After meeting with President Morton Schapiro and Chief Investment Officer William McLean, the coalition of FossilFree NU, UnshackleNU, and NUDivest, is moving forward to create a charter for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee (SRIC) and for more transparency. We are excited to be working as a united front in conjunction with the administration on a project that has been endorsed by the Board of Trustees. There was a lot of progress made in the meeting, and we would like to take a second to appreciate the student organizers and activists who have created the opportunity to make this progress. Student activism is a vital component of social change, both on this campus and throughout the world historically.
Although President Schapiro has held that protest is ineffective when dealing with divestment, in this meeting, he proudly shared his own personal history of activism as an educator at Williams College. He said he was able to play a role in divestment from South African apartheid. Today’s human rights movements must be seen with a similar lens. Direct action is the language of the unheard and has been the catalyst for change throughout history. Up until now, two of the divestment movements, UnshackleNU and NUDivest, have been unheard by the Board of Trustees. We made it clear during the meeting that if we continue to be left out of the conversation,we will respond with protest. We will not give up on divestment or be forced into silence. As organizers against human rights abuses–including the destruction of the planet, disproportionately affecting marginalized populations–we believe we must work together towards the greater social good, whether or not our actions are endorsed by administration.
The development of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee is an important and historic step for Northwestern, but it is by no means without precedent. The practice of including students in investment decisions has existed since the 1970’s. This inclusion is a necessary action for our university to take as soon as feasibly possible. In developing our vision for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee, we researched several models from peer institutions like Yale and Columbia. From this research, we learned several strengths and shortcomings of the “standard model” of Socially Responsible Investment Committees. At other universities, the lack of voting powers for advisory committees has meant that the committee can become a diversion, which students are referred to instead of having direct access to the Board of Trustees. The committees often have only an advisory role, and and are often limited by clauses making divestment an option only if it would “not be divisive on campus.” We brought up these critiques at the meeting, and used them to establish a common ground between our movements, President Schapiro and CIO McLean in which we agreed to work to avoid these barriers and create a committee which is better than those in the past. We want our committee to carry weight in investment decisions, to consist of democratically elected members, and to operate with the utmost transparency. We feel it is important to include the values of socially responsible investment in the charter, to ensure that all members of the committee are united by and held accountable to a common goal.
The transparency and flexibility we hope to see from this committee have been frustratingly absent from the actions of the Board of Trustees, stemming from ambiguity over the legal charter penned in 1851, for which McLean and President Schapiro claim there is no legal framework for contemporary amendment. A common theme throughout today was the understanding that without alteration to this 19th century charter, the SRIC is unlikely to have power beyond the making of recommendations.
Deliverables from this meeting include the agreement to disclose the Board of Trustees’ legal charter, for our movements to complete a proposed charter for the committee’s structure to be reviewed by administrators, and to host a forum for community vetting of the charter. Our divestment coalition plans to advocate for Northwestern to be a progressive private institution that is dedicated to its students. We want the university to set precedent and establish a SRIC that truly and directly impacts the investment of its endowment. While we stand by all the work that was accomplished today, we see these deliverables as a launching pad from which to engage radically with the foundational realities of private institutions and their impact on the world around us. We are working to pull away from and denounce the antiquated practices of operating blindly and irresponsibly solely for profit, accepting complacency with human rights violations, and exhausting the fabric of our universe. We thank our supporters for standing with us, and ask that you stay engaged and continue fighting alongside our movements.
FossilFree NU, UnshackleNU, and NUDivest