Although in-person meetings between Chief Investment Officer David Swensen and student activists have been a rarity, Swensen will come face to face with undergraduates to discuss the endowment’s investment practices later this week.
In attendance at the Feb. 28 meeting will be Swensen, Dean of Yale College Marvin Chun and four undergraduates — Endowment Justice Coalition members Nora Heaphy ’21 and Alex Cohen ’21, Yale Student Environmental Coalition co-President Katie Schlick ’21 and Yale College Council President Khalil Greene ’21. According to Heaphy, most of the students will meet with Director of Administrative Affairs Pilar Montalvo — who will also attend Friday’s meeting — on Wednesday to plan the agenda for Friday. The meeting follows last week’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate meeting, which Swensen attended alongside undergraduate members of the EJC to address the coalition’s demands that Yale disclose and divest its alleged holdings in fossil fuel companies.
Swensen referred comment to Chun, who said the meeting was planned before last week’s FAS Senate meeting. In an email to the News, he said that discussions began around December, adding that he and Swensen have “long been in conversation about how to facilitate a constructive discussion” about addressing climate risks in Yale’s portfolio.
“That excellent forum — [the FAS Senate meeting] — displayed the kind of informative and respectful dialogue that we aim to continue in a more interactive and less formal setting,” Chun said of the upcoming meeting.
Following the FAS Senate meeting, YIO released a statement defending Yale’s investment practices and describing particular instances in which the University has phased unethical holdings out of its portfolio.
On Friday, Swensen will meet with students without the buffer of the FAS Senate — free from the meeting’s imposed four-minute speaking time limit on the activists, which the activists called frustrating. Swensen received 10 minutes to speak at the meeting.
“I think it’s a really significant indicator of the collective grassroots of power that our movement has built in this moment,” Heaphy said. “We have been asking for a meeting with Swensen and members of the Corporation for literally years at this point.”
Greene did not respond to a request for comment, and Cohen declined to comment for this article. Montalvo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.
Student activists have long sought Swensen’s attention. Their demonstrations — including two sit-ins in the Investments Office building’s lobby and one at last November’s Yale-Harvard game — made national headlines and resulted in dozens of arrests. And, last April, divestment activists interrupted a Poynter Fellowship in Journalism Talk between Swensen and NPR correspondent Chris Arnold.
Friday’s gathering will not be the first time Swensen has talked with students concerned about the endowment. According to the Local 33 website, former Chair Aaron Greenberg met with Swensen at Beinecke Plaza as part of the group’s campaign to reveal the University’s allegedly unethical investment strategies, titled “33 Wall Street.” Current co-president Lena Eckert-Erdheim GRD ’21 told the News that her team’s research has uncovered “massive,” unpublicized investments that harm vulnerable communities. But in a 2018 op-ed, Swensen called the campaign’s stories “false and misleading.”
In an email statement, Schlick — who will be among those attending Friday’s meeting — said she sees the upcoming gathering as the result of the University pursuing a “stronger, good-faith relationship” with the EJC following the Yale-Harvard game.
“This meeting alone is progress — nonviolent direct action, though effective, is not how we want to be engaging with the Yale Administration,” she wrote. “In the wake of the Harvard faculty’s vote in favor of divestment, Georgetown University’s divestment announcement, and the Yale FAS Senate hearing on divestment, I look forward to presenting to Dean Chun, Mr. Swensen, and Ms. Montalvo and starting a new conversation with them which will hopefully be the first of many.”
In an interview with the News last week, Swensen said that the YIO is trying to take steps to improve both the level and frequency of communication with members of the Yale community. According to Chun, this attempt to improve transparency is a work in progress.
“We’ll take this step by step to see what works best,” Chun wrote.
As of last June, the Yale endowment is valued at over $30 billion.
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