HKS Students To Vote on Social Choice Fund Referendum

After a fall semester that saw College students vote in support of a social choice fund and the University announce its plans to create one, Kennedy School students will vote next week on a referendum calling for Harvard to demonstrate a financial commitment to the new fund.

The student referendum, which will be voted on next Monday and Tuesday, will be the first ever held at the Kennedy School, according to organizers. It was proposed by a group of students in Responsible Investment @ HKS, an offshoot of the larger Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.

The referendum asks that the University allocate .1 percent—approximately $30 million—of its $30.7 billion endowment to seed Harvard’s social choice fund, which will be launched on July 1.

Administrators have said that the new fund will offer donors an opportunity to support the University through channels that account for social responsibility, but they have not indicated whether the University will contribute any existing funds from its endowment to the new social choice fund.

Kennedy School student David J. Garfunkel, a member of the responsible investment initiative, said he believes it is important for the University to jumpstart the fund with a substantial initial investment to ensure its longevity.

“The idea of the social choice fund is to show that using responsible investment criteria, we can generate returns in order to contribute to the important work that the University is doing while at the same time upholding our values as a University,” Garfunkel said.

Alexander “Alexi” White, a Kennedy School student and member of the initiative’s leadership team, said the referendum is intended to show that the call for socially responsible investment reaches beyond the College.

White said he is confident that the referendum will pass, calling it a unifying issue within a diverse school.

“This issue touches on everything,” White said.

Ten percent of students must sign a petition in order for a student-launched referendum to land on the ballot at the Kennedy School. That plurality—100 students among the approximately 1,000 who attend the Kennedy School—has been surpassed since the group began circulating the petition after the winter recess.

“The general feeling is that everybody is very supportive of the measure,” Garfunkel said.

If the referendum passes, the group will try to form a coalition of graduate students across the University in support of responsible investment, Garfunkel said.

The referendum question will share ballot space with the candidates seeking office in the Kennedy School student government.

None of the candidates has taken a stance on the issue, Garfunkel said.

—Staff writer Nikita Kansra can be reached at nkansra01@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @NikitaKansra.

—Staff writer Steven R. Watros can be reached at watros@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @SteveWatros.

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