Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Tuesday, August 09, 2022 — Houston, TX

Committee needed for responsible investment

By Taylor Morin     8/24/17 9:50pm

This May, 62 percent of ExxonMobil shareholders voted in favor of the company reporting the impacts of climate change on its business. In 2016, shareholders of Fluor, a major global engineering firm with over $19 billion in annual revenue, voted to require the company to formally report all of its political contributions. Yet, due to the $5 billion Rice University endowment’s sole focus on investment-picking, had it been an investor in either of these companies, it would have abstained from these votes, a de facto vote against these proxy resolutions for positive social change.

This is a problem. To be clear, the hard-working people who manage Rice’s endowment are not at fault. As the Thresher has previously reported, the endowment provides half the university’s annual operating budget, so ensuring the endowment makes enough money to keep Rice running is — and should be — its only priority. Instead, Rice desperately needs a separate committee of representative individuals who can recommend votes on the important moral and social issues that arise at companies Rice invests in.

I have been working on creating such a committee at Rice since the spring of 2016. There has been significant progress, including a show of support from President David Leebron, contingent on Student Association and Faculty Senate support. While I expect most of the Rice community will have no qualms about this idea, I do understand that the past year has been filled with vigorous debate about whether Rice should play any role in social and political issues. I also understand the potential concern that such a committee could never represent the diversity of social and moral views on this campus, and that it could even further marginalize the conservative voices that do exist at Rice. I hope I can allay these fears and convince you that a Responsible Investment Committee is necessary.



So why ought Rice become involved in the affairs of private corporations in the first place? One of the basic tenants of human morality is that if we see harm occurring (example: a potential robbery) and we have the ability to stop that harm (call the police), then we should take action and attempt to stop the harm. This is what Yale University calls their “Basic Policy”. As a stockholder in a corporation, if Rice has the ability to use its proxy votes to prevent harm caused by that corporation, then it has a moral obligation to cast those votes. Such a policy would be the backbone of the RIC.

What is key about this policy that would address the potential concerns previously mentioned, is it also imposes limitations on the RIC. The policy is narrow by nature — any resolution that goes beyond stemming social harm and into abstract political statements would be in violation. The RIC would not be a political forum; it would instead focus on pushing companies toward taking action that would enable real social change.

Take the Exxon climate resolution, for example. The RIC would analyze available evidence and determine whether actions taken by Exxon (the production of greenhouse gas emitting hydrocarbons) have or have not caused harm. It would then conclude on a proposed solution — Exxon reporting the effects of policies limiting climate change to 2C on its business — that might solve that harm and then vote accordingly. Of course, these are still subjective decisions, but the Basic Policy will provide a strong framework that helps the RIC make more objective and less political decisions.

On Monday, the SA was presented a resolution regarding the creation of the Responsible Investment Committee. While the creation of a committee dealing with financial proxy resolutions may seem boring and bureaucratic, Rice’s endowment is likely the strongest short-term form of influence at this university (money talks, people listen). I hope that you will reach out to your college presidents and senators and show support for this resolution that will help contribute to the bettering of our community and our world.



More from The Rice Thresher

OPINION 5/12/22 4:05pm
The Wellbeing Center should be transparent about its true confidentiality policies

Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that “the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy.” You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever — no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.

OPINION 4/19/22 11:11pm
We’re in student media to learn

This week marks the last issue of the Thresher for the year, and for the seniors like myself, our last issue ever. I have been a part of the Thresher since freshman year. And it would not be an exaggeration to say it has defined my Rice experience. As someone pursuing a career in journalism after graduation, there has been no better place to learn than at this paper.

OPINION 4/19/22 11:02pm
Philanthropy doesn’t excuse slavery

In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.


Comments

Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.