A committee formed to provide guidance to the Board of Trustees on socially responsible investing has released a form available to the Knox community to provide their input.
The Knox Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (KACSRI) has been meeting monthly since January to lay down the groundwork for the project, which they expect to really get going in the fall.
“There has never been a committee like this at the college; we’re having to invent. We’re not a faculty committee, we’re not a Student Senate committee, we’re a different kind of beast,” head of the committee and Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser said. “Our goal is by the fall to really be up and running.”
The committee came out of the efforts of a prior group called the Knox Endowment Initiative (KEI) to gain more transparency from the trustees on where the endowment is invested. In 2016, the Board instead approved the creation of KACSRI, which will advise the Board on policies but does not have access to where the current investments are.
“The Board hires managers, professional managers, in order to manage our endowment. Those managers have their secret recipe that they use in order to maximize returns on the endowment,” Kasser said. “If we were to have access to that, then the secret recipe might get out … That’s what we were told is the reason that we can’t have transparency.”
Recently, the possibility of being able to ask for quick ‘snapshots’ of the investments has come up, which is what President Teresa Amott and Vice President for Finance and Administrative Services Keith Archer did when looking into gun manufacturing and sales investments after the Parkland shooting.
Kasser noted that the committee’s charge is one of the first times that the Board of Trustees has given a clear expression that ethics should have a role in where the endowment is invested.
“[The Board’s charge to the committee is] to my knowledge, the first time that the board of Trustees at Knox College has ever said that social responsibility and ethical practices should be among the variables that it uses in order to manage the endowment,” Kasser said.
According to Kasser, this is an important development because it has clearly not been the case in the past. He said that he looked at old Board of Trustees meetings minutes from the 1980s and found that the college never divested from companies that supported Apartheid.
For student member of the committee senior Sofia Tagkaloglou, the creation of KACSRI has been a rewarding development in a long term project. She first got involved in KEI during her sophomore year and said that the purpose has changed somewhat.
“We wouldn’t be able to tell you like, ‘hey, we’re invested in this at the moment,’ but we could create a policy that says from this point forward we won’t be invested in it. As opposed to just finding out that information, we actually do have the potential to effect change in that way,” she said.
The president of the college selects the members of the committee, which include four faculty, one staff member, three students, two alumni, a Board member and the college’s Chief Financial Officer.
Kasser sees the committee as a conduit between the Knox community and the Board. In the interest of being a conduit, they have set up a Google Form accessible from their website that community members can use to bring issues to their attention.
“I can’t promise that the committee will do everything somebody in the community wants us to do, but I can promise that we’ll always take seriously any serious comment,” Kasser said.
For Tagkaloglou, the future of the committee rests on how the community responds to it. Too many or too few suggestions could both hamper the ability of the committee to really do its job, but she was glad that community members have chances to give their input.
“If this is your workplace and then you find out that all this time you’ve been invested in something that’s particularly important … Something to you that’s really important, then it’s going be kind of a form of betrayal almost, because you feel kind of bogus,” Tagkaloglou said.