Student resigns from Responsible Investment sub-committee

Board of Regents (BoR) Student Representative Willa McCaffrey-Noviss resigned from the sub-committee on Responsible Investment last week. Divest MTA has requested that the now-vacant position be filled by one of its members.

The sub-committee was formed by the BoR last year due to pressure applied by Divest MTA. The sub-committee is mandated to investigate and recommend policy regarding responsible investment to the BoR. It has met four times since its inception last year.

McCaffrey-Noviss’s resignation leaves the student representative position on the sub-committee vacant. The terms of reference of the sub-committee state that the vacancy must be filled by a student regent.

Divest MTA originally asked for the BoR to create standing policy and procedure regarding socially responsible investment.

Dennis Pavlich and Jocelyn Stacey, two law professors at UBC, wrote in an opinion piece for UBC’s student paper that from a legal perspective, in the case of a university endowment, fiduciary duty can only extend to those who are intended to benefit directly from the endowment, namely students and faculty, not donors. Fiduciary duty refers to the University’s responsibility to make decisions in the interests of its stakeholders.

Divest MTA organizer Alex Lepianka does not view financial performance to be the sole component of fiduciary responsibility. “Any financial ties [to the fossil fuel industry] make the university complicit in the violence, environmental damage and social harm that the fossil fuel industry perpetuates,” he said.

In a press release, Divest MTA pointed to the “highly technical nature of the discussion” as leading to exclusion of student and faculty committee members. They said, “this barrier to participation is symptomatic of the larger problem of exclusivity in the University’s governance structure,” referring to the committee’s framing of the issue as a solely financial one.

According to Vice-President Finance and Administration Robert Inglis, the sub-committee has discussed a number of options, including divestment.

Inglis said there “would be things Divest MTA have brought up and things that they have not brought up.” He said these options included becoming a member of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI), incorporating environmental, social and governance factors into investment decisions and creating a fossil-free investment portfolio.

The sub-committee has examined two documents: a document outlining a legal decision on divestment at UBC; and the Mercer Report, a 150-page report about responsible investment in the context of Mount Allison’s endowment.

Sub-committee chair Jane Craighead’s term on the BoR comes to an end this year. A replacement chair for the sub-committee has not yet been announced.

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