Opinions, Editorials

Boston College Has a Responsibility To Make Its Investment Portfolio More Transparent

Boston College’s profile of its $3.7 billion endowment is short, vague, and far from informative. The University has a moral responsibility to change this.

BC must make its investment strategies, ethics, and categorization more transparent.

BC Director of Investments David J. Martens said the “University’s approach to investment transparency is consistent with most peer institutions” in an email to The Heights. This is, at best, an exaggeration. 

The University’s endowment webpage—BC’s most easily accessible public source of endowment information—overviews the fund’s growth each decade, the focus of its financial managers, and the broad categories of assets the fund covers: illiquid strategies, domestic equities, hedged strategies, fixed income, and foreign equities.

But, it provides no explicit information about the specific types of assets the University actually invests in. And unlike the endowment sites of some peer institutions, BC’s website makes no mention of socially conscious investment strategies. 

BC should return to its roots by releasing more endowment data. In the ’70s, the University made its investments in South Africa transparent, and in the ’80s, it publicized some of its stock holdings. While BC can no longer release its exact endowment holdings to stay competitive with other universities, it can still publicize more precise investment categories to maintain an honest relationship with the student body, faculty, and alumni. 

Rather than elaborate on the investment strategies behind its endowment, BC’s website only states that financial managers have a “fiduciary responsibility for overall investment policy” and that the primary goal for BC’s endowment is to reliably increase in value every year. While Martens stated that BC also takes into account “alignment with institutional mission and priorities” when investing, he did not expand on what these priorities include. 

In comparison, Georgetown University’s Investment Office has its own website detailing the university’s Socially Responsible Investing Policy (SRI Policy). The policy description includes a detailed four-part strategy, which aims to promote social justice and the common good. 

Over the last decade, discussions in the United States about the ethics of college endowments have consistently tied back to fossil fuel divestment. Many notable higher education institutions—including Harvard, Rutgers, Dartmouth, Boston University, and Brown—divested from fossil fuels to show a commitment to environmental awareness. Often, these universities’ decisions followed student-driven protests, like the ones BC students have led for years

Many students have urged BC to divest from fossil fuels since at least 2013. In 2020, a former Heights editorial board called on the University to divest from fossil fuels and noted that the University “maintained that its investments are not designed to promote social or political change.” 

Only a few months later, Pope Francis called on Catholic institutions to publicly divest from companies that contribute heavily to climate change. Even so, the University later reiterated its stance that the endowment is not a vehicle for social change.

If BC continues to reject calls for divestment, the University should at least provide a detailed investment policy that extensively explains its motives for doing so. 

BC is a world-renowned university, and it has a self-anointed mission is to “be the national leader in the liberal arts” and “fulfill its Jesuit, Catholic mission of faith and service.” With these two goals in mind—fulfilling both its social and religious responsibilities—BC should catch up to its peers through greater investment transparency. 

Chief Investment Officer John J. Zona and Senior Investment Officer Eric Sears did not respond to emails requesting comment. 

January 30, 2023