Students band together to urge responsible college investment


Associated Press Writer
April 21, 2004, Wednesday

BOSTON (AP) - Students and graduates of about two dozen colleges and universities have banded together to help one another and other schools adopt socially responsible investing policies.

The members of the Responsible Endowments Coalition include people from larger schools, like the University of Pennsylvania, to smaller liberal arts schools such as Williams College. The combined endowments of the 22 schools, which are mostly private, add up to $56 billion, according to organizers.

"What we found was that many of us were working on the same issues and didn't know about it," said Mark Orlowski, a Williams College senior and a founding member of the coalition.

For decades, student activists involved in a wide array of causes have pressured their schools to change their investment policies. In the 1980s, for example, anti-apartheid student activists criticized schools' investments in South Africa.

But there has been no umbrella organization to unite the student activists and allow them to share information and resources.

Orlowski said schools had not been active in pressuring companies they invested in to change their policies. He knew of only one instance in about the last six years in which a school filed a shareholder resolution to ask a company to change or research a policy.

"While religious communities are filing resolutions every year left and right, the higher education community has been sitting on the sidelines. They're barely in the stadium," he said. John Griswold, executive director of Commonfund Institute, a research center associated with nonprofit fund manager Commonfund, said schools were generally not enthusiastic about socially responsible investment, because it can complicate their work and diminish returns.

"You've got to look at it from the college administrator's point of view, the manager of the endowment, saying, 'What would you like to screen against, and what is it going to cost me to do so, and how important is it for the majority of students who attend the university?"' he said. "That's a question that's hard to answer."

The students mostly come from private schools such as Amherst, Swarthmore, and Stanford, but one public school is among them, the University of Texas.

Kiyomi Burchill, 20, a Stanford sophomore from Davis, Calif., said she was among students at her school who wanted to know more about Stanford's investments, and felt that the experience at other schools could help.

"We feel that we are part of a growing movement of students who want to know how universities invest, so ... learning from other schools along the way and working together is the best way of affecting any long-term change," she said.

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