The Knox College Board of Trustees has approved a new committee that will focus on making recommendations to the board about socially responsible investing.
The new committee, called the Knox Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (KACSRI), stems from work that was done by students, faculty and staff members under the name the Knox Endowment Initiative (KEI) for about two and a half years prior.
Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser was involved in KEI from its conception and has been asked to chair the new committee. He said members of KEI met during Fall Term and decided to put their efforts on hold in support of the new committee.
“We basically decided that at this point it would make the most sense to put our energy behind supporting this committee because while this committee did not get us everything we had asked for, it got us some of what we asked for,” Kasser said.
KACSRI was approved by the Board at its June meeting. The new committee has not yet met, but President Teresa Amott said last week that final appointments are being made for members and that the committee should be meeting in the upcoming weeks.
The committee will include 11 voting members comprised of three students selected by Student Senate, three faculty members selected by the Dean of the College, two alumni selected by the Alumni Council, one trustee, Vice President of Finance of the College Keith Archer and one staff representative appointed by Amott.
“This has taken a little while to move forward for number of reasons that essentially involve the complexity of the committee and the fact that I had to go to other entities and ask them to nominate people and then go forward,” Amott said.
Members will be appointed for two-year terms. The chair will be appointed by Amott from among the voting members. The committee will meet at least twice each academic year either in person or via conference call.
One of the goals of KEI was to make the investments of the endowment visible to students, faculty, staff and alumni and encourage transparency and communication between the Knox community and the Board of Trustees.
The new committee will not be able to view how the endowment is invested.
“We do not buy and sell stocks as a college. We entrust that into a management team. The people that we hire to do that, buy and sell stocks and they do not, generally speaking, like to disclose their investment strategy,” Amott said. “That’s their proprietary thing that they do — that’s what they sell, their investment advice, but we can direct them based on this process.”
Instead, the committee will solicit feedback from members of the Knox community and conduct research on companies and issues that could raise concerns and communicate those to Amott, who will review the KACSRI’s recommenations and chose whether to bring them to the Board.
For Kasser, being unable to view the holdings is not optimal, but he believes the committee can still provide valuable information to the board without doing so.
“It’s been explained to me why that is the case, but I don’t think that will work as well for the committee as if we did have more understanding of what the college is or is not invested in, but I think that we can work around that. I’m confident that we’ll still be able to do good work and make recommendations that hopefully the board will find useful even though we won’t know for sure what the college is invested in,” Kasser said.
Junior and Student Senate representative Sofia Tagkaloglou was involved in KEI and will be one of three students on the new committee. She said that eventually she would like to reach a point where the committee can view the holdings, but believes that it is first most important to define the roles of the committee and connect with the Knox community.
“That’s kind of where I’d eventually like to end up, is that level of transparency where there are students who can [look at the holdings] and I think that’s something that would be good for us. I’m not sure if right off that bat that’s something that would be effective, especially as we’re starting to organize our committee,” Tagkaloglou said.
The other two students are also senators, but were not involved in KEI. In the future, Student Senate will appoint the student members of the committee, though they do not necessarily have to be senators.
Both Kasser and Tagkaloglou said that one of the initial goals of KACSRI will be to figure out how to best solicit feedback from the Knox community. This may take the form of surveys, forums or other means of communication.
Amott pointed out that the situation at hand is complex for board members as they not only want to make socially responsible investments, but they also have a social responsibility to the college’s community to ensure that the endowment grows, as the college requires supplements beyond tuition dollars.
“The endowment has been so small that our primary concern has been to try and grow it,” Amott said. “The feeling was the most socially responsible thing an institution could do to promote its mission was to have an endowment large enough to help subsidize students who cannot afford to pay for the full cost of the education. That remains an important mission of the investment subcommittee — to grow the endowment for the good of our students.”
Kasser believes that the process that led to the creation of this committee is a good way for changes to happen within the college. He noted that KEI members spent their first year quietly doing research and understanding the issues before approaching the board and administration, who they purposefully did not consider their enemy.
“I think that the way that the students on KEI went about this long-term process is an excellent model for change,” Kasser said. “The board cares a heck of a lot about this college. They’re all volunteering, most of them are giving a lot of money and we didn’t want to go in there guns firing and alienate people.”