Trustees Adopt Investment Guidelines

The board of trustees, meeting in February, adopted guidelines for investing the university's resources in a socially responsible manner. Trustees agreed to a process for responding to requests for Duke to take financial actions as a means of expressing its concern about issues ranging from the conflict in the Middle East to slavery in Sudan. The guidelines follow months of discussion among the trustees, campus administrators, students, and faculty members, including Duke's Academic Council. Trustees discussed an earlier version of the guidelines at its December meeting.

"During the past year or so, we've received several thoughtful requests from students and others that Duke use its investments to take a public stand on an issue," says President Nannerl O. Keohane. "Previously, notably during the debate over apartheid in South Africa, Duke had a system for responding to such requests, but that system fell into disuse as interest faded. Now, as requests are arising again, the board has reconsidered the issue and adopted guidelines for how it and the administration should respond."

The guidelines consider both the ethical issues and financial concerns that have marked discussions about socially responsible investing at Duke and other campuses.

"We recognize that sometimes a corporation's policies or practices can cause substantial social injury," the guidelines state, noting that "corporate actions may violate domestic or international laws intended to protect individuals and/or groups against deprivation of health, safety, or civil, political, and human rights." Accordingly, the university may give weight to "corporate policies or practices [that] cause substantial social injury" when considering investments not governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

At the same time, according to the guidelines, the "primary fiduciary responsibility" of the trustees is to produce a favorable financial return on Duke's resources and thereby produce the funds needed to support the university's activities. Before considering a symbolic financial action, therefore, the trustees will expect the university community to engage in "substantive discourse" on an issue, and to express "broad concern that substantial social injury is being caused." They also will look to the University Priorities Committee, the president, and the senior officers to recommend such action.

The trustees may then consider instructing Duke Management Company, the nonprofit corporation that manages Duke's investment assets, to take "appropriate action," which could include divesting a company's securities. 

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