Board of Trustees puts divestment decision on hold
The Board of Trustees announced that it had not been able to reach a decision on divestment and aims to adopt a new standard for its policy governing investments at its next meeting. Before then, it will review the current general guideline, Brandeis University as a Responsible Investor.
On June 22, University President Ron Liebowitz and Chair of the Board Meyer Koplow announced in an email that the Board hadn’t yet reached a decision on fossil fuel divestment. The email was sent just one day before the expiration of the 60-day period the Board had to reach a decision.
The decision to divest “cannot be made in a vacuum or without consideration of issues related to risk and other consequences,” they wrote, and pointed to the current “dated” standard, which does not sufficiently guide the Board and its fiduciary responsibility to the University.
According to the current guideline, while the University should not ignore ethical implications of investments in certain companies, it is not the University’s primary mission to “influence the conduct of business corporations with regard to the social consequences of their activities.”
If the Board passes a new standard when it convenes from Sept. 26-27, the Board will discuss possible action regarding divestment at its November meeting.
The Board received a statement from Brandeis Climate Justice that called on the Board to create stricter deadlines and called this a pivotal moment that will have consequences for decades to come.
In a February interview with the Justice, Nicholas Warren, the chief investment officer, explained how investment decisions work at Brandeis. The University invests money in large funds owned by approximately 40 independent managers; these funds are selected based on the strategies and performances of managers over time. As a result of its small endowment size, the University has little influence over the managers and the funds it invests in. According to a Fossil Fuel Divestment Factsheet provided by Warren to the Justice, the University endowment was valued at just over one billion dollars as of November 2017.
In the past 10 years, the University has calculated that between 4-10% of its endowment has been invested in fossil fuels, an amount that changes as managers buy and sell stock. The current investment risk of divestment, according to the factsheet, is an opportunity cost of $130 million to $280 million in endowment value 10 years into the future.