The obvious purpose of an investment is to make money, but can it also serve as a statement of what values the investor stands for? The answer is yes, according to the Socially Responsible Investing Coalition (SRIC), a newly formed grassroots student organization that hopes to serve as an effective watchdog of the companies in which the University invests.
“This school, that has our climate commitment, that has a green fund, that has all these institutionalized promises of sustainability, directly invests in some of the dirtiest energy companies that we can think of,” said Paul Blasenheim ’12, member of the SRIC.
The main function of the SRIC will be to act as a proxy between special interest student groups and the Committee for Investor Responsibility (CIR), a committee comprised of students, faculty, and alumni that has direct power over the University’s investment holdings. The SRIC gathers information on irresponsible behavior that companies are engaged in, whether it be human rights violations, animal cruelty, or environmental abuse, and presents it to the relevant student organizations, such as the Environmental Organizer’s Network (EON) or Wesleyan Students for Animal Welfare.
“The SRIC is more of the student side of it and is a way to help students help notify interested students that there’s an issue going on that they can help change,” said Alexa Atamanchuk ’12, who is a student representative on the CIR.
The SRIC is a ‘coalition’ because they represent the interests of various student groups. It plans to accelerate its operations next semester and is holding a meeting on April 29 to bring various student groups together to figure out how it will organize and present its concerns to the CIR.
The SRIC believes that numerous companies the University is currently invested in are engaged in socially irresponsible practices. Some examples include Dyncorp International Inc, which has been accused of human rights violations, and General Dynamics Corp, which, according to Blasenheim, has a worse environmental track record than General Electric.
Ben Firke ’12, who is the student co-chair of the CIR agreed that the University could be investing in more socially responsible companies—without compromising monetary returns. He pointed to the WSA’s investment portfolio as an example.
“The WSA endowment (which outperformed the University endowment during the last quarter of last year) is already invested in a socially responsible fund, a community bank, and a green fund––I’d urge the investment office to someday pursue the same,” Firke wrote in an e-mail to The Argus.
The CIR was formed Fall ’08 but did not have full membership until Fall ’09. The SRIC was formed over this past winter break in part because its members felt that the CIR was dragging its feet.
“Last week was the first time that the CIR held a town hall meeting to actually present what is the CIR,” Blasenheim said. “That’s two years—it took two years, almost, for them to actually get to that point in time. And that meeting would not have happened without the pressure that the SRIC put on the CIR to actually get moving.”
The CIR’s responsibilities, according to its charter, include shareholder advocacy in the form of letter writing campaigns and keeping the student body informed of CIR activities through the creation of a website. As of today, the committee has not written any letters and the website is still a work in progress.
According to Atamanchuk, because the committee is closely tied to the administration, it is not as flexible as the SRIC which has an all-student membership.
“We are under a more restrictive outline than the SRIC is because we […] have to abide by the charter to make sure that the WSA continues to support us and that the staff and the University continues to support us because we have such a great power invested in us by the investment office,” Atamanchuk said.
Atamanchuk assured that the CIR is committed to working closely with the SRIC in the future—they are even considering dedicating a seat on the committee for a SRIC member. But in the meantime, the SRIC will continue to work with students to tackle investment reform.
“Our values and our morals should be reflected in the investments that we make,” Blasenheim said. “For us to say we support sustainability and yet at the same time invest in unsustainable corporations […] we believe that that’s a hypocrisy that needs to be brought to light. And we think that the best people to bring that to light are students themselves.”