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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 13, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: Endowment should include student input

Everyone knows that Ithaca College is basically synonymous with environmentalism. Every dining hall has started composting, there are many environmental clubs and the administration is following a Climate Action Plan that puts the campus on track for climate neutrality by 2050. But there’s more that can be done.

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File photo/The IthacanIn a protest organized by the Environmental Leadership in Action Network, students dance in the library last December to fight against the use of only 30 percent post-consumer recycled paper.

The college has an endowment of more than $200 million, which is invested in companies from whom they know we will receive a profit. This leaves potential for the college to invest in morally ambiguous companies —  businesses that may not necessarily look out for the public good. The money that is gained from these investments, with our tuition, pays for the school’s yearly expenses.

Currently, Ithaca College students have no say in how or where we invest the money from our endowment, the same way we have no say in how our tuition dollars are allocated for our yearly budget. In fact, it is nearly impossible to get any information about where our endowment is invested. This lack of transparency leaves us vulnerable to invest in companies from the fossil fuel industry, which contribute directly to global warming and fund political policies, or groups that seek to undermine the rights of disenfranchised groups.

While this is obviously a problem, it is also an opportunity. The board of trustees has the final approval of where our money is invested, after receiving suggestions from an investment committee. We must not address the board of trustees as a body of individuals whose minds are impossible to change but instead enlist them as our allies in divesting from companies that are complicit in environmental and social oppression. Though the college’s board of trustees has ultimate authority over the endowment’s investments, the money belongs to every student enrolled in the college, and thus every student has the power to influence how that money is invested. We just haven’t claimed that power yet.

But now we are. The Environmental Leadership Action Network, in conjunction with a coalition of other like-minded clubs on campus, is launching a divestment campaign on campus.

The goals for our campaign are simple. First, we will institute full transparency of our current investments. Second, we will persuade the college to divest from companies that do not meet our demands of what constitutes a socially and environmentally just entity. Third, we will mandate that the college invest in companies that meet the moral standards of our community and align itself with the goals of the Climate Action Plan.

In this campaign, we are joining more than 30 campuses across the country who are working toward the same goals. Each of these campuses have endowments worth millions or even billions.

Our actions will produce a ripple effect, creating large-scale change across the country, weakening the fossil fuel industries and other socially irresponsible companies while giving attention to the most important issues facing our generation.

The students of Ithaca College have an enormous responsibility to ensure that our institution is investing in companies that reflect our values of environmental and social consciousness. If you care about the environmental or social issues even a little, supporting and working on this divestment campaign will probably be the most important thing you will do in your lifetime.

We need everyone to help, regardless of major and experience. Everyone brings a set of diverse skills and resources to the efforts of our campaign.

Jessica Santos is a senior writing major. To get involved, email her at jsantos@ithaca.edu.