Endowment gets a failing grade

GW lags far behind other universities in social responsibility and measures of sustainability, according to a report released last week.

The Sustainable Endowment Institute gave GW a D+ letter grade, down from last year’s C-, in its second-annual College Sustainability Report Card. More than two-thirds of the 200 universities surveyed by the research group improved their scores from last year and only eight schools, including GW, saw their scores decline.

“We are not content with the University’s performance to date in the area of sustainability, and we are committed to doing better,” University President Steven Knapp said in a statement.

The report gives universities a letter grade in eight categories. Five are focused on campus environmental initiatives, and three on school endowment policies.

Among local schools, American also received a D+, while Georgetown scored a B-. Other market basket schools like New York University and Boston University received a C+ and C, respectively.

The University president pointed to the school’s newly formed sustainability task force, announced earlier this month, as well as the 20-year campus plan’s commitment to green building standards.

“As we continue to work together, I am confident that the grade on our sustainability report card will improve,” he said.

A major contributor to GW’s poor score was failing grades in two of the University’s endowment categories.

According to Don Lindsey, chief investment officer of GW’s $1.1 billion endowment, the University ranked poorly because University policy forbids disclosing GW’s holdings. He said disclosing endowment strategies could jeopardize the University’s ability to make effective investments.

“The only disadvantage I can see is potentially revealing some of your strategies that others might want to pursue as well,” Lindsey said.

GW was one of several universities that scored poorly in the report card’s endowment categories. More than half of the universities surveyed by the Sustainable Endowment Institute received an ‘F’ in the endowment categories.

Socially responsible investing is a good idea, Lindsey said, but it would not be easy to divest from companies because of the difficulty in tracking companies’ investments.

“It’s becoming more and more difficult to follow the divestment practice because companies are now so global,” he said.

Senior Matt Brokman, chair of the Student Association’s Socially Responsible Initiatives Commission, said that with such a large endowment, the University should try to use its financial leverage.

“We should be making an effort to use that money responsibly,” he said.

The University also received two C’s and two D’s for it’s environmental efforts. The report, based on information gathered over the summer, did not note the University’s new green building commitment. Under that program, all construction will be required to a score at least 16 points on the LEED scale, the industry’s green-building standard.

Maggie Desmond, director of Green Initiatives for the SA and president of Green GW, said the grade the University received for its environmental efforts was unfair and did not represent the commitments the school has made.

“I don’t think a drop in our score is justifiable,” she said. “If anything, we’ve really made improvements over the past year.”

Desmond said she expected next year’s score to be much better.

Mark Olowski, executive director of the Sustainable Endowment Institute, said the University does seem to be making some strides, but noted that the score is still quite low.

“It doesn’t really put GW at the top of the scale, some schools have much more aggressive policies,” Olowski said.

He added, “There’s certainly room for improvement. The University just hasn’t really seized the leadership initiative yet.”

Olowski said he is pleased to hear that the University was implementing green building standards and praised the recent formation of a Sustainability Task Force, calling it a “step in the right direction.”

GW’s sustainability task force will release its report in June of 2008, outlining opportunities for improvement.

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