The Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) is well on its way to establishing the first student government endowment in the nation. It plans to hold an official vote on the proposed endowment on Sunday evening.
This version of the resolution will not include two amendments proposed by the Endowment Advisory Committee (EAC)—one to make all non-confidential investment information easily accessible to the public and expressly encourage community input, and another to manage the endowment in a socially responsible manner. Members of the EAC who submitted the proposal were Charlie Alderman ’11, Julien Burns ’10, Mufaro Dube ’08, Kathy Stavis ’10 and Becky Weiss ’10.
WSA President Matt Ball ’08, who proposed the WSA endowment, voted against both EAC-proposed amendments. He felt that the amendment concerning the accessibility of investment information was redundant because there is already a mechanism in place, as content from the WSA meetings is available to the student body.
“Any action that the WSA makes on investments needs to be approved by the WSA,” Ball said.
Ball also did not want the WSA to try to define ’social responsibility’ because he feels that the term means something different to everyone.
“I didn’t want to put anything about social responsibility,” Ball said. “If we are going to vote in favor of anything we can take social responsibility into account.”
Stavis was frustrated with the WSA’s response to the proposed amendments.
“I am really mad,” she said. “I feel like it’s a little scary to run into the same resistance [that we encounter with the administration] in our WSA. I feel like the amendments were shot down more out of a sense of fear and reluctance to restrain absolute freedom when using this money…I don’t think this is in the interests of the student body.”
As Ball indicated, social responsibility proved to be a point of contention. Chris Goy ’08, a candidate for WSA President for the 2008-2009 academic year, voted against the amendment because he feels that the University should not get entangled in political issues.
“Personally, I actually think socially responsible investment is a wonderful thing and I wish more people chose to participate in it,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Argus. “However, I don’t think something as significant and important as the University’s endowment should be subject to anyone’s bias regardless of what they believe.”
Goy said that he was concerned with how socially responsible investing could change the way in which the public views the University’s support for independent thinking.
“When you institutionalize political bias into major structures of a University—doesn’t matter what type of bias—you run the risk of things like Wesleyan’s academic research being typecast as having the same political bias and, therefore, taking away the legitimacy that scholarly work from Wesleyan currently benefits from,” he said.
Mike Pernick ’10, Goy’s opponent in the WSA presidential elections, voted for the EAC’s socially responsible amendment.
“I think the least we can do as student representatives is ensure that the money is invested in a responsible manner,” Pernick said. “The long term goal of this plan is to eliminate the student activities fee, and although that goal is decades away, I think we should do that in a socially responsible way, in recognition that we are part of a larger community.”
The Student Budgetary Committee (SBC) allocates all of its funds to the student body on a yearly basis. Each year, however, due to cancelled speakers and cancelled student events, the WSA ends up with a surplus of funds ranging from $10,000 to $20,000. These funds are then reabsorbed. However, with the creation of the WSA endowment, these funds will now be invested.
“It takes away from students in the immediacy, but in the long-run it will benefit students,” Weiss said.
One of the future of the goals of the endowment is to lower the annual $270 student activities fee.
Ball says that the WSA will begin investing in Certificates of Deposit (CDs).
“We don’t want to start this off by losing money,” he said. “We will be putting it in these securities first.”
In an approximate timeline, the WSA hopes that it will be able to break even in five to 10 years and begin reducing the activities fee in 20 to 25 years.
“I think it’s a good idea to try and do something that reduces student fees,” Stavis said. “I am just concerned about the mechanisms of community input and accountability on the part of the WSA.”