SoCo launches drive to bring social values to University investment

SoCo members Wilder McCoy (C’20) and Jackson Campbell (C’20) encourage students to sign investment petition. Photo courtesy of sewaneesoco on Instagram.

By Gresham Redman
Staff Writer

The Socially Conscious Investment Club (SoCo) launched a drive to bring transparency and community values to the University’s Endowment and the way in which University money is invested this past week.

SoCo launched a petition to gauge how many community members were in favor of changes towards more value centric investment. Many students noticed a number of popup alerts notifying them of email and Facebook posts from an advertising blitz to ensure as many University community members could view and add their name to the petition as possible.

This petition, relatively short with only three points, included statements against “fossil fuels and other socially irresponsible industries,” a remark on managing the endowment for the investment strategies to reflect “the University’s values as an institution,” and that socially responsible investment is “morally and financially responsible.”

According to the club’s president, Wilder McCoy (C’20), its goals are to gauge whether the community’s values match the those stated by the SoCo and to show “tangible evidence of community support” to be presented to the Board of Regents. Among these values are divesting in fossil fuels due to the societal costs which pertain to it, namely climate warming and air quality, and the management of the endowment should be based in the values of the Sewanee community.

This petition brought wider support for sentiments already vocalized in two resolutions which were passed by the Student Government Association (SGA) and faculty. The resolutions made similar statements with a goal of gaining greater transparency of what the University, and by proximity, the community supports with its dollar. SGA cited specifically that “values related to environmental stewardship” be represented by the University’s allocation of resources on.

Along with these actions, two members of the SoCo, Jackson Campbell (C’20) and Wilder McCoy (C’20), made an argument before the Board of Regents to base the allocation of the endowment in sustainable fields and socially conscious corporations. Specifically in a portfolio of roughly 20 firms which represent socially conscious values; which is currently being compared to the activity of the endowment’s current activities.

SoCo has taken these actions to call on the University to follow through on goals outlined in the 2013 Sustainability Master plan that can be found on the University website’s Provost page, which specifically names “investment strategies” being a reflection on the communities values as a goals to increase sustainability.

SoCo also outlined steps by other universities, who have followed similar processes. Such peers include Whitman College and Colby College, who both began divesting in fossil fuels. This left Sewanee slightly behind the leading edge as the University has made no known steps to divest from such industries.

Among their arguments for Sewanee’s divestment from fossil fuels was the Episcopal Church’s official stance on climate change and investment strategies. In 2006 at the 75th General Convention of The Episcopal Church, they stated a goal to “use resources of The Episcopal Church, including its investments, to promote a sustainable global environment … and if necessary divest from those companies” that operate in fields which contribute to global climate change.

SoCo’s goals include divesting entirely from companies which engage in a list of activities not in line with the University’s community values. Such values do not include or support actions such as child labor, private prisons, and profiting from civil strife. The club hopes to create a committee to review investment strategies.

Following the presentation made by several of the club’s officers, the Board of Regents gave them an opportunity to create a portfolio which represents the values they champion. The stipulation being that this portfolio, or group of assets held by an individual or entity, would perform better than the current portfolio which is held by the Endowment or the S&P 500, an index meant to represent the U.S. economy.

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