Northwestern Endowment Considers ESG Investment Committee

The $9.7 billion fund faces growing student pressure regarding its investment policies.

The CIO of the Northwestern University endowment is considering creating a committee to vet its investments on a socially responsible basis.

“We’re interested in hearing student voices, and maybe a committee is a better way to do it.”—William McLeanWilliam McLean told the Evanston, Illinois-based university paper that this type of group could help clarify students’ voices on issues such as climate change and human rights, which could affect the endowment’s policy.

“There’s an argument for having a central place where some of these (investment issues) get vetted,” McLean told The Daily Northwestern. “We’re interested in hearing student voices, and maybe a committee is a better way to do it.”

Last year, the $9.7 billion refused to divest from fossil fuels, despite strong opposition from university students, as McLean said if trustees had bowing to this pressure “Where do you draw the line?”

However, the CIO told an audience of students this week that he would meet the Associated Student Government (ASG) president to discuss the possibility of forming a “socially responsible investment” committee. He added that the move had his support, alongside that of the ASG and faculty senate.

The university paper also reported that the CIO is to meet with another group of students over the fund’s investment policies. This group wants the endowment to divest from companies that allegedly violate the rights of Palestinians.

The CIO pointed out that, in 2005, the Northwestern endowment was one of the first institutional investors to divest from Sudan in response to conflict in the country. McLean added that all major investment policy decisions ultimately lay with the trustees.

The endowment is the latest to face student pressure over investment policies. Stanford University last year agreed to divest fossil fuel holdings from its $19 billion portfolio, while Yale said it would place the responsibility with its external asset managers to monitor climate change risks.

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