Students petition for transparent investment of endowment fund

Emily Passey

The Students for Leftist Action of Lawrence University gathered signatures in Downer last week for a petition to present to the administration. The petition calls for Lawrence to practice transparent investment of the school’s endowment fund. Currently, the plan for investment is available for all students to see, but it does not detail exactly where money is being invested.
SLA vice president Ben Pauli does not think that is good enough. A senior, Pauli became interested in what he calls “the power” of the endowment fund when he decided that SLA had the ability to unite and make an impact on all students. He recognized that the money from the endowment affected and was affected by student life and understood a need for openness. “In the spirit of Lawrence’s mission statement, openness is stressed,” Pauli says. At other schools, Pauli emphasizes, there are student groups that participate in the investment of school money.
SLA took up this matter last year, devoting time to researching every angle of the investment practices at Lawrence. Pauli and other members of the student group discovered that Lawrence may inadvertently be investing in corporate criminals. Even though they had meetings and discussions with Lawrence representatives, Pauli found the response to be “minimal.”
SLA is taking a diplomatic approach. Pauli says that their goal is to get at least 50 percent of the student body to sign the petition, showing widespread support of the group’s ideas. According to Pauli, even Jon Horne, president of the College Republicans, agrees that student involvement in university investment practices would be interesting. After the signatures are counted, SLA will put together a resolution to present to LUCC regarding the formation of a student group to be involved in investment.
Lawrence Executive Vice President Greg Volk responds to the student petition saying that it is “hard to comment” until he knows exactly what their endeavor is. While he agrees that it is important for all members of the Lawrence community to actively participate and understand all aspects, Volk believes in a little discretion.
Volk emphasizes how important it is that Lawrence not inadvertently endorse certain investment practices. Lawrence is simply “not comfortable” with being so public, he says. “Very few colleges would [make public] the specific funds in which they invest.” Volk cites Yale University as an institution with notoriously quiet investing practices. There is no current policy protecting investment information, but the Board of Trustees and other administrative officials generally adhere to privacy.
There are several ways, Volk specifies, in which the Board monitors where the university’s money is going. At their yearly meeting, the trustees meet with the company in charge of distributing Lawrence’s endowment fund, Ennis Knupp of Chicago. The brokers at Ennis Knupp invest in “funds of funds” so as to generate the largest return each year. The specific companies involved in these funds change almost bi-monthly, says Volk, so it is almost impossible to monitor where money is going to and coming from.
Volk believes that students’ curiosity in the university’s investment policies is fueled heavily by a concern for socially responsible investing. He makes clear the fact that the definition of social responsibility is changing in our changing world. Volk cites the Enron collapse as an example, saying that it was not foreseen by many of the savviest minds in business. The last time the university felt there was a real risk of being socially harmful through investment in immoral businesses was in the late 1980s during the Apartheid era in South Africa, when Lawrence divested its interests in businesses that were supporting the reign of Apartheid.
The resolution drafted by SLA will be introduced for consideration at Tuesday’s LUCC meeting by LUCC representative and senior SLA member Rachel Long.