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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Need for transparency is not opaque

Published: March 14, 2008
Section: Opinions

In order to advocate for greater financial transparency and social responsibility on the part of the university’s endowment investments, student activists came together about a week ago to create Independent Voices for Endowment Sustainability and Transparency. Currently, Brandeis community members have no way of accessing information about where university endowment funds are invested. InVEST is advocating for the creation of an Advisory Committee to the Board of Trustees on Shareholder Involvement, which will include representatives from the student body.

In a short amount of time, this coalition of students has already met with administrators who are considering the idea with reservations. The administration is concerned that increasing financial transparency will hurt them financially. However, InVEST is doing its best to cooperate with the administration and offer up a solution that is in the best interests of all parties concerned. The group is requesting a bi-annual list of the public companies in whom the university has invested without supplying concrete dollar amounts, which should not significantly interfere with the university’s ability to efficiently invest its endowment.

In an age where stories of misspent funds are an ever-present news staple, potential benefactors and alumni may be wary of donating to a university that does not offer a form of financial transparency. Being able to see that donated money will be spent ethically and efficiently may encourage more financial bequests.

InVEST should be applauded for its success thus far in bringing together various campus organizations as well as trying to bridge the gap between administrators and the student body. Creating such a committee will reinforce Brandeis’ commitment to social justice by making sure that funds are being invested in companies that are socially responsible.

InVEST’s efforts are part of a growing trend on university campuses, including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Stanford, and Columbia. Although many educational institutions are becoming increasingly more corporate in nature, financial transparency is an important step in ensuring that universities do not succumb to corrupt business practices. Especially at Brandeis, an institution that prides itself on its dedication to progressive ideas, it is important make sure the university’s investments match up with its mission statement.