UC Board of Regents discusses sustainable investments, basic needs

Regents Meeting
Sunny Shen/File
The UC Board of Regents meets in January. At its virtual meeting Tuesday, the Investments Committee discussed being flexible in the allocation of their investment money so UC investors can move assets to get more returns when opportunities show themselves.

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To kick off this week’s virtual meetings, the UC Board of Regents approved a pension asset allocation proposal and discussed how to support basic needs on campuses and create sustainable and diverse investment partnerships Tuesday.

During the public comment period in the Investments Committee meeting, many people challenged the university’s financial support of the 30-meter telescope project on Maunakea and H.I.G. Capital, a private equity company that allegedly partners with companies profiting from incarceration and immigration detention.

“We want to help campuses partially address budget constraints they are experiencing, thereby lessening the impacts on students, faculty and staff,” said UC President Michael Drake during the meeting.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the committee members discussed being flexible in the allocation of their investment money so UC investors can move assets to get more returns when opportunities show themselves.

According to UC Office of the President, or UCOP, Chief Operating Officer Arthur Guimaraes, another large part of increasing returns is having a diverse staff and investment partners.

“We want to make sure we keep the performance of the portfolio at the heart of what we do,” said UCOP Chief Investment Officer Jagdeep Singh Bachher at the meeting. “Having said that, the data demonstrates that diversity enhances performance.”

The university has also committed to becoming fossil-free, which impacts its investments, according to Guimaraes. He added that this commitment has resulted in a 45% reduction in the university’s carbon footprint from last year.

According to Guimaraes, an external auditor confirmed that the $75 billion under the UC system’s direct influence is fossil fuel-free. While some of the additional $10 billion in portfolios shared with other accounts are invested in fossil fuel industries, Guimaraes said the UC investors are starting to create a separate account that will be fossil fuel-free.

“These discussions have been going on for decades, and they’re nice things to talk about,” Drake said at the meeting. “But what really matters in a lot of board rooms that we aren’t present in is that the results look good as well.”

In response to a question about how the UC system’s investments impact students, Bachher said part of the payouts from the $20 and $30 million investments support student programs and other resources.

Aside from investments, other UC funds that support students’ basic needs include money acquired from the state and ongoing fundraising efforts.

In pursuit of improving basic needs support, the regents established a committee in November 2018 to review and make recommendations regarding student insecurities. The drafted report was presented to the Board of Regents on Tuesday for its input during the Special Committee on Basic Needs meeting.

One of the goals outlined in the report was to expand the state’s definition of basic needs beyond food and housing to include hygiene, transportation, health care and financial stability, in accordance with the UC system’s new definition. Student Regent-designate Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza suggested that technology, revealed as a basic need by the current pandemic, also be incorporated.

Another of the report’s recommendations was to increase the number of students enrolled in CalFresh, a long-term food assistance program, by 50% come fiscal year 2022. In past years, counties required proof of student eligibility beyond work-study, an issue for which UC Student Financial Support Director Shawn Brick provided an alternative.

“We worked earlier this year to come up with a form letter that could be auto-generated so anybody who’s approved for work-study would get a letter,” Brick said at the meeting. “Our understanding with (California Department of Social Services) is that that letter, in and of itself, would satisfy that the student had met the criteria and that there would be no further questions asked.”

Zaragoza also highlighted the importance of the report’s advocacy for eliminating the current age and GPA barriers to Cal Grant, a state financial aid program.

The GPA requirement of 2.0 may contribute to a cycle in which impoverished students experience food and housing insecurity, their academic performance drops and, as a result, they no longer qualify for financial aid, Zaragoza said at the meeting.

“The report is not the end of something, it’s really the beginning,” said Regent Lark Park at the meeting. “Now comes the hard part of actually executing on all of this.”

Contact Maria Young and Veronica Roseborough at [email protected].