Members of the Roosevelt Institute at Columbia University called upon Barnard’s Student Government Association to write a public letter endorsing the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing at Barnard, during the second SGA meeting of the semester on Monday.
The proposed committee, which would be comprised of two faculty representatives, the SGA vice president for finance, the SGA senior representative to the board of trustees, and an alumni representative appointed by the president of the Alumnae Association of Barnard College, would seek to provide increased transparency surrounding Barnard’s endowment by creating a clear mechanism through which Barnard students and student groups can submit investment and divestment initiatives.
Barnard administrators, including Chief Operating Officer Robert Goldberg, are still in the process of reviewing the student proposal to establish an ACSRI at Barnard created last spring. So far, the proposed ACSRI has received over 500 student signatures in support on an online petition, as well as endorsements from five student organizations, including Mujeres, EcoReps, Columbia University College Democrats, Student-Worker Solidarity, and No Red Tape. Columbia has had an ACSRI since March 2000.
Barnard’s board of trustees would ultimately need to approve the creation of the committee.
For Sinead Hunt, BC ’20, the Roosevelt Policy Center director for healthcare and co-initiative organizer for ACSRI for Barnard, the ACSRI is necessary to create a conduit to amplify student voices and cultivate a transparent dialogue regarding what investment decisions are made by the board of trustees with Barnard’s endowment.
“It’s very difficult to successfully advocate for divestment when you don’t know the criteria against which you’re being judged,” she said. “Barnard should be held accountable to its students, faculty, and employees, and yet our voices are missing in the management of Barnard’s endowment.”
Criteria for investment proposals would include 600 undergraduate student signatures on a petition in support of a divestment measure and endorsements from five related clubs, as well as an analysis of the social ramifications and financial impact of the divestment measure.
Representatives from the Roosevelt Institute hope to present directly to Barnard’s board of trustees, and said SGA’s endorsement would provide the support they need to seek an audience with the board.
Solace Mensah-Narh, BC ’21, a representative for academic affairs, asked the Roosevelt Institute representatives how they planned on ensuring diversity within the five-person committee of Barnard students who will represent the student body. In an attempt to potentially remedy this issue, Representative for Campus Affairs Chelsea Sinclair, BC ’21, suggested that the SGA representative for inclusion and equity at the time also be on the committee.
According to Hunt, the primary impetus of advocating for an ACSRI at Barnard was a report released by Hedge Clippers, a national campaign dedicated to exposing unethical investments by major institutions. In October 2017, Hedge Clippers released a paper revealing that Barnard had some of its endowment invested in the Baupost Group, a hedge fund which held $911 million worth of Puerto Rican debt before the financial crisis, and is now demanding that all the debt be paid back in full.
Hunt sees Barnard’s profiting off of the Puerto Rican financial crisis as a direct violation of Barnard’s community values.
“We believe that investments are a form of speech,” she said. “Divestment is a way of expressing a shared community value, but that is not an appropriate action if that community value is not shared.”