Board of Trustees Adopts New Voting Guidelines
More than two years after New School students staged the now-infamous protests at 65 Fifth Ave., some of their demands are finally being realized. On April 21, The New School’s board of trustees approved a new set of voting guidelines encouraging companies in which the university has invested to support environmental sustainability, transparency and more equitable labor standards.
The board’s approval of these guidelines indicates a shift in the university’s attitude since 2008. At that time, protestors — enraged that a New School board of trustees member served on the board of a defense contracting company — demanded that The New School review its investment strategies.
The advisory committee on investor responsibility (ACIR) was formed soon after the protests to examine where The New School invests its money, and whether or not it does so in a way that reflects the values of the university. The guidelines that the board approved on April 21 were submitted by the ACIR and emphasized the importance of considering social, environmental, and governance factors when it came to investing the university’s money.
According to the new guidelines, fund managers who implement the university’s investment strategies are encouraged to vote for or against various resolutions concerning hot-button issues such as animal testing, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, labor standards, corporate contribution and campaign transparency. Whenever a company in which The New School has invested holds a proxy vote — a vote by all the company’s shareholders — the university’s fund managers should vote according to these standards.
But the guidelines are just that — guidelines. Technically, fund managers can still vote however they choose. The board also made one so-called minor change to the guidelines submitted by the ACIR: if a fund manager thinks that a certain resolution will have a negative effect on the value of a company’s stock, that manager should vote to avoid the negative effect, regardless of other implications the resolution may have.
The board also rejected the ACIR’s proposal for community investing. According to Chris Crews, a student representative on the ACIR and a PhD. student at The New School for Social Research, the proposal would have encouraged The New School to invest in local companies.
“While it might not mean much in the way of a high-return investment, it would be a concrete demonstration of the university’s commitment to the community,” Crews said in an email to the Free Press in early March. “What better way to do civic engagement and encourage economic innovation than help by making capital available right in your own backyard?” he continued.
But according to Peter Taback, senior director of communications for The New School, the board felt that investing in the community would conflict with their primary purpose, which is to protect and improve The New School’s funds.
“The trustees felt that the spirit of the proposal was outstanding,” wrote Taback in an email, “but does not believe this type of investing falls within their fiduciary responsibilities.”