Student coalition DukeOpen is gradually making its way through administrative processes in its push for greater endowment transparency.
Based on ideas of socially responsible investing and administrative transparency, DukeOpen is requesting that DUMAC—the firm that invests the University’s endowment—disclose the endowment’s direct investments twice annually to the Duke community.
Since its proposal was put in front of the President’s Special Committee on Investment Responsibility in April, DukeOpen has made efforts to present to a number of administrative groups—ultimately hoping to present the proposal to the Board of Trustees. Members of the coalition said they believe that the administration is prolonging the approval process. University Secretary Richard Riddell noted, however, that the proposal will “most likely” be presented by President Richard Brodhead at the Board’s next meeting.
“We continue to pursue cooperation with the administration,” senior Jacob Tobia, one of four leaders of DukeOpen, wrote in an email Sunday. “There is a time, however, when negotiations break down, and we are prepared to see this through to the end.”
The group had originally planned to present to the Board of Trustees in May, but University administrators redirected the proposal to the PSC in late April.
The PSC discusses whether proposals on specific investment responsibility concerns are valid and, if so, passes them on to the Advisory Committee on Investment Responsibility. The ACIR has the power to makes recommendations to President Richard Brodhead, who forwards them to the Board at his discretion. DukeOpen’s proposal would require PSC and ACIR to disclose their reports of direct endowment holdings—companies in which the University has a direct equity stake—to the Duke community.
Members of the student coalition objected to the redirection of the proposal, stating that it was inappropriate for PSC to be given the opportunity to deliberate on its own transparency.
The proposal ultimately did not continue through the full PSC process.
“This was not the type of request foreseen in the current policy on socially responsible investments by Duke and how concerns should be processed,” Provost Peter Lange, chair of PSC, wrote in a June 13 email that was obtained by The Chronicle.
Since concluding with PSC, DukeOpen has pushed to put the proposal before Academic Council in an effort to understand the role that faculty might play in the proposal and to secure it on the agenda of the Trustees’ October meeting.
Academic Council chair Joshua Socolar declined to comment on specifics of the Council’s work with DukeOpen, but said Brodhead spoke to the Council’s Executive Committee about the proposal in early September.
Socolar said he has been in contact with the coalition’s leaders, who include Bobo Bose-Kolanu, a second-year doctoral student in literature; senior Lucas Spangher, a former columnist for The Chronicle; and senior Casey Williams, chair of The Chronicle’s independent editorial board, in addition to Tobia.
The possibility of a DukeOpen presentation at the October meeting of Academic Council has been discussed, Socolar noted, but it has not been officially scheduled.
The Academic Council’s October meeting convenes nearly three weeks after the Board of Trustees meeting.
DukeOpen was also discussed at the June and August meetings of the Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee, Riddell said.
“President Brodhead thinks the proposal by DukeOpen has merit,” Riddell wrote in an email Monday. “I expect him to take a proposal to the board in October proposing enhancements in Duke’s oversight of socially responsible investing.”
The group’s proposal centers on three objectives—for DUMAC to periodically make hard copies of direct endowment holdings to the Duke community on a time delay, to ensure regular meetings of ACIR and for DUMAC to maintain and promote a social choice fund that would allow donors to direct their gifts to be invested in a socially responsible way.
The disclosures would be delayed several months after investments are made, and it would only be available as a hard copy that people could view in an office setting, according to a DukeOpen statement made available to The Chronicle.
The proposal additionally includes a plan for student involvement, in the form of three investment responsibility student analysts each semester who would collaborate with ACIR.
The administration and DukeOpen have independently discussed the proposal with DUMAC.
“We learned that no peer institutions that implement time-delayed hardcopy-only disclosure of direct investments have suffered because of it,” Bose-Kolanu wrote in an email Sunday, describing a meeting between DukeOpen and a DUMAC official whose name he declined to disclose. “We also learned that the financial risk posed by disclosing direct investments is minimal, and that time-delayed hardcopy-only mechanisms mitigate it.”
Among the institutions that disclose investments on a time delay are Dartmouth College and Yale University.
Riddell said Brodhead discussed the proposal with DUMAC’s Board of Directors in August and has additionally had multiple exchanges with Neal Triplett, president and CEO of DUMAC.
DukeOpen was grateful to have recent meetings with senior administrators, Tobia said. Members of the group, however, are concerned that the process has potentially reached a roadblock.
“Reaching an appropriate compromise on transparency did not seem to be too important,” Spangher wrote in an email Sunday.