Two good steps forward

Oct. 06, 2013 @ 03:25 PM

Duke University's Board of Trustees heard great financial news on Saturday:

The endowment pool, with a market value of $6 billion, almost totally restores the fund to pre-Great Recession levels.

That same day, the student coalition known as DukeOpen got good news too, as they learned that the trustees gave some ground on making the process of investing that money more transparent.

The new revisions include expansion of the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility to 14 members. That committee, in a streamlined review process, is expected to become the principal adviser to President Richard Brodhead and the Duke University Management Corporation, which handles investments for the college.

ACIR members will get access – under a non-disclosure agreement – to information about DUMAC's direct holdings and fund managers. The committee will start a public Web site, issue an annual report and hold a forum to gather feedback from the Duke community.

Beyond that, donors also get the chance to specify that their endowments go into a social choice fund.

“These are the most significant changes to our approach to socially responsible investment in almost a decade,” said Brodhead in a statement after Saturday's meeting. “And the catalyst for this action has been persistent advocacy by our students. I am grateful to the DukeOpen group for raising questions and highlighting issues that have led to improvements in our approach to socially responsible investment.”

Indeed, in the end, the board acceded to two out of three demands made by DukeOpen. The trustees stopped short of granting a six-month delayed, paper-only disclosure of direct investments in a supervised reading room.

“This limited disclosure reflects a significant compromise from our initial ask for online full disclosure including fund managers,” the student coalition said in a statement.

Last week, The Herald-Sun's April Dudash reported that DukeOpen members wanted more community oversight to protect the university from investing in companies that engage in unethical practices, ranging from child labor violations to environmental damage.

“We want to ensure we are as good or better than our peers in making ethical investments,” said DukeOpen's Jacob Tobia.

It's a worthy and important goal.