“We review our portfolio regularly to ensure that our managers are complying with all applicable laws and regulations and adhering to their stated investment strategy. Occasionally, we replace managers based on performance or for other reasons,” he said.
One of Deerfield’s investments is in Tiger Global Management. Chase Coleman III ‘93, one non-trustee on the Investment Committee, founded the hedge fund. Mr. Coleman has made significant contributions to the endowment and was a key donor in the fundraising campaign for the new Athletic Center’s construction.
In 2017, Tiger Global emerged as one of the earliest investors in Juul Labs, an e-cigarette company that has found a large teenage consumer base. In July 2018, the fund invested $600 million in Juul. The Wall Street Journal reported in December that 14% of Tiger Global’s returns came from Juul stock in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
Mr. Finan confirmed that Deerfield “has investments in Tiger Global” and may have indirectly invested in Juul Labs, although he noted that there was no “direct” investment in Juul.
Regarding potential divestment from Juul, Mr. Finan said, “I’m not sure what the decision would be [on divesting from Juul, if Deerfield is invested], but I’m sure the Committee would entertain the discussion.”
Mr. Simmons, however, denied the plausibility of divestment from any industry. “Given our approach to investing through independent managers, it would be impossible to disinvest from any specific company or industry,” he commented.
Dr. Austin denied having any knowledge of such investments but acknowledged Deerfield’s obligation to protect its students from the harms of vaping.
“As a school, we have a deep commitment to encourage and help students learn to live well and healthily,” he said, “but it would be a very steep climb for me to understand the nuance and complexity of our investment strategies, and it might be challenging for anyone who doesn’t have particular expertise in those areas.”
Private universities across the country have faced mounting pressure from students and faculty alike to practice socially responsible investing and divest from specific industries. Investments in fossil fuels, especially, have come under heavy fire, with activists alleging that schools directly contribute to climate change by funding the energy industry.
In November, The Harvard Crimson reported on an unprecedented divestment protest that disrupted the annual Harvard-Yale football game. Hundreds of Harvard and Yale students staged a sit-in on the field of the Harvard-Yale game during halftime, urging the colleges to divest from energy companies involved with fossil fuels. New Haven police ultimately arrested forty-two protesters, who now face misdemeanor charges.
“You, the students, should have the opportunity to express what you think about issues, across the board,” Mr. Finan said, at the prospect of pushback from students over Deerfield’s own investments. “Ultimately, however, the trustees have the legal responsibility to ensure the financial health of the institution. It is not the students’ right to say what we do. That sits with the trustees.”
Dr. Austin similarly stressed the importance of dialogue and understanding for students. He said, ““You don’t want to leap too quickly to protest; you want to do your best to understand why things are done the way they are.”