Future of the Social Choice Fund

Students and the Harvard Corporation move towards a social choice fund

This past Friday, five students met with members of the Harvard Corporation to take the next steps in actualizing a social choice fund. This rare meeting between the Corporation and students arose after Harvard announced that it would create a social choice fund in December. Resulting from the successful campaign for a social choice fund organized by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, this announcement is a positive affirmation that the University is willing to support the student body’s voiced desire to move towards more socially responsible investment practices. The Crimson has consistently expressed strong support for the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition and likewise welcomes the University’s commitment to creating a social choice fund.  We urge the University to ensure that the new social choice fund is sustainable and to work towards expanding the fund in the future.

Although the University only announced the formation of the social choice fund this past December, the move toward responsible investing at Harvard has been long in the making. In 1972, Harvard President Derek C. Bok created the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility and the Corporation Committee on Shareholder Responsibility in response to widespread campaigns to divest from Apartheid South Africa.  These two committees work in tandem to evaluate shareholder resolutions on the social responsibility of Harvard’s investments.  Yet it was only this past year under the tutelage of the Responsible Investment at Harvard campaign that students were able to convince these committees to support the creation of a separate social choice fund.  This decision came about largely because of the strong show of student support for the fund, demonstrated through more than $11,000 of donations made to the Fair Harvard Fund, organized by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, and the student body’s overwhelming support for the social choice fund in this past fall’s Undergraduate Council election.

All parties involved are enthusiastic about the University’s decision to establish a social choice fund that will begin accepting contributions in July. However, the wariness of some of the Coalition’s members to fully uphold the University’s approach to the social choice fund may be warranted. The University has stipulated that 20 percent of the fund’s initial value will be allocated to fund student financial aid. Although this is a certainly an admirable gesture, the removal of such a large percentage of the fund annually might stymie its growth. Furthermore, the Harvard Management Company intends to have a separate mutual fund manage the money in the fund, preventing the HMC from gaining valuable experience operating the normal endowment and the social choice fund side by side. Furthermore, Responsible Investment at Harvard has voiced concerns over the transparency of the investments.

To address these concerns, students should remain actively involved in the social choice fund and urge the University to administer the fund responsibly and publicize the fund to alumni and the greater Harvard community in order to ensure its future growth. The students who rallied for divestment from Apartheid decades ago and from oil companies in Darfur in 2005 would be proud to be a part of this historical moment. Now it is our job to continue to provide the necessary support and oversight for the fledgling fund in the coming years.

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