Editorial Board: UVM needs to be more transparent with their investments

Editorial Board: UVM needs to be more transparent with their investments

As a public university, UVM’s endowment fund and investment portfolio should be easily accessible online as public record. 

On April 10, UVM Union of Students delivered an open letter demanding full transparency of financial information on the University’s endowment fund and investment portfolio to the offices of relevant members of the administration.

We, the Vermont Cynic, signed the Union of Students’ letter in support of transparency of our public university’s investments. 

Freedom of information is a core value of any journalistic institution, as is remaining objective in our reporting. 

As both student journalists and members of the student body, it is our duty to hold UVM accountable and ensure we can accurately follow up on promises made by the University.

In July 2020, the UVM Board of Trustees announced plans to divest from the fossil fuel industry

Last spring, UVM announced it had successfully divested from direct investments in fossil fuels, along with one private equity whose contract allowed for it and that any other private equity holdings were on track for divestment. 

However, without public access to the companies in which the University invests, we have no way to ensure UVM holds to their promise.

Much of the total UVM endowment is contained in the UVM Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 2011. This is also the last year in which the investment portfolio was public, according to the letter. 

Nonprofits are required to disclose their endowment funds in a Form 990, according to the Library of Congress. This form, however, only records monetary values of revenue, expenditure and income data, not where investments are placed.

The only known evidence of UVM’s 2010-2011 investments are detailed in a previous iteration of the Students for Justice in Palestine’s page on the University’s holdings in corporations directly or indirectly profiting from and helping to maintain Israel’s occupation.

The ongoing Israel-Hamas war has sparked renewed public interest in divestment from Israel. The student body has a right to know where the University’s money is going and to object to unethical investments.  

The endowment is currently managed by the UVM Investment Management Company, LLC, a subsidiary of the UVM Foundation. UVIMCO was established in July 2023, and oversees the investment pools of both the UVM endowment and the UVM Foundation endowment. 

Because the endowment is only discussed during executive session, which is never subject to public record, UVM is not legally required to share those records, according to a Nov. 29, 2023 email from Maureen Jennings, records custodian and compliance coordinator.

As a student-run newspaper committed to accurate and factual reporting, recent and reliable attributions are tantamount to our mission.

Because of UVM’s egregious lack of transparency, however, much of the available information on the recent history of UVM’s endowment is based on hearsay.

We are committed to investigating UVM’s endowment fund and investment portfolio. As journalists, it is our responsibility to work to uncover the nature of UVM’s investments and share our findings with the wider UVM community.

We call upon the University to do better and provide resources regarding the money that is spent in our name in an accessible and easily understandable way. 

The Editorial Board of the Cynic reflects the demands made in UVMUS’s letter and calls upon the University to work toward greater transparency of financial information—not only on behalf of the student body, but also the wider UVM community, including alumni, graduate students, faculty members and staff, as well as donors to the University. 

The Editorial Board calls for:

  • Commitment to accountability, transparency and accessibility: continuous complete reports of all of UVM’s investment holdings, including investment managers, corporations and amount invested publicly available online, as well as ongoing updates to relevant UVM websites and a more open process to access public records. 
  • Increased communication and interaction between the administration and student body in regards to the University’s endowment fund and investment portfolio.
  • Increased student body representation in relevant UVM Foundation, UVIMCO, Board of Trustees and any other relevant meetings, as well as extending the time allotted for public comment. 
  • Increased student body representation in the Socially Responsible Investment Council, as well as quarterly town-hall style meetings open to the public. 
  • The incorporation of a more democratic process in appointing Board of Trustees members to ensure that the Board is representative of the UVM community that they serve.

Disclaimer: the Vermont Cynic signed the Union of Students’ letter alongside other student organizations that we also cover in our reporting. 

The opinions and views expressed in this Staff Editorial reflect only those held by the Editorial Board.

The Editorial Board is composed of:

Sophia Balunek, Editor-in-Chief. 

Maxine Thornton, Managing Editor. 

Ayelet Kaminski, Opinion Editor. 

The Vermont Cynic accepts letters in response to published material as well as any issues of interest in the community. Please limit letters to 350 words. The Vermont Cynic reserves the right to edit letters for length and grammar. Please send letters to [email protected].

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