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Faculty and student committee demand social-consciousness, transparency from MSU's investments

January 31, 2023
Pins on a student's backpack during the Global Climate Strike Walkout on March 15, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building.
Pins on a student's backpack during the Global Climate Strike Walkout on March 15, 2019 at the Hannah Administration Building. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

MSU’s University Council, a legislature of faculty and student representatives, passed a resolution Tuesday demanding the university center ethics and social-consciousness in its investments.

The resolution asked that the board committee charged with investing MSU’s $4.4 billion endowment meet publicly and be more transparent about its decisions. The resolution is non-binding; MSU’s board could vote on adopting it, or ignore it altogether.

The resolution follows years of activism protesting the MSU's nearly $90 million fossil-fuels investment portfolio. MSU has repeatedly argued that divesting those funds would lead to breach-of-contract litigation, possibly ending in the university paying more to the oil and gas companies than if they let the investments expire in 2031.

Despite the issue with the existing fossil-fuel portfolio driving the discourse, supporters of the resolution said it focuses on a more transparent and socially-conscious process and philosophy going forward – not any specific current or future investments.

“We’re not really asking the board to do a specific thing like invest in ESGs, but to consult with experts who can help guide those investments, so again, they align themselves with the values that we’ve already expressed through our strategic plan,” Center for Community and Economic Development Director and resolution sponsor Rex LaMore said.

The bill passed with support of 84% of the committee.

Critics of the bill said the resolution didn’t align with their intended priorities for the investment committee, arguing that socially conscious investments would provide smaller returns to the university.

“I like the idea of social consciousness,” College of Engineering representative Mark Worden said. “Especially as applied to investments, however, the purpose of the investment is to get a good return.”

Worden's statement echoes criticism of student opposition to fossil-fuel investments by then-board of trustees member and finance committee member Pat O’Keefe.

In Sept. 2022, O'Keefe told The State News, “If I'm trying to provide students with scholarships ... am I going to pick an idealistic? I'm gonna say bad policy, and short-change my ability to help you get an education? I'm not gonna do that, because I'm a fiduciary. I'm trying to help out the students that don't have the money to go to school.”

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