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We, the Columbia University Economic Development Center Initiative, believe that Barnard College should establish a permanent Advisory Committee On Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI). An ACSRI would provide a forum in which students, faculty, alumnae and administrators can come together to discuss the social and ethical quandaries that arise from the College’s investment holdings. (1)
The creation of an Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing at Barnard would promote accountability and transparency in the management of Barnard’s endowment. By receiving and reviewing divestment proposals from student groups on campus, an ACSRI would provide a formal administrative channel by which members of the community can bring socially responsible investment issues to the Board of Trustees. Any proposal brought before the committee would have to satisfy four essential criteria:
- Broad and Sustained Community Consensus: Any divestment proposal brought before the Committee must enjoy the broad support of the Barnard student body. This support would be demonstrated through: (a) at least 600 verified Barnard student signatures on a petition in support of the divestment measure and (b) the endorsement of at least 5 relevant student groups on campus.
- Proof of Mitigation of Social Harm: Any divestment proposal brought before the Committee must successfully illustrate that the investment in question engenders “social harm, defined as “the harmful impact that the activities of a company or corporation have on consumers, employees, or other persons, or on the human or natural environment.” Moreover, said proposal must prove that divestiture will successfully ameliorate the social harm in question.
- Alignment with Barnard’s Core Institutional Values: The divestment proposal must prove that the actions of the company or companies in question undermine Barnard College’s sacrosanct institutional principles, which include:
- The empowerment of women, transgender, and non-binary persons: As a women’s college, Barnard “embraces its responsibility to address issues of gender in all of their complexity and urgency.” (2)
- The cultivation of global citizenship and civic responsibility: Barnard strives to graduate students who are “engaged world citizens possessed of…an understanding of inequality and power, and moral courage.” (3)
- The creation of an inclusive, equitable and accessible educational community predicated on the free and open exchange of ideas: As an academic institution, Barnard is “devoted to the free flow of information, the furtherance of research that produces new knowledge.” (4)
- Thorough Analysis of Financial Impact: The submitted proposal must present a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the potential pecuniary costs arising from divestment.
The proposed committee would review divestment proposals, and in the case where the degree of social or environmental harm caused by said investment is clearly unacceptable, recommend divestment action through a formal, written letter to the Board of Trustees. However, because the Trustees of Barnard College have executive responsibility over all investment decisions, they ultimately decide whether or not to accept the recommendation of the Committee.
By receiving proposals submitted by members of the Barnard community, the proposed ACSRI would provide Barnard students with an opportunity to adopt a more active role in the management of Barnard’s endowment. By reviewing these proposals, the proposed ACSRI would ensure that any recommendation that appears before the Board of Trustees is thoughtful, well-researched, and has clearly weighed the social and ethical benefits of divestment against the costs to the College.