On Friday, Nov. 18, the Investment Committee of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees approved the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility.
This committee, comprising faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, alumni and staff, will be a formal, University-sanctioned platform to make recommendations on investment matters. If ACIR recommendations are taken seriously, our alliance — student leaders and allied activists from the Fossil Free NU, NU Divest and Unshackle NU divestment campaigns — will finally see that our efforts toward a socially accountable University are being taken seriously.
If recommendations are processed according to the protocol that student activists drafted, negotiated, edited and renegotiated unremittingly, the Board of Trustees must complement its fiduciary responsibilities with ethical ones — including, but by no means limited to, socioeconomic, racial and environmental justice.
The creation of the ACIR followed two years of student agitation and countless hours of meetings and negotiations, beginning with the passage of NU Divest’s resolution through ASG Senate in February 2015 and escalating with last November’s Mizzou protest. This was a year of direct actions and productive, if at times frustrating, meetings with University President Morton Schapiro, chief investment officer Will McLean and general counsel Phil Harris. These effective steps followed years of hard work, unfailingly greeted by members of the Board and Investment committee with denied access, stonewalling, trivialization and infantilization.
The University has announced its ACIR endorsement with pride; we, too, are now proud of this accomplishment. It is the first among many necessary steps in redefining our university’s commitment to social justice — in acknowledging its complicity in domestic and global human rights abuses and systems of oppression and in allowing marginalized students to breathe.
But we would like to remind the administration, the Board and by extension, the student body that the ACIR’s establishment cannot be viewed as a mere act of generosity by the powers that be. First, it is not: Without students fighting for their principles, this committee would have never seen the light of day. Second, viewing it as such would be an expression of gratitude for accomplishments that have not yet come to fruition. This university has not yet reappraised the impact of its investments and divested from fossil fuels, corporations that profit off of human rights violations in Palestine, and private prisons and immigration detention centers in the US.
While the University has institutionalized a channel for increased access to the Investment Committee through the ACIR, students must recognize that this upgrade in NU’s power structures will never be a substitute for our own organizing and grassroots activism. The Board should see this progress as one milestone of many in its work advancing the University’s moral obligation to align its investments with its espoused values.
Even though the ACIR will be institutionally obliged to hear student voices, decisions of the committee are not final. The ACIR can be exploited by the Board or used as a way to evade interaction with student activists, like is the case at many of our peer institutions that Northwestern looks to as models. If this is the case here — if our committee fails to advance socially responsible investment policies — we will continue to mobilize our campus and fight for our values. The ACIR is not the end of our fight. It is the beginning.
Fossil Free Northwestern