At the Friday morning meeting of members of the Georgetown, Divest! Coalition and university administrators, disagreement stemmed over the ethics of delegating endowment allocation to fund managers.
The meeting was held to discuss the coalition’s call for the university to redirect endowment funds away from companies that benefit from human rights violations. The five representatives of Georgetown, Divest! Coalition said that the use of fund managers to conduct endowment allocation means the university does not always know precisely in which companies it is invested.
“Georgetown does not make its investment policy and social responsibility guidelines available – they simply haven’t followed them in recent years,” said David Schwartz (SFS ’12), a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Georgetown, Divest! Coalition who was present at the meeting.
The five students who met with administrators demanded that the university divest from companies that they say benefit from human rights violations. Specific companies include Ahava, Motorola, Caterpillar, Lockheed Martin, Riwal, Roadstone Holdings, Mekorot Water Company and Veolia Transportation.
“Social responsibility and ethics currently play no role in Georgetown’s investment practices, and the establishment of some mechanism for oversight is a pressing concern,” Schwartz said.
According to the university, the question of divestment is a non-issue because the university generally does not directly invest in specific companies.
“The endowment fund managed by the Investment Office does not directly invest in individual companies,” said Andy Pino, director of media relations. “Rather, it invests in managed funds that are similar to the mutual fund most people invest in as part of their retirement plans. Georgetown’s investment practices do not include the selection of individual securities. As a result, the question of divestment does not apply.”
Members of the Georgetown, Divest! Coalition said that this distinction is nothing more than a loophole, and that they are not satisfied with the university’s response to their concerns.
“Our greatest concern moving forward with the university is that the decisions will be made by people like [Chief Investment Officer Lawrence Kochard] whose only concern is maximizing the return of the endowment,” Schwartz said.
Kochard, along with Assistant Vice President of Business Policy and Planning LaMarr Billups, Senior Vice President for Strategic Development Daniel Porterfield and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Jeanne Lord were university administrators present at the meeting.
Georgetown, Divest! Coaltion’s blog post about the meeting indicated that the university admitted to a lack of oversight in the investment of endowment funds. Endowment policy is set by the chief investment officer and the subcommittee on investments on the Georgetown University Board of Directors, according to the investment office’s Web site.
“We look forward to Georgetown’s administration welcoming the concept of re-establishing social responsibility as one of the core components of its investment practice, but we are concerned that the university will not act swiftly enough, nor give this issue the proper attention it deserves,” Schwartz said. “The inertia of the university will be the strongest problem.”
Georgetown, Divest! will hold a panel tonight to present its case for selective divestment from companies that profit from human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. The group will also hold a march in Red Square on Wednesday.
“We believe that solutions to this question must include student involvement and a clear process through which student concerns can be addressed and responded to in good faith,” Schwartz said.
Georgetown, Divest! Coalition is comprised of members of SJP, Georgetown Solidarity Committee, Georgetown Buddhist Meditation Sangha and the Muslim Student Association, as well as other interested students, professors, staff and community members.