A student group, GU Fossil Free, is currently advocating for the university to divest from corporations that deal in fossil fuels. This bold proposal — which is too new to be assessed on its merit or chance of success — draws attention to some interesting questions. How much weight do the values a university claims to uphold have when it comes to making fiscal decisions about the university’s financial future? Should a university’s investment portfolio indeed also reflect its core principles? Today’s editorial “Pure Dollars and Cents” asserts that the university’s values of social justice and responsibility should not factor in its investment decisions.
Georgetown’s investment practices should, however, reflect the values that it embodies as a university. The university cannot honor its commitment to service and civic duty only in certain situations or circumstances. Its values should conduct and guide its decisions and actions in all university affairs, including those that involve the private sector. If Georgetown has the opportunity to invest in two equally or similarly promising opportunities, it should, without question, favor the one that is more closely aligned with its commitment to social justice and responsibility.
Universities across the country are discussing values-based endowment investment. Over the past year, schools like Harvard, Princeton and Middlebury have all been involved in efforts to remove from their portfolios companies which own major fossil fuel reserves. Georgetown administrators would be remiss if they did not take this opportunity to alter the management of their assets for the greater good.
If American educational institutions — some of the largest institutional investors in the world — came together in force, they would have the power to send a financially powerful message about their priorities in the future global marketplace. Its Jesuit and Catholic heritage gives Georgetown what is arguably an even greater responsibility than other universities to use its power as an institution to promote socially responsible change, even and perhaps especially when it comes to financial dealings.
The primary directive of an endowment is to protect university investments and grow its assets. And while the university’s $1.14 billion endowment is much smaller than those of peer elite institutions, it is the second-largest Jesuit endowment in the country. Just because Georgetown must continue to prudently invest its endowment does not mean that protests like those raised by GU Fossil Free should be ignored.
Georgetown has acted according to its values in its business decisions in the past. This month, Georgetown stood behind its ethical commitments when it terminated the school’s contract with Adidas, citing the firm’s alleged sweatshop violations as incompatible with — and indeed in violation of — Georgetown’s Jesuit values and commitment to worker justice. It would be the epitome of hypocrisy for the university to stick to its guns in only certain financial affairs, but not others. It cannot pick and choose where it decides to Although perhaps more indirect, there are fruitful analogies between the Adidas situation and the one at hand.
Although the university must continue to protect its investments and grow its assets for the future so that it can continue to instill in students a drive to not just succeed in the world, but help and improve it, it should do so in a way that is consistent with its Jesuit, Catholic and humanitarian values. Preaching the importance of values like justice and accountability in classrooms and lecture halls while failing to back them up with its investment ledger hardly advances the university’s ideals.
Alyssa Huberts is a junior in the College. Sam Rodman is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. They are both members of the Editorial Board of The Hoya.