Undergraduates voted overwhelmingly in April to call for an oversight committee to ensure socially responsible investment of the University’s endowment.
Yongmin Cho ’14, founder of the Princeton Coalition for Endowment Responsibility (PCER), was the author of the referendum question, which passed 1,121–450 in the spring Undergraduate Student Government election. He said he hoped that the vote would raise student awareness about the University’s investment choices and pressure the administration to consider investment oversight and transparency. The endowment was valued at $17.1 billion as of June 30, 2011.
Prompting the ballot question, Cho said, was the recent controversy over Princeton’s investment in HEI, a hospitality firm whose labor practices have been the subject of campus debate. The Princeton University Investment Co. announced in February that it would halt further investments in HEI.
“The mission of my organization is to ensure that Princeton’s endowment is invested in responsible ways,” Cho said. He said PCER members planned to meet with Princeton administrators.
One option may be found in the Resources Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community (CPUC). That committee was founded in 1970 to field concerns about endowment practices and policies and to offer policy recommendations. In past years, the committee has addressed endowment issues related to investment in Sudan and University membership in the Workers’ Rights Consortium.
Psychology professor Deborah Prentice, who chairs the Resources Committee, said the group’s guidelines are designed to address specific investment issues, such as whether the University should divest from companies in war-torn regions. But she added that the committee could serve the oversight function recommended by PCER if it can be demonstrated that there is sustained campus interest in this move, and that a central University value is at stake.
“One of the things we’ve been encouraging the students to do is engage with the Resources Committee,” said President Tilghman. “This is the right place to come to get the oversight.”
Last year the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which issues Sustainability Report Cards for colleges, gave Princeton an A in every category except “Endowment Transparency.” Princeton received a D in that category, which is based on the extent to which schools release information about their endowment investment holdings and shareholder proxy voting records.