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Editorial: Taking the ‘F’ out of financial transparency

Published: October 24, 2008
Section: Opinions


The Student Union plans to create the Committee for Endowment Ethics and Responsibility (CEER), which will be comprised primarily of undergraduates and hopes to advise the University’s Office of Investment Management.

CEER, which is expected to be announced next week, appears to be a timely improvement, given the ‘F’ Brandeis recently received in the area of Endowment Transparency on the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s “Green Report Card.”

Multiple efforts this semester have positioned Brandeis as a leader in the sustainability movement on college campuses. However, when focusing on endowment transparency, it seems that Brandeis could learn something from the Ivy Leagues. Both Harvard and Yale received an ‘A’ in endowment transparency and released lists of their investments along with a record of how their proxies vote on shareholder issues.

While it is always encouraging to see an issue tackled head-on with the formation of a committee, we must keep in mind that the presence of a committee is not enough to ensure that its objectives will be accomplished. The goal of improving Brandeis’ endowment transparency is something that both students, faculty and administration must commit to improving.

Given the current economic situation, it is understandable that this is an intense and trying time for the Office of Investment Management. However, Brandeis Chief Investment Officer Debby Kuenstner’s attitude towards meeting with this soon-to-be-formed committee may already weaken the committee. While the creation of CEER will make it easier for students to voice their concerns about the investment of the University’s endowment, it will still require additional effort on the administration’s part to maximize the committee’s potential.

Kuenstner’s primary concern with meeting with CEER on a regular basis is that it will detract from the time that could be spent navigating a rocky financial market. One way to avoid a trade-off between Brandeis’ financial standing and CEER’s effectiveness may be to follow in the steps of the aforementioned universities and release a list of the University’s investments and votes on shareholder issues. This will reduce the committee’s dependence on Kuenstner’s office, as well as allow Kuesntner to focus on more pressing issues that change from day to day. In the past, the Office of Investment Management appeared to lack the manpower to focus on improving endowment transparency. CEER may be just the solution, if it is given access to the proper resources.