New Stanford investment responsibility structure aims for clarity, responsiveness

As a new academic year begins, Stanford is putting in place a new structure for managing, and engaging with the campus community on, issues of investment responsibility.

Participation from the campus community has long been part of Stanford’s approach to considering investment responsibility questions. To improve the efficiency and responsiveness of the process, a new director of investment responsibility stakeholder relations, reporting to the president’s office, will serve as a single point of contact for the campus community and as a liaison to university leadership.

That staff member also will work with the Advisory Panel on Investment Responsibility and Licensing (APIRL). That committee of students, faculty, staff and alumni will provide advice to university leadership on investment responsibility issues and issues related to workers’ rights in connection with Stanford’s trademark licensing program.

The changes flow from an action taken by the Board of Trustees in June to update Stanford’s Statement on Investment Responsibility. This statement, first adopted in 1971 and amended many times since, serves as the board’s expression of its approach to the responsible investment of the university’s endowment.

In June the trustees adopted an amended statement, saying the previous statement had become too cluttered with procedural details instead of serving as an overarching statement of principles. In addition, they said the statement needed to provide greater clarity about the board’s thinking on investment responsibility questions and the conditions under which trustees would consider divestment to be an appropriate action.

With the updated statement, the trustees delegated responsibility to the president for establishing a new university office and the advisory panel to deliberate on investment responsibility issues.

“Our goal is to ensure a clear and responsive process for the campus community to consider and provide input to the trustees on investment responsibility issues,” said Gail Harris, chair of the Trustees’ Special Committee on Investment Responsibility. “The new structure continues to include a community advisory body, which is incredibly valuable to the trustees. But it also establishes a new staff position that will be helpful as a central coordinating point for everyone involved in these important discussions.”

The new Investment Responsibility Stakeholder Relations program, reporting to the president’s office, will be staffed by a director who fields requests for review of investment responsibility issues, coordinates with campus constituencies, supports the advisory committee and serves as a liaison to the trustees. Hiring is now under way for the new position, and the university expects to fill it in the coming weeks.

The advisory committee, APIRL, will consider and provide input to university leadership on requests for review of investment responsibility issues that are submitted to the director and that meet the parameters for review outlined in the Statement on Investment Responsibility. An APIRL has been in existence at Stanford for many years, and it will continue to hold an annual community meeting as part of its efforts to engage with the broader campus community.

The advisory panel consists of 12 voting members from the Stanford community – four faculty members nominated by the Faculty Senate; two undergraduate students and two graduate students nominated by the ASSU; two alumni nominated by the Stanford Alumni Association; and two senior staff members appointed by the president. The director of investment responsibility stakeholder relations will serve as a non-voting member of the panel.

Currently, the only pending divestment request from the 2014-15 academic year is a request from Fossil Free Stanford for divestment from fossil fuel companies. Members of last year’s APIRL will continue deliberating on that request this fall while the new office is established and additional members of the APIRL are appointed.

The university will continue to receive new requests for review, but these requests will not be evaluated for possible review until later this academic year after the new investment responsibility stakeholder relations director has been hired. Members of the campus community with questions about investment responsibility matters in the meantime may be in touch with Jeff Wachtel, senior assistant to the president.