To President Von Arx,

 

I was moved by your gesture, in an email to the student body, encouraging us “to participate actively in the collective process to develop and support strategies that move the University forward” but like the editors of The Mirror (in their article “Student Solutions”) I felt unclear as to how I was expected to do so.  As such, I have chosen to respond openly—just like the conversation began—and I am submitting this letter, respectfully, as an op-ed.

The topic I wish to discuss is admittedly tangentially related to the budget, however it is no less important and certainly applies as a strategy to move our University forward.

Namely, I wish to discuss the nature of our endowment investment.  It appears that we are falling behind many of our peer institutions in actively working to ensure a responsible investment strategy.  Yale and Wesleyan have active Committees on Investor Responsibility, and many Jesuit schools around the country are striving to invest responsibly.  For example, Seattle University has invested over half a million dollars in its local community, Fordham is preparing to follow suit, and Loyola Universities in Chicago and New Orleans have committees dedicated to active shareholding to engage with corporations about their practices and request improvements when necessary.   I believe that it is important for the reputation of our University, the security of our endowment, and the future of the world that we recognize our power as an institutional investor and strive to invest our $255 million dollar endowment with the same firm ethical convictions of our Jesuit identity that guide us in other aspects of our development.

I recognize that the main metric for the success of our endowment investment has historically been its rate of returns and that, realistically, a growing endowment improves Fairfield University’s ability to provide a competitive education.  As a student I am as interested in the future success and growth of our University as any administrator or member of the Board of Trustees, and I wouldn’t publicize these concerns if there was any doubt in my mind that responsible investment efforts would necessarily compromise the returns to the endowment.  Instead, I believe that responsible investing is a necessary component of our commitment to social responsibility and environmental stewardship but that it can coexist with the strong financial returns we all hope to see.

I have a dream that the colleges and universities of this country will recognize the power of their total endowments of more than $350 billion dollars. I have a dream that all institutional investors will one day use this power to address the problems in the world by investing only in responsible businesses and refusing to invest in corporations with practices which propagate injustice, inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction. I have a dream that colleges and universities will expect and demand that their investments are not only profitable, but socially and environmentally ethical, and yield a strong triple bottom line. I have a dream that in so demanding, colleges and universities of this country will change the industry standard and necessitate that all businesses seeking investors must first certify that they leave no trace of a negative impact on the world.

Lastly, I have a dream that Fairfield University will be one of the leaders in seeking this change and I implore you, as our President, to lead the way in beginning a constructive and focused discussion about our endowment investment and the impact it has on the world.

 

With all due respect and urgency,

Arturo Jaras Watts ’14

 

President of the Proactive

Investment Club

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