Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, December 10, 2018

Board of Trustees chair's "focus is on growing the endowment"

Sine says at townhall that fossil fuel divestment is difficult to acheive, more student representation is unlikely

Board of Trustees Chairman Jeff Sine warned in a townhall Feb. 21 that social issues can distract from the University's focus on growing its endowment.

"We are not stock pickers," the Chair of the Board of Trustees Jeff Sine said at the meeting. "Our focus is on growing the endowment."

"We do not invest in individual stocks of any kind. We work through an endowment manager Cambridge Associates," Sine said. "When it comes to social causes, or social movements, such as the fossil fuel question, it presents us with some tricky issues. As fiduciaries, our focus is on growing the endowment, and the endowment is what returns capital every year to reduce the need for tuition increases."

Members of "Fossil Free AU," a student campaign that supports AU divestment from nonrenewable energy sources, were at the townhall. Mary Linders, a student in the School of Public Affairs and a representative Fossil Free AU, said she supports AU's goal of growing the endowment but told Sine that she wants AU to consider social issues when choosing where to invest funds.

"Fossil Free AU" wants to end all future University endowment investments in fossil fuels by the end of the calendar year.

The campaign aims to collect enough signatures to hold a referendum vote on fossil fuel divestment in March on the Student Government election ballot, according to Kate Brunette, the president of AU Eco-Sense and a junior in the School of International Service.

"We're about halfway there. We've collected about 250 signatures so we're on a great trajectory," Brunette said in an interview. "We're on track to collect more than enough signatures so I'm not at all concerned. We'll blow past that target."

Linders cited AU's history of divesting from South Africa during an apartheid, when a system of racial segregation was enforced in South Africa, as an example. She asked the board to consider a negative screen at the end of this calendar year from all new fossil fuel investments.

Sine talks student voices, tuition hikes

Another student participating in the event brought up the issue of student representation on the board. "We have one representative and that representative doesn't have any voting power whatsoever. Do you honestly believe that that is adequate representation of the student body as a whole?" Sine responded, "Yes."

"I've never seen anything come down to one vote," Sine said. "We tend to operate as a pretty consensus organization, and no one, whether they are a voting trustee or not a voting trustee, as any different voice at that table. So no, I really don't believe that students don't have a voice."

Another student participant argued that SG can only represent a limited amount of views, so it doesn't represent the range, or majority of views of the student body. She asked that the Board consider that they bring in more student representatives.

"We are not a democracy," Sine said. "We are a group of independent trustees ... this is not your Student Government."

Niusha Nawab, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science and a member of the Coalition of American University Students (CAUS), asked Sine why tuition is going up and what influenced the increase.

Sine said that there are many factors that have influenced the tuition hike, some of which include inflation, healthcare and the increased bandwidth usage on campus. He also said that the University is investing in scholarship, financial aid and faculty hiring, as other universities cut their funds.

"We are moving forward," Sine said.

After the forum concluded, Valerie Kiebala, a sophomore in the School of International Service, asked Sine why the Board does not honor the University's motto of social responsibility when investing in stock.

"Ultimately, we have to pick one opinion, and not everyone is going to agree. Whose opinion should get picked? How do we pick which opinion to follow?" Sine said. "We can't spend everyone's money in support of a social movement that not everyone agrees with."

"Then we shouldn't claim to be socially responsible," Kiebala said.

news@theeagleonline.com


Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.