With over $56 billion endowment dollars at stake, a group of students and alumni from 22 colleges and universities — including Yale — launched a new coalition Thursday to increase advocacy within and between schools for conscientious university investments.
The alliance, called the Responsible Endowments Coalition, was founded by five students and alumni from Duke University, the University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore College, Barnard College and Williams College. The Responsible Endowments Coalition Web site has been a vehicle through which students from different schools, including many with large endowments like Yale and Stanford, have connected to share information about their colleges’ investments.
Naasiha Siddiqui ’05, Yale’s first coalition member, said she hopes to expand involvement across campus.
“I’d love to get all students involved,” Siddiqui said. “My vision for this new group is that beginning next semester, we will promote education about community investment, because information is largely inaccessible to students. By creating a real presence on campus, we could try to change where our endowment is invested. And by allying with other schools, we could end up starting a national movement.”
Siddiqui said she met Mark Orlowski, a Williams College senior and one of the coalition’s founders, through her involvement with a disclosure campaign conducted by Yale students earlier this year. Orlowski said the group aims to help students who end up repeating research already done at other schools about university investments.
“By launching this group we hope to streamline the research process for students interested in the current activities of their institutions,” Orlowski said. “Our biggest challenge is that not many people understand about shareholder advocacy and community investment projects. We ultimately want schools to align their private investment policies with their official ethical policies as schools.”
Orlowski cited Farallon Capital Management, LLC, a hedge fund that invests part of Yale’s endowment, as an example of an unethical affiliation. Yale students have protested Farallon’s alleged tolerance of worker abuse, environmental irresponsibility and investment in Halliburton, an energy company with controversial involvement in Iraqi reconstruction efforts.
Orlowski said he hopes the Responsible Endowments Coalition will help students learn more about how institutions screen portfolios, vote on shareholder proxies and invest in local communities.
Yale President Richard Levin said the University is open to student interest in endowment investments.
“We have a very open process for expressing concerns [about] investments,” Levin said. “If there are legitimate ethical concerns we take them seriously.”
Zoe Cullen ’06, a member of the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, said while student interest in University investment is desirable, she fears students might cause greater problems if they advocate policies they don’t fully understand.
“I think this movement is incredibly important,” Cullen said. “And ACIR will be having another open forum for students to come to soon. But I do think it’s dangerous how much people can mistake what is being said about things like the full disclosure of where Yale invests its funds, and how the truth about policies becomes convoluted and distorted.”
The Responsible Endowments Coalition plans to have a conference in the fall, with workshops led by students and alumni experienced in running successful campaigns concerning university investments. Coalition members said they hope the conference will encourage students to begin their own campus initiatives.