Another Senate House discussion, on the future of the Investment Office, will take place on TuesdayLouis Ashworth

In December, a fifth of the University’s executive decision-making body, University Council, made a landmark dissent from an annual report – the first time in at least ten years.

The dissenters wrote that they “cannot properly discharge our duty as trustees of the University if we are arbitrarily and persistently denied the access to such documents, in particular, to those of the Investment Board.”

On Tuesday, during a discussion in Senate House of the annual report, speakers sharply criticised a perceived lack of transparency of Cambridge’s Investment Office.

Speaking to those gathered in Senate House, Reverend Jeremy Caddick, the Dean and Chaplain of Emmanuel College, speculated: “The University administration is terrified of the people who have been running the Investment Office and have done little to challenge them or to hold them to account.”

Two of the dissenters, Professor Ross Anderson and Professor Nick Gay, spoke.

Re-cap: What’s the annual report, and why did a fifth of Council dissent?

The annual report details the Council’s conduct, reports from committees, and actions from decisions made during Council meetings.

The note, signed by five members of University Council at the time – Professor Ross Anderson, Professor Nick Gay, student representative Marcel Llavero Pasquina, Graduate Union president Sofia Ropek-Hewson, and CUSU President Evie Aspinall — criticised the lack of transparency of the University’s investment office.

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Professor Anderson commented on the denial of access to the Investment Office’s papers for all Council members: “We seem somehow to have traded the rule of law for rule by lawyers,” in reference to the University’s constitution, called its Statutes and Ordinances, which include in Council’s standing orders that a motion for members to have access to relevant papers can be proposed during a meeting and approved by two-third of the members present.

He argued: “At any time in the past fourteen months, the Vice-Chancellor could have dealt with the matter.

“He did not do so, despite having a good working majority on Council. I find this contempt for our rules deeply unsettling.”

Cambridge’s Investment Office oversees Cambridge’s main endowment fund, which holds assets worth £3.19bn – over the past year, it has faced considerable scrutiny by academics and campaigners for a perceived lack of transparency in its operations. Its investment policy, overseen by the University Council and advised by the Investment Board, follows the main objective of “maximis[ing] the total return from the University’s investments within an acceptable risk exposure”, working mainly through external third-party fund managers.

In September, nearly half of Cambridge’s Investment Office resigned. The Financial Times reported two people familiar with chief investment officer Nick Cavalla’s resignation said he believed the debate around divestment has left staff unable to get on with their “jobs of trying to maximise the value of their endowment”.

Another discussion is set to take place in Senate House on Tuesday on the future of the Investment Office.

Reverend Jeremy Caddick has vocally advocated for full divestmentDaniel Gayne

Reverend Caddick also commented on the fact that five out of 25 members of Council dissented on the report: “The question here, members of the Council, is what the rest of you have been doing. Can you seriously say, hand on heart, that you have been discharging your responsibilities when you have no idea what is going on?”

He said in the discussion: “Can the Council now reassure the Regent House that in repopulating the Investment Office they will find the moral courage to stand up to the money people and put in place mechanisms for greater openness and accountability?”

Cambridge’s divestment working group, set up in May 2017 to consider the pros and cons of divestment, recommended greater transparency of the Investment Office. In response, the University said that the Investment Office would be asked to report to the Council annually, and that Council members could request to be invited annually to a seminar on the work of the Investment Office.

They also said that they had instructed the Investment Office “to enhance significantly its public reporting, including on the University’s website, so as to make information much more readily accessible.”

Explained The 2018 divestment working group report

The contents of the divestment working group report divided members of the University Council in May, in its recommendations that:

1. The University adopt a commitment to “considered divestment”

2. The University should commit to being carbon neutral by 2040

3. 100% of the University’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2030

4. The University should not invest in thermal coal or tar sands directly or indirectly

5. “10% of indirect investment should be placed with funds that embrace Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) funds that are “consistent with a carbon neutral future”

6. The University should commit to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment

7. The Investment Office should become increasingly transparent about its investment processes through an annual report, with “information on environmental and social funds”, as well as an “informative website”

8. The University should join the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), “or an alternative equivalent”, “to ensure it lends its voice and authority in engagement with industry”

9. A centre for a carbon-neutral future should be established to combine research on energy production and use, climate, sustainability, and policy

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Reverend Caddick, who has been an outspoken supporter of Cambridge’s divestment movement, criticised Council’s action on divestment.

In June, Council decided that Cambridge would not be divesting fully from fossil fuels, in what was seen as a landmark rejection of full divestment after three years of campaigning from pro-divestment supporters.

Recap: What was Council’s decision on divestment in June?

University Council’s landmark decision on divestment, passed in an extraordinary meeting of Council, decided against any commitment to full (or partial) divestment, and rejected recommendations from its divestment working group that it eliminate all remaining indirect investments from tar sands and thermal coal, the most pollutive industries in the sector.

It also decided against adopting the recommendation by its divestment working group that it allocate 10% of its endowment specifically into Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) Funds, opting instead to hire an ‘ESG officer’ to be employed in the Investment Office.

The two student representatives on the Council, then-CUSU President Daisy Eyre and then-GU President Darshana Joshi, submitted notes of dissent to the decision at the time. A separate note of dissent was submitted by Council members Professor Nick Gay and Dr Alice Hutchings.

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The decision was largely based on the recommendations of the divestment working group. The group released its highly-anticipated final report in May last year, recommending a position they called ‘considered divestment’.


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Mountain View

Analysis: Under heightened scrutiny, can University Council evolve?

During the Senate House discussion, Reverend Caddick urged Council to publicly retract the term ‘considered divestment’, and said: “you are fooling no-one with this term ‘considered divestment’ … Such disingenuous green-washing, members of the Council, only serves to harm the moral authority of our University, and to harm your standing within it.”

He said the term ‘considered divestment’ “is a monstrosity of duplicity and bad faith,” and explained: “‘considered divestment’ is neither considered nor divestment.

“It is not ‘considered’ [because] the Council are not able to consider the working of the Investment Office even if they should show an inclination to … Neither is it ‘divestment’ because nothing has changed.”

  • Updated, 4th February: This article was edited to clarify that Cambridge’s main endowment fund holds assets worth £3.19bn

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