Board of Trustees Statement May 2016 | St. Lawrence University

Board of Trustees Statement May 2016

Dear Laurentian Community:

During the past two academic years, a group of students met with the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees multiple times, urging St. Lawrence University to divest its endowment of investments in the fossil fuel sector.  This discussion culminated in February 2016 with a re-examination by the full Board of Trustees of the role of the endowment within the University, and included an opportunity for the student representatives of the group advocating fossil fuel divestment to present their case directly to the Board of Trustees in its entirety.  The Board listened carefully to the views expressed by the divestment advocates and thanked the students for their thoughtful presentation, analysis and recommendations. 

The call to divest from fossil fuel investments explicitly calls for the endowment to be purposed as a statement of the University’s values. The Board considered the fossil fuel divestment request from this perspective, recognizing that environmental stewardship is one of many values that St. Lawrence, as a liberal arts educational institution, holds as critical to its mission. 

The Board acknowledges and recognizes the symbolic impact of public statements.  The trustees examined the effects of endowment divestment at large as a practical means of effecting change in national policy.  The Board examined the potential for divestment by SLU’s endowment to change company and industry behaviors and its potential to alter public policy.  The effectiveness of divesting endowment assets from specific industries or companies was examined and compared to the effectiveness of strategically committing SLU’s total financial assets to specific actions which have demonstrable and tangible effects on the SLU community and its surroundings.  The practical means of implementing divestment within a complex portfolio of investments made up of thirty-seven separate funds, and the potential impact of divestment on future endowment investment returns, were also examined. 

As the result of these discussions and examinations, the Board has affirmed the following conclusions:

•           The St. Lawrence Board is committed to best practices in managing the endowment, such that it best serves the broad spectrum of priorities that we have as a University.  The criticality of the support provided by the endowment to the University’s financial equilibrium, as well as the importance of the scholarship and other financial aid the endowment provides to students, underscores the Board’s affirmation that the primary objective in the management of the endowment must be to maximize risk adjusted investment returns.

•           St. Lawrence has many institutional values that are critically important to our culture and how we function as a University.  Being good stewards of the environment is one of these values.  Our care for the environment is expressed in day to day campus life.  Among many other things, St. Lawrence with the support of the Board has been a leader in pursuing renewable energy power such that by mid-2017, the University anticipates that 95% of its power needs will come from clean energy sources.  This includes purchasing power under long term contracts from a hydro plant in Lewis County, purchasing power from a solar plant being built in Jefferson County  and the inclusion of geothermal heating and cooling in the construction of our most recent building.  The environment will continue to be an important priority in day to day campus life.

•           The St. Lawrence Board supports the Investment Committee’s consideration of investments that meet the long term risk adjusted return hurdles that are considered appropriate in serving the University’s many priorities.  Potential investments that meet our investment return objectives and also support the environment and other values that the University holds dearly will always be given careful consideration. 

 The Board believes that this discussion highlights the best in St. Lawrence’s liberal arts tradition of examining and considering complex issues with open discourse and an open mind.  The Board welcomes the continued involvement and support the St. Lawrence community provides in the search for a cleaner and more sustainable environment through the tangible initiatives already underway and through future activities and investments the University may pursue. 

The St. Lawrence Board of Trustees