Students Need to be Involved in Board of Trustee Matters
A college’s board of trustees makes tough decisions when creating the best returns on investments for its institution. Hamilton College has a $1.2 billion endowment, invested in a variety of companies and bonds by money managers. These money managers’ primary goal is to maximize yield to provide resources such as financial aid, which affects Hamilton students. The Board of Trustees must decide the purposes of the college’s endowment, but they rarely meet with students, who are supposed to benefit from their actions. These trustees are responsible for investing in our futures, but what should Hamilton students know about this decision-making process? To achieve intergenerational equity between current and future students, Hamilton aims to preserve the endowment to carry forward the college’s mission statement. Another objective is to grow the value of the endowment without taking excessive risk. Students are a major focus of financial decisions; therefore, I believe trustees should be more willing to communicate with students, and even involve them in decisions on behalf of the academic community regarding matters that affect students, such as endowment investments. Higher education is responsible for investing in its students’ futures, but fossil fuel investments contribute to the climate crisis that will negatively impact the next generations.
One of the major concerns raised on campus in recent years is transparency around divestment from fossil fuels between the Board of Trustees and Hamilton students. Specifically, students demand answers from the Board about fossil fuel investments, and why Hamilton is not fully divested compared to many of its peer institutions. Divestment from fossil fuels involves freezing new investments in fossil fuels, and fully removing any investments made in fossil fuel industries. The college’s official stance is that it is decreasing its fossil fuel investments. From a financial standpoint, it makes sense, given these dangerous industries have done poorly in the last few decades. In 2018, after almost three years of rising oil prices, the oil and gas sector placed dead last in the S&P 500, which stands for the Standard & Poor’s 500, a stock market index to track the value of 500 corporations. Hamilton has about two percent of its investments in fossil fuels, and they are projected to decline in the near future. In response to growing concerns about divestment, President David Wippman assures students that the board wants to reduce its investment in fossil fuels. However, no official, updated statement about the Board of Trustees’ discussions surrounding divestment has been released in response to student protests. Regular updates and responses are necessary to create an inclusive and transparent environment on campus. In other words, students have the right to be actively engaged in processes involving their futures.
In order to increase transparency between administration and students, representatives from each class at Hamilton, especially from the Student Assembly, should participate in trustee meetings. These assembly representatives will be elected by the students, and they will demonstrate the desires of Hamilton’s student body. In the past, students have participated in trustee meetings to present their ideas and as observers, but only one student-member is insufficient to represent the entire student body in front of the trustees. In order to bring about vital change, an appointed group of student representatives, one from each class year, will have a more affirmative voice concerning financial decisions. Having been elected by the student body, these students will participate in board meetings as a collective group and interact regularly with their class years. This will increase transparency between the Board of Trustees and the student body, and it is a fitting long-term solution as students can share knowledge to incoming class years. Also, these students may meet separately with each other and with members of administration to fill in any gaps of knowledge about the endowment’s allocations. Elected students may be entrusted with particular information, just as if they were employed by the college. To make effective investment decisions about students’ futures, this valued group will allow for more informed discussion for the comprehensive good of the Hamilton community.
With inclusion in the board of trustee’s decisions, students will have a well-deserved voice in serious matters about the college, especially concerning the endowment. Communication between Hamilton and its students must be more transparent than ever. The choice to allow students to play a crucial role in the administration can firmly benefit the college: students’ policy-changing endeavors will portray Hamilton to the general public, donors, and prospective families as an inclusive institution that actively acknowledges its students. Although students are able to present their ideas to the board, merely giving input as opposed to actively shaping decisions is not as useful in ensuring that students’ wellbeing is accounted for. To reflect the mission statement of Hamilton College, the administration must honor the students, giving them an undeniable opportunity to enact measures regarding the purposes of the endowment.