Referendum calls for responsible investing at Harvard


By Chrissie Long, Staff Writer

The Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student body will vote this week on whether Harvard University should dedicate a portion of its $30 million endowment to socially responsible funds.

The vote, which will come in the form of a ballot question placed alongside candidates running for mid-term student government elections, calls for the allocation of 0.1 percent of the endowment toward responsible funds.

Though the vote alone cannot decide endowment allocation, the student group leading the charge, Responsible Investment @ HKS, hopes it will compel endowment administrators (the Harvard Management Company) to take ‘a first step’ toward more conscious investing.

“The referendum is a way to give each Kennedy School student a voice. We want to send a clear and united message to the administration that they can – and must – do better,” said Stephanie Cappa, MPP ’14, who is among the students leading the referendum.

If the Management Company reacts favorably, 0.1 percent of the endowment (roughly $30 million) will be committed to a Social Choice Fund. The imitative mirrors one adopted by Brown University in 2007. Brown University’s fund managers negatively screen investments for undesirable characteristics and proactively choose funds that invest in social enterprises.

In November, David Ellwood, academic dean at the Kennedy School, told this newspaper that neither he, nor HKS as an institution has any authority on how the endowment is invested.

He said, “We are one piece of a much larger endowment” whose dividends are allocated proportionately. “If they make more money, I have more money for financial aid. I have more money for better teaching and so forth.”

In response, Masha Burina, an MPP1 and a member of Responsible Investment @ HKS  said, “While he may not be in a decision-making position, it is within Dean Ellwood’s power to ask for assurances that the millions of dollars our school receives from the endowment are not the result of ethically questionable investments.”

Urging Ellwood to take action, she added, “He can provide leadership among the Council of Deans, the university at large, and give voice to our school’s credo, which ultimately values socially responsible investment as a policy concern.”

Burina said that university funds have a history of getting tangled in serious violations of human and environmental rights. She pointed to the apartheid South Africa, violence in the Darfur region and labor violations within HEI hotels.

“If at its core, HKS is concerned with issues of public service and increasing the social good,” Burina said, “we must face this ethical dilemma concerning policies associated with our financial endowment.”

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