Letter to the Editor: UNF Endowment Fund lacks transparency

Spinnaker Reader

In 2010, the Vice-President for Student Affairs charged a Values Integration Task Force with the task of developing recommendations that would integrate the espoused values of UNF into the day-to-day operation of the university. These values are: (1) the pursuit of truth and knowledge carried out in the spirit of intellectual and artistic freedom; (2) ethical conduct; (3) community engagement; (4) diversity; (5) responsibility to the natural environment; and (6) mutual respect and civility. The subsequent report produced by the task force, titled “What We Say and What We Do: Jumpstarting the Conversation on Our Values,” included a set of recommendations. Among them was the following:
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Without full disclosure, questions of the UNF’s investments are sure to come.

Apply the Values to Management of the University’s Endowment Fund: The task force notes the absence of full disclosure on how the university invests its endowment funds. To assure full integration of its values, the University should establish more transparent investment practices and hold those practices accountable to the values it subscribes.

The point of this recommendation was to explore the degree to which companies and corporations included in the endowment investment portfolio engage in actions that are consistent with the stated values of the institution such as “ethical conduct” and “responsibility to the natural environment.” For example, would we want endowment funds invested in fossil fuel companies that are serial violators of environmental regulations or financial institutions that have engaged in criminal behavior or manufacturers of guns and weapons?

Currently this information is unavailable to the public or members of the UNF community (students, faculty, staff, and alumni). Therefore, the first step is to establish greater endowment transparency.

It should be noted that “endowment transparency” is one indicator of a university’s commitment to sustainability. The College Sustainability Report Card has included this indicator in ranking universities on their demonstrated commitment to sustainability practices.  “Investment Priorities” and “Shareholder Engagement” are also included. Many universities have developed policies in these areas and have received high grades for their efforts.

What’s more, UNF recently signed on to the American Colleges & Universities Presidential Climate Commitment that commits the institution to policies and practices advancing the principles of sustainability. UNF also participates in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) that awards credit for transparent, proactive, and socially responsible investment practices.

If UNF is truly committed to its value statements, the climate change initiative, and sustainability, UNF’s endowment investment portfolio and policies should be collectively evaluated to determine whether we actually ‘put our money where our mouth is’.

David Jaffee
UNF Professor of Sociology