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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Middlebury students provide input on the college endowment investment strategy to student liaison

The Student Government Association (SGA) wants to know how students want Middlebury College to invest its money.  with a Google form asking for student input on the investment strategy of Middlebury College’s endowment. 

It sent a google form on Feb. 26 asking, “What input/recommendations in regards to the Middlebury endowment investment strategy would you like to have represented through the Student Endowment Liaison (SEL) to the Investment Committee?”

The input form generated 98 student responses over the two days it was open, which both newly elected Student Endowment Liaison Jake Butler-Jancose ’26 and SGA President Abed Abbas were proud of. 

“We were amazed by how many responses we got,” Abbas said. “We really wanted to make sure student voices are reflected and considered in how Middlebury College invests its endowment.” 

The purpose of the endowment is to “provide a permanent source of support for the institution’s students, faculty, and programs,” according to Middlebury’s web page. It plays an important role in sustaining the college, the Middlebury Language Schools, Bread Loaf School of English and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey. 

It is managed by members of the Board of Trustees on the Investment Subcommittee, as well as by the college’s financial and accounting staff. Members are responsible for the establishment and regular review of investment policies and strategies relevant to all endowment assets.

According to SGA by-laws, the student endowment liaison is the “official student body liaison to the Board of Trustees Investment Committee.” The liaison is responsible for attending Investment Committee meetings, gathering student input for investment strategies, and reporting back to the student body a summary of what issues were brought up in meetings, according to Abbas.

The SGA voted to appoint Butler-Jancose ’26 as the student endowment liaison on Feb. 23. 

Butler-Jancose expressed excitement about filling in the position, which has not received much interest in the past few years, and the last person who last held it, Tyson Boynton ’25.5, went abroad this spring. 

“It is vital that students feel like the endowment’s means and ends are not at odds.” Butler-Jancose said. “As a [student endowment liaison], I am dedicated to centering student voices, Middlebury values, and Conflict Transformation in my work.” 

Of the 98 responses, over half of them mentioned some form of hope in ethical investing, especially ones that aligned with the values of conflict transformation. 

“I want to see the complete divestment from any company that is complicit in human rights violations including and not limited to Genocide, crime against humanity, child labor, forced labor, among other things,” one student responded. 

Survey responses showed an overwhelming call for Middlebury investments in the endowment to reflect the conflict transformation practices that the college has committed to, and divest from any war profiteering, as laid out by the SGA’s Resolution 4, Regarding Middlebury’s Ethics in Investment and Consumer Partnerships Related to Indigenous Peoples, which passed in January. 

One student responded: “The college espouses transformative and nonviolent conflict practices and should increase the application of conflict transformation to its finances.”

Conflict Transformation at Middlebury is supported by the Center for Community Engagement, in collaboration with the Kathryn Wasserman Davis Collaborative in Conflict Transformation, and various other departments at Middlebury. 

“The Collaborative in Conflict Transformation seeks to learn lessons from this vast community that can be adapted to the issues and questions that are most pressing for Middlebury,” the initiative’s website states. “The work we do will help build new networks and expand our ability to transform the world around us.”

Another student response expressed hope that the investment strategy reflects SGA’s recent efforts to pursue divestment from war profiteering entities and entities oppressing indigenous people. 

“Considering that Middlebury has successfully divested from arms dealers, ending our involvement with corporations complicit in war more generally and the oppression of indigenous people in places like Palestine is feasible,” they wrote. 

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Butler-Jancose added their belief in the importance of the concerns expressed in the student responses being brought to the Board of Trustees subcommittee meeting. 

“In a time of increased polarization worldwide, it is more important than ever to focus on what unites us.” Butler-Jancose said. “All of us in this college community can agree on the importance of Middlebury’s mission, teaching students to live engaged, consequential, and creative lives dedicated to addressing the world’s most challenging problems, and the endowment itself is dedicated to financially sustaining this mission.”

The endowment is currently made up of over 1,600 individual funds, and was worth over $1.6 billion as of June 2023. 

Endowment investments are kept confidential, only to be viewed by committee and finance team members and one student appointed by the SGA. 

David Provost, executive vice president of finance and administration, cited competitive advantage as the reason for the lack of transparency surrounding the endowment. 

“What we are trying to do is outperform the benchmarks in the market,” Provost told The Campus. “If we made our investment strategy public to Williams, Amherst and all of our competitors, we wouldn’t want them to understand our strategy, and they won’t be showing us theirs.”  

Middlebury uses an outside manager to decide which particular funds to invest in. 

“Since 2005, Middlebury has been contracted with Investure, along with 12 other clients who share a similar mission to Middlebury’s,” Provost explained. “If we went public, we would basically be enclosing the other clients’, such as Dickinson and Haverford’s, investment strategy too, because they are commingled funds.” 

 

Given the way the endowment is managed rather privately, Abbas expressed his belief in the importance of having student voices considered in the endowment investment strategy. 

“We want to ensure student representation in Middlebury’s endowment.” Abbas said. “We decided to reinstate the Student Endowment Liaison position in preparation for the investment subcommittee meeting which occurred last week on [February] 28th.”

Provost said that the committee itself does not choose which funds to invest in, but rather relies on Investure to make investment decisions in keeping with the SGA mission statement.

“We hold them [Investure] accountable.” Provost said. “We have day-to-day communication with Investure, and have a formal review every 10 years to determine whether we continue our relationship with them. In 2025, we will be doing this review.”


Mandy Berghela

Mandy Berghela '26 (she/her) is a Local Editor. 

She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and contributing writer for the Campus. She plans to major in Political Science, with a minor in Arabic. Along with the paper, Mandy serves on the Judicial Board, social media manager for the Southeast Asian Society (SEAS), and is also involved in many campus theatre productions. On her free time, she enjoys long walks, cycling, and reading fantasy novels. 


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