The endowment: What would Justice Brandeis do?

Louis Brandeis said

There is no such thing to my mind as an innocent stockholder. He may be innocent in fact, but socially he cannot be held innocent. He accepts the benefits of the system. It is his business and his obligation to see that those who represent him carry out a policy which is consistent with public welfare.

Debby Kuenstner, Brandeis’ administrator in charge of investment management, said

We have to decide which issues are important to Brandeis. Do we cut off so much investment opportunity that the endowment cannot fulfill its primary goal? You can’t keep the endowment at equal value for this generation and the next, and say “don’t invest in tobacco companies, do invest in environmental companies,
only socially responsible cases.”

When she told me this, I was troubled. I understand the need to make money with our investments. Yet unfortunately Brandeis seems to have been consumed by that hunger at the expense of any consideration of those investments’ social, environmental, or political impact. Our University has strayed from its founder’s dedication to responsible public citizenship.

Independent Voices for Endowment Sustainability and Transparency (InVEST), is trying to bring his dedication back to the forefront. Since we coalesced about one month previous from members of several campus activist clubs, we have been making promising progress. We have drafted a petition calling for greater investment transparency and responsibilty, and have obtained 500 written student and faculty signatures in support. Two days ago, the Student Union, often fractured when it comes to political positions, unanimously voted its enthusiastic support for a working proposal for the formation of an advisory committee to the Board dealing with these issues. Community opinion is behind us, and the administration and board must start to listen.

This is an issue I first addressed here on Innermost Parts months ago, after I found out Brandeis failed all the endowment-related clauses of its 2007 College Sustainability Report Card. Since then, the 2008 Report Card has been released, and Brandeis has again failed those clauses. By 2009, I want to reform our policies so that we do not fail three years in a row; I want our policies to be brought to the forefront among private Universities instead of lagging behind. If you’d like to get involved in this growing campaign, we’d love any help we can get. Email me at, or check out InVEST’s website.


4 thoughts on “The endowment: What would Justice Brandeis do?”

  1. We can have our cake and eat it too, can’t we? There’s absolutely plenty of solid companies out there which would make sound investments and bring a great return on investment, so I really just don’t buy what she had to say. That’s an excellent issue to take up and one where regular ‘ol students can make a huge difference on. Keep pushing it.

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