On February 3, 2015, in response to the organizing of Divest Smith College, the Smith College Senate voted to demand the reinstatement of the Committee on Investor Responsibility as a subcommittee of the board of trustees with the initial purpose of investigating the moral and political implications of investing in the fossil fuel industry as well as the possibility of divestment from the fossil fuel industry. This committee, now called the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR), has been active since, and a member of Divest Smith is currently a student member of the committee.
History of the Committee on Investor Responsibility
The Committee on Investor Responsibility was a subcommittee of the Investment Committee in the 1970s, but from 2005 to 2008, it operated independently and included not only trustees but also students, faculty, and administrators. The purpose of the Committee on Investor Responsibility was to make recommendations to the Board of Trustees on issues of social responsibility as it pertains to our endowment and voting our shares and shareholder responsibilities. The Committee succeeded in creating proxy voting guidelines for our external investment firm, Investure, on environmental issues and climate change before it was disbanded.
In addition, a recommendation by the Committee on Investor Responsibility was the catalyst for the Board of Trustee’s decision on May 6, 2006 to ban investment in companies directly or indirectly supporting the Sudanese government. This was the fourth time that the Board of Trustees had banned specific investments on moral grounds; the three earlier occasions included bans on investments in Apartheid South Africa, investments in companies producing tobacco products, and investments in Talisman Energy, Inc., a Canadian oil company with ties to the Khartoum government.
Divest Smith College hopes that the reinstatement of Committee on Investor Responsibility could advance Smith College towards its fifth divestment and allow us to unite with other universities and organizations by divesting from fossil fuels.
Recent Committee Recommendations
In response to our activism and our meetings with the ACIR, in October of 2017, the ACIR issued recommendations that were adopted by the board. The following is these recommendations copied from the board of trustees website.
- Recommendation 1: Increase impact investing: Smith will increase its impact investments—those intended to generate measurable social and environmental change alongside a financial return—from $9.5 million to $30 million, over time. This enhanced commitment to impact investing aligns with values of innovation and social change at the center of the Smith experience.
- Recommendation 2: Favor managers and funds adhering to environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles: This decision reflects the recognition that this type of investing can support the college’s broader commitments to environmental sustainability and social equity while still generating appropriate financial return.
- Recommendation 3: Avoid future direct holdings in coal: As of June 30, 2017, Smith’s endowment does not have any direct coal holdings. Recognizing that coal is the most environmentally harmful fossil fuel, the board voted to avoid any future direct investments in coal. The Investment Committee will work with Investure to exclude from the endowment any new investments in coal that would be directly owned by Smith or held directly by Investure funds.
- Recommendation 4: Report regularly on socially responsible investment progress: The Investment Committee of the board will work with Investure to provide regular, transparent reports to the Smith community on such metrics as fossil fuel exposure, ESG adoption and impact investments. ACIR will receive and review such reports on a quarterly basis.
Divest Smith College’s Response to October 2017 Recommendations
Our response to these recommendations follows:
Divest Smith College sees the approval of these recommendations as positive progress and we are proud of our contribution to the process. It was in response to an official ask from our campaign that the ACIR was reinstated in 2015 and we have consistently had a student Divest member sitting on the committee since then.
We are very pleased that the committee, after two years of deliberation, finally produced a concrete set of recommendations regarding climate change and that the board has approved them and committed to taking action.The Board’s commitment to these recommendations indicates an agreement between the Board’s Investment Committee to work closely with Investure to make these changes. We want to emphasize the importance of holding the Investment Committee and Investure accountable for these commitments and plan on following up periodically to ensure that progress is occurring as promised.
While these recommendations are certainly a step in the right direction and we recognize all of the work that has gone into them, our goal remains the same as always: full fossil fuel divestment. We see the commitment to avoid any direct holdings in coal (recommendation number three) as a significant step towards full divestment. The first and second recommendations relate to a response that our campaign has commonly received from the board: increasing or favoring investments in socially and environmentally responsible funds. This is a step towards the statement that we feel Smith should be making with its investments, but it is sometimes used to distract from actual divestment, which we will keep pushing for. The fourth recommendation is very exciting for us because the lack of access to information about the actual fossil fuel exposure has been an obstacle for anyone working to push for change.
Divest Smith College
2015 Senate Resolution
On February 3rd, 2015, Smith College Senate voted in favor of a resolution supporting divestment. The resolution agreed with creating a fossil fuel free portfolio because of the strong moral and political arguments for divestment. In addition, senators demanded the formation of a Committee on Investor Responsibility, which will combine voices of various stakeholders in order to seriously consider the possibility of fossil fuel divestment at Smith and the moral implications of remaining invested in this destructive industry.
Divest Smith College worked closely with senators throughout the process to address their concerns. Together, we decided to make a strong statement in support of divestment for moral, political, and long-term financial reasons, in addition to making a direct ask for reinstatement of the CIR. Senate discussed the resolution over the course of several weeks during the open forum portion of their meetings, with Divest Smith College taking a backseat in these discussions while remaining present to provide additional information.
The resolution is a strong statement from students in favor of fossil fuel divestment. 40 senators voted “yes,” with only 2 “no”s and 5 abstentions.