed from the charter.”

Medill senior Scott Brown, another student leader involved in the charter discussions, said the advisory committee’s establishment makes it possible for students to more effectively engage with the University.

Brown described the committee as an official channel that gives students and other members of the NU community direct access to the Board of Trustees, which has never existed before. He also said it is not the “end all, be all” for student activists.

“We’re obviously very glad that they integrated a lot of things we wanted to see in the committee,” Brown said. “However, like with any bureaucratic system that is put in place by the University — it is not to be fully trusted.”

He said the advisory committee’s creation will not replace other forms of student organizing. Because the Board of Trustees has the final say, Brown said students understand it can still conceivably object to a lot of the committee’s recommendations.

“Our mindset is that this committee is not the end of the work for student organizers on campus; it is really just a beginning,” Brown said. “If an activist were to bring up an issue and if the committee or the Board of Trustees says no, those activists can say, ‘Okay, we went through your official channels and you said no, but we still believe we’re right, so now we can start to escalate our actions.’”

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