Protest Issue Loses Luster
Two years after hundreds of students packed into 65 Fifth Ave. demanding the creation of a committee to review the The New School’s investments, the demand has been met, and no one seems to care.
On October 5, the advisory committee on investor responsibility (ACIR) hosted an open forum to share its progress with The New School community. Less than a dozen people attended the event.An unsettling quiet filled Wollman Hall, chatter from distanced conversations lingering in the air. The excitement surrounding the inception of the ACIR seemed long since past.
The ACIR was created in the wake of the December 2008 student occupation of 65 Fifth Ave. to review The New School’s investment strategies. The committee has pledged consideration to social, environmental and governance related issues, according to an ACIR e-mail.
Concerns for the university’s investments were first voiced when it was discovered that board of trustees member Robert Millard served on the board of L3 Communications, the sixth largest American defense contractor. Many felt that the university should not be associated with companies such as L3 or have the potential to invest in them.
The ACIR consists of two students, two faculty, two staff and one member from the board of trustees. Upon the committee’s review of university investments, suggestions are sent to the finance subcommittee of the board of trustees. The finance subcommittee will then decide how, if any, revisions will be made to university investments. The ACIR serves only as an advisory committee.
The ACIR has recently hired two research assistants, both Ph.D. candidates in economics at The New School, to perform research and financial analysis of university investments.
The ACIR will use external organizations specializing in community investment solutions for research and networking opportunities.
Dan Apfel, the executive director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition, a non-profit organization for universities looking to review investment strategies, spoke at Tuesday’s event.
According to Apfel, Macalester College of St. Paul, Minnesota was a good example of how affordable community investment functions. The college invested $500,000 into a local bank that gives loans to low-income families and businesses involved with sustainable design.
“It’s an easy first step, it doesn’t have to be a lot of money,” Apfel added.
Apfel also said that universities rarely invest in local organizations.
“Universities are some of the largest investors not to invest in the community,” Apfel said.
The event was billed as an open house presentation in which students could speak with administrators about the ACIR. Although few were present, President Bob Kerrey and Provost Tim Marshall took the opportunity to endorse the initiative.
“We appreciate that the students have come forth with this incentive,” Marshall said.
Administration and student representatives for the ACIR both voiced their concern for the lack of student turn out.
“My only concern is that we need to get the publicity out so that students who have this interest know about it,” said board of trustees member Malcolm Smith.
At one point during the event Chris Crews, an ACIR student representative, asked the president his thoughts on increasing attendance. “You could occupy 65 [Fifth Ave.] until someone shows up,” Kerrey replied with characteristic humor.
Crews, who is also a University Student Senate representative and Ph.D. candidate at the New School For Social Research, said he wished more students still cared about the once contentious issue. “It’s always disappointing when you put a lot of work into something and it turns out poorly,” Crews said in an e-mail.
Crews said poor advertisement and dwindling student activism at The New School caused the event's substandard turnout.
“I think the major problem is that a lot of campus activist energy fell apart after the spring of 2009 and it hasn't really reformed yet following that,” Crews added. “It's really hard to judge the awareness on campus, but I think the interest is still there.”
Crews also pledged his support for David Van Zandt, the incoming president of The New School.
“I’m optimistic that he will be a new era for The New School,” said Crews. “We want him to be an advocate for social justice, with the ACIR as one piece of that larger picture.”