Trustee Investor Responsibility Committee Letter
November 1, 2017
Dear Members of the Campus Investor Responsibility Committee:
As many of you know, for the past several years there has been an active campaign on college campuses and at many other institutions to divest investment portfolios of holdings of securities in public companies involved in the fossil fuel industry. Over at least the past five years, this campaign has been active at Vassar among a number of the College’s student and other constituent groups.
Last May, for the first time the College’s Campus Investor Responsibility Committee (CIRC), which is charged under the Governance of the College with studying broader investor responsibility issues and making recommendations to the Trustee Investor Responsibility Committee (TIRC), and which had considered this issue on a number of previous occasions, voted in favor of a recommendation to divest Vassar’s endowment of specified fossil fuel-related securities. As per the College’s Governance, the CIRC recommendation was made to TIRC, which is the committee of the Board of Trustees that is charged with addressing matters of social concern in the management of the College’s investments.* CIRC and TIRC met last month to share their respective views with each other.
Worth noting is the College’s long standing commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030. As part of this commitment, the College, with the support of the Board of Trustees, has taken a number of steps to reduce its carbon footprint. These efforts are extensive and too great in number to elaborate for the purposes of this letter; they exemplify Vassar’s concern for the environment, and our commitment to do our part in the global effort to address climate change and provide for a more sustainable planet for future generations. On the need to address climate change in our community and these tactics to help achieve that goal, we all agree.
Nevertheless, the idea of using Vassar’s endowment as an instrument to express social views is of great concern to both TIRC and the Board of Trustees. The Board believes that the endowment of the College exists solely to support the mission of the College and that it is the fiduciary duty of the Board, derived from our founding documents, governance and state law, to preserve the endowment solely for achieving the best risk adjusted return. This enables the College’s investment managers to invest in the complete opportunity set of available investments allowed by the College’s investment policy and the law, while permitting the College to use the earnings from the endowment to fulfill the College’s mission.
As such, TIRC reached a unanimous decision to decline the recommendation of CIRC to divest from the College’s endowment investments in public companies involved in the fossil fuel industry. This reaffirms and is consistent with the decision of the Board of Trustees in 2013 not to divest the College’s fossil fuel-related investments. It bears mention that while the College may on occasion have followed divestment strategies in the past, albeit rarely, the evidence now is that divestment can be damaging and costly for investment portfolios, and ineffective in driving social change.
In closing, we reiterate that we support the College’s many ongoing efforts to help address the effects of climate change. The Board of Trustees is unified in purpose with this goal and those efforts, but firmly disagrees with the use of the endowment as an instrument to achieve these ends.
William A. Plapinger ’74, P’10
Chair, Board of Trustees
Christianna Wood ’81
Chair, Trustee Investor Responsibility Committee
Henry P. Johnson ‘88
Chair, Investments Committee
* The following Trustees are members of TIRC: Christianna Wood ’81, Chair; Elizabeth H. Bradley, President; Henry P. Johnson ’88; William A. Plapinger ’74, P ’10; Dr. Eve E. Slater ’67; and Debra Fagel Treyz ’74.