Fund to Provide Capital for Student Groups

Robin Wasserman, News Editor

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a plan last Friday, Dec. 7, to open an account with the Ohio Educational Credit Union to invest locally and give student organizations access to greater funds for large capital purchases that do not fit into their normal operating budgets.

A portion, most likely three percent, of the Student Activity Fund will go into the account. This will provide several hundred thousand dollars, said Vice President for Finance Ron Watts in a press release.

The Student Finance Committee and the Responsible Investing Organization, a student organization formed this year that “advocates for Oberlin College to bank and invest more responsibly,” have been working to open such an account since the beginning of the year. According to College senior James Foust, a student treasurer who has worked closely with RIO, the idea began last year when several student organizations requested money for large capital expenses, such as new computers for student publications and a new antenna for WOBC.

“As it stands right now, the SFC does a pretty good job in allocating [student] groups’ operating budgets, but struggles a little bit with one-off, large capital purchases,” said Foust. “The system is designed to do operational budgets, where it’s a pretty similar allocation year to year. With capital purchases, you have these one-off things where every seven years … [student groups] need $5,000 more.”

At the same time that SFC was looking to create this new fund, RIO was working to invest more of the College’s money in credit unions.

“Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that operate like banks, but their goals are to provide a good service to their members rather than to maximize profit,” said College senior David Tisel, a member of RIO. “They provide loans at good rates. They’re more involved in community development work, and they are more enmeshed in the community than, for instance, big banks like Chase or … Bank of America, who are really trying to make profits for their shareholders.”

According to College first-year Arthur Davis, a founding member of RIO, the administration said that “if they were going to be making an effort to put College money in local institutions, they would like to see that on the student side as well.”

This meant that the new fund SFC was considering creating was also an opportunity for the two groups to work together.

“It was a really beautiful collaboration,” said College senior and founding member of RIO David Roswell.

Beyond simply opening a new account with OHECU, RIO and SFC are working to create Winter Term opportunities working at the credit union and developing specific projects.

“They were really excited about working with us to do higher-risk loans and different types of energy efficiency loans,” Roswell said. “They basically said, ‘Come to us with proposals and, we’ll work something out.’”

This year, RIO has been working on a “Breakup with Your Bank” campaign to encourage students to switch from big national banks to local banks and credit unions. According to Roswell, OHECU has said that around 10 students had cited RIO’s work as a reason for meeting with them.

“One of our principle efforts is to cultivate an awareness of the social implications of our banking decisions,” Roswell said. “We hope that building student support will help us further our administrative goals.”

Foust emphasized that he does not believe the way the College uses its money is necessarily immoral.

“It is just the way that we invest money and the way that pretty much everybody invests money is just looking at what sort of financial services you’re being provided,” Foust said. “There are a lot of implications of where you invest your money outside of that that generally don’t come into the thought process — where it’s going and what sort of social impacts it’s having through your investment.”

College senior and founding member of RIO Danny Rosenberg Daneri said, “The idea is we’re indirectly supporting the very institutions that Oberlin students as socially conscious, active citizens fight every day. It’s a contradiction.”

RIO hopes to continue to work with the administration to invest more money in ways that take social and moral implications into consideration.

“The campaign coming into this semester was to move the entire student account to one of our local credit unions,” said Roswell. “While this is really exciting and a really important first step, that’s what this is — it’s a first step, and it’s not everything.”

Many RIO members seemed pleasantly surprised at the level of support the administration provided.

“I think we all feel really positive right now, ending the semester with a concrete thing that we can say that we have done,” Davis said, “and also ending the semester having real positive conversations in the last few weeks with both the investment office and Ron Watts.”

SFC sent a survey to students in the fall that included questions about the creation of a capital investment fund for students and the “transfer of student-controlled funds to local credit unions.” Students showed strong support for both measures. Approximately 94.5 percent of respondents said that they were in favor of a capital investment fund, while around 68.1 percent said they were in support of transferring funds to local credit unions.

Foust said that he expects the new account to be created by next year at the latest. SFC must still amend the Student Financial Charter in order to create the fund.

“My hope is that they will do it this year and that they will ultimately put some of the money in the ad hoc fund as if this had been institutionalized already,” said Foust.