TrinDivests Circulates Petition for Transparency on Endowment Investments

4 min read

Faith Monahan ’24

News Editor

Last week, the student organization TrinDivests initiated an online petition urging Trinity College to divest its endowment funds from specific industries, including oil, military, weapons and prisons. The College’s endowment stands at $780 million as of 2022, which is on the smaller end compared to its peer NESCAC institutions.

The College’s endowment also includes $105.5 million invested in hedge funds, as indicated in the College’s publicly available 2021 tax exemption filing with the IRS. Trinity›s financial documents claim a partnership with Acadian International Exchange Plus Equity Fund, a hedge fund located in Boston, MA, which held $12.2 million of Trinity’s year-end assets for 2021. According to the 2022 audit filing with the IRS, Trinity College has invested $282.7 million in private equity, and these figures are publicly available through 990 forms and audits, which nonprofits are required to provide for tax-exemption status. The Trinity College Student Investment fund, a student organization which directly handles around $700,000 of the endowment, holds equity with Exxon Mobil according to the organization’s website.

The TrinDivests petition outlines four key demands, including the transparency of financial records regarding endowment investments, a freeze on investments in designated industries, complete divestment from these industries by 2025 and the establishment of written guidelines in accordance with these demands. The petition draws attention to other colleges that have already announced their divestment strategies, including fellow NESCAC institutions like Amherst College, Middlebury College and Williams College

Middlebury has clarified its endowment funding plans following demands for divestment from students. In 2019, the Middlebury Board of Trustees voted to divest from fossil fuels in response to student demands that originated in 2011. The college announced that since then, its investment partner Investure LLC had not allocated new funds on behalf of Middlebury to fossil fuels. Middlebury plans to achieve a 100% disinvestment from fossil fuel industries by 2034.

The Acadian International Equity Fund is managed by Acadian Asset Management LLC, a company acquired by the holding firm BrightSphere Investment Group in 2000. Acadian oversees various funds for its investors, and the fund listed in Trinity’s tax filings primarily focuses on international markets. Acadian’s investment strategy aims to capitalize on market inefficiencies resulting from behavioral mispricing to generate returns for clients. This includes assessing behavioral decisions made in the stock market influenced by the fear of losses or the allure of gains.

Acadian has gained recognition for its innovative AI-based tool designed to identify companies engaging in “greenwashing” to attract investments without genuinely committing to sustainability. The tool was shortlisted for an award by Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) which is a UN supported organization. Acadian’s sustainability strategies include engaging with companies that may become pulled into controversies related to environmental, social or corporate governance (ESG) and providing recommendations on how to improve their practices.

The financing of Acadian Asset Management into various industries may arise from separate funds managed by the company apart from the international fund Trinity is invested in. Acadian’s overall assets include investments in technology companies like Apple and Microsoft, as well as some Fortune 500 companies. According to Fintel, a financial data provider that tracks 13F-HR forms, the fifth-largest asset in Acadian’s portfolio is its holdings in BP PLC, a British oil and gas company. Acadian has also increased its ownership of stocks in Rio Tinto PLC by nine percent between May and September of this year. Rio Tinto, a Spanish-based mining company, has faced criticism for its practices, including the destruction of a cave in Western Australia to build its Brockman 4 mine in 2020, which had contained evidence of human habitation by aboriginal groups in Australia. In 2021, mass protests erupted in Western Serbia in response to Rio Tinto’s construction of a lithium mine. The Tripod has not found direct evidence that Trinity’s endowment assets in the Acadian International Equity Fund are being used to finance these specific companies.

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    Live Updates: Trinity Students Begin Encampment, Demand Divestment on Main Quad – Trinity Tripod

    […] The encampment has continued to hold strong with no opposition from campus safety or the administration. On Thursday, the students in the encampment announced that they will be holding events to educate the community about their mission. At 2 p.m., a teach-in was held in conjunction with Trinity Divests, an informal student group that was founded last semester. […]

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