The umbrella organization for most of Yale’s community service and social justice organizations could soon be investing its future with the Yale Investments Office, though some students criticize the office’s investment practices as socially irresponsible.
Dwight Hall is in the midst of an internal debate over whether or not to move its endowment under the management of the same group that has grown the University’s endowment by more than $13 billion in just a decade. But the attractive returns are overshadowed, for some Dwight Hall members, by the lack of transparency in the University’s investments and what they described as a lackluster record of socially responsible investing. Those students are urging the Board of Trustees to postpone their decision, pending further discussion of the issue of socially responsible investing.
Yale allows other organizations to join its endowment fund only rarely, University President Richard Levin said. It is a relatively recent development, and the offer is only made to organizations closely aligned with Yale’s mission. According to their Web sites, the Slifka Center for Jewish Life and St. Thomas More invest their endowments with Yale.
The Dwight Hall Board of Trustees is expected to make a decision on the proposal during its Thursday meeting. The meeting will include a presentation from an ad hoc committee of Dwight Hall’s Board of Directors, the organization’s second governing body, which is composed of students, alumni and professors.
On Monday, two student members of this committee on socially responsible investing — one a member of the Board of Directors and one the Social Justice Network liaison to Dwight Hall’s executive committee — sent a memorandum to the Trustees calling for the decision to be postponed. They also forwarded to the Trustees a copy of a resolution passed Sunday by the SJN — one of Dwight Hall’s member organizations — in favor of postponement.
A copy of the memorandum and the resolution were distributed to the SJN discussion panlist and the Dwight Hall Executive Committee.
Members of the Executive Committee and all but one trustee either declined to comment or could not be reached for comment.
In the memo, the two authors describe what they call a poor record of socially responsible investing on Yale’s part. In place of the University or Dwight Hall’s current investment managers, they list nine money managers that could provide socially responsible investing.
The two authors, Hugh Baran ’09 and Frances Kelley ’08, declined to comment in advance of Thursday’s decision by the Trustees.
If the trustees follow the authors’ suggestion, it would not be Dwight Hall’s first foray into socially responsible investing. At the request of students some years ago, the trustees put $200,000 of the endowment’s money into a socially responsible fund, which lost half its value within the year, Trustee David Magee ’49 said.
He said the previous failure — which incoming Board of Directors Chairwoman Deborah Rose ’72 GRD ’89 said happened 10 years ago — left a bad taste in the trustees’ mouths. Magee said he expects this proposal to invest with the University, which originated with the trustees, to pass.
“I just think Dwight Hall is a responsible organization, and I as a trustee would like to see it grow as much as possible,” he said.
The memo also criticizes Yale’s lack of transparency in its refusal to publicly acknowledge where most of the University’s — and potentially Dwight Hall’s — money is invested. Yale is required to list in federal filings the stocks it directly owns, but much of the endowment is invested in hedge funds and other forms of private investments that Yale does not need to disclose. The extent of the University’s investments is not even known to the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, the committee charged with advising the Yale Corporation on responsible investing, Baran and Kelley wrote.
ACIR chair Jonathan Macey, a law professor, said he personally trusts Yale’s investment managers to carry out the divestment decisions that the Corporation passes on ACIR’s recommendations. Furthermore, he said, a veil over Yale’s investment holdings is necessary to maintain the competitive advantage of Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 investment strategy. Rose, who has served with Swensen on several boards before, said she too trusts him to invest in a responsible manner.
“In the course of my board membership, there are times when I have access to more information than is publicly available,” she said. “It’s my personal opinion that a number of the fears and statements some students make are really unfounded.”
Socially responsible investing, a broad category, refers to investing strategies that take into account personal or societal beliefs by either avoiding or actively screening out investments that are based on the profits of companies that violate those tenets.