Op-ed: Student representation in the RIAG, a statement from Tufts Climate Action

Last week, an article published in the Daily, entitled “Tufts appoints members to investment review committee, considering fossil fuel divestment,” highlighted an injustice of which all student activists — especially those supporting divestment campaigns — should be aware. 

In the fall of 2019, the Board of Trustees created a process “by which the Tufts community may raise and study concerns surrounding potential social impact caused by investing activities and provide advisory recommendations on such issues to the Investment Subcommittee, a subcommittee of the Trustee Administration and Finance Committee.”

The document outlining this process states that the membership of each approved RIAG, or Responsible Investment Advisory Group, would be three trustees, two faculty members, two students and two administrators, specifically Tufts’ Chief Investment Officer and the Vice President Finance and Treasurer or their delegates.

This document, which was approved by the Board of Trustees, also specifically states:  

“The Provost will recommend two faculty members … and the two student members, with a view to including when possible a student associated with the sponsored proposal.”

This part of the document illustrates the university’s intention for a student activist associated with the original proposal to be given a seat at the table, which makes democratic sense to us. 

A few weeks ago, Tufts Climate Action (TCA) became aware that the Provost had selected the undergraduate student member of the RIAG without consulting TCA, and it was not a member of TCA. It was the student representative from TCU Senate who sits on the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee, Charming Dube. While TCA holds nothing against Dube personally, we disagreed with the principle that anyone in his Senate position would automatically have a seat at the table in place of a TCA member who wrote the proposal and has a deeper understanding of fossil fuel divestment. 

We feel strongly that there should be more students getting face time with decision-makers. TCU Trustee Representatives already have the opportunity to meet with administrators and board members on a regular basis. The rest of the Tufts student population gets absolutely zero face time with the Board of Trustees, and TCA believes that this strategic lack of transparency on behalf of the administration only perpetuates injustices by dismissing student concerns. Our university should behave like a democratic institution, not a corporation. 

Immediately following Dube’s imminent appointment to the RIAG, TCA pressured Vice President Mike Howard and Provost Nadine Aubry to rethink their decision. The administrators responded quickly and agreed to grant Temple Miller-Hodgkin, a dedicated TCA member who co-wrote the proposal, a seat on the RIAG. Dube kept his seat as well, and TCA was encouraged by the administration’s decision to increase student representation on the committee. Going forward, we thought, there would be three students in the decision-making room, two undergraduate students and one graduate student. 

However, the Daily article shows that the administration does not intend to adhere to this important precedent. In response to a conversation with University President Anthony Monaco and Provost Aubry, TCU Senate passed a bylaw requiring that “the student representative sitting on the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee should serve as the undergraduate student representative for the RIAG, should it convene at any point during the year.”

As discussed in the article, Howard explained that the current makeup of the RIAG is a “one-time exception.” This implies that future RIAGs will have just one undergraduate student member and, given the recently passed TCU bylaw, that student would automatically be the TCU Senate Trustee Representative to the Board of Trustees’ Administration and Finance Committee, rather than a student activist from the initial proposal. 

Not only does this challenge the initial RIAG proposal, but it is also a clear attempt to consolidate power among those who already have it and to limit the student voice in university decision-making. 

Although TCA member Miller-Hodgkin currently has a secure spot in the fossil fuel divestment RIAG, TCA wants to ensure that future RIAGs demonstrate fair student representation, as well. When another group of Tufts student activists seeks to end injustice through their own divestment campaign, we want to guarantee that they have a seat at the table, just as TCA does now. This continued representation is especially important for future RIAGs, such as those concerning prison divestment and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Student communities who are directly affected by Tufts’ investments deserve an active role in informing university investment policy.

We welcome support and advice from other student organizations in our effort to fight this injustice. As a first step, we plan to meet with Vice President Howard, Provost Aubry and TCU leaders to express our concerns over these undemocratic decisions and make our voices heard.


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