By Liz Shelbred and Sarah Sandlow
Craig Smith, the co-chief investment officer ad interim since March 2020, was named the chief investment officer of Tufts University, overseeing the university’s $2 billion endowment. The appointment became effective on April 16.
Smith said his responsibilities as CIO will be identical to those he held in his interim position. As CIO, he will lead Tufts’ investment office and collaborate with the investment sub-committee of the Board of Trustees as well as with senior leadership. He will be working to implement this investment strategy for the endowment.
“The time spent as interim Co-CIO was very valuable and afforded time to gain greater knowledge of the broader university’s financial position,” Smith wrote in an email to the Daily. “This serves as a base from which to set our long-term objectives which align with the university’s needs.”
Executive Vice President Mike Howard said that Smith was chosen from a pool of highly-qualified candidates following a national search to fill the position.
“[Smith] exhibited great leadership and expertise in leading the office as co-CIO ad interim,” Howard wrote in an email to the Daily. “His deep understanding of Tufts’ financial objectives and culture and the breadth of his prior investment experience uniquely position him to lead Tufts’ Investment Office forward as we continue to strengthen the university in a context of significant change across higher education.”
Smith explained that he has many long-term and short-term priorities in the investment office. Among these goals, he plans to continue to enhance the integration between the investment office and university constituents, expand the office’s capabilities to allow for growth of the endowment and increase Tufts’ presence in the investment world.
Student groups such as Tufts Climate Action and Tufts for a Racially Equitable Endowment are pushing the university to make changes to its endowment in various areas — in this case, climate change and private prisons, respectively — and will interact with Smith as a result.
Temple Miller-Hodgkin, a co-leader of TCA, said he had interacted with Smith during conversations surrounding the Tufts Responsible Investment Advisory Group (RIAG) in fall 2020. The RIAG, formed in November 2019, is a group of students, faculty, administrative staff and trustees that performs case-by-case reviews of the university’s investment activities with “negative social impact” at the request of members of the Tufts community. The RIAG met last year to recommend a policy on divestment from fossil fuels, which is one of TCA’s main goals. The group recommended divestment from the university’s direct holdings in 120 coal and tar sands companies with the largest reserves.
“We believe that the recommendations by the RIAG didn’t go far enough in asking more from those third-party managers,” Miller-Hodgkin, a rising senior, said.
Miller-Hodgkin expressed TCA’s dissatisfaction with the RIAG’s resolution, but he thinks it is beneficial that TCA has already interacted with Smith and formed connections through RIAG discussion.
“We obviously come at [issues] from very different angles. I do not expect him to necessarily have the same viewpoint as activists within TCA,” Miller-Hodgkin said. “But I think he did have a genuine interest in wanting people to have a clear understanding of how the endowment works, what it’s there for. And he was pretty amenable to whatever recommendations he ended up getting from the administration on how to enact the fossil fuel divestment.”
Smith noted that the former CIO played a significant role in developing the RIAG in order to establish a process to consider proposals that suggested different ways endowment assets could be invested. He also acknowledged the dissatisfaction that some Tufts community members expressed with the RIAG’s recommendation, but remained optimistic about the role of the advisory group.
“While I acknowledge that not everyone was satisfied with the outcome, I do believe it was a highly effective process and led to concrete outcomes,” Smith said. “This RIAG structure will remain a central piece to how the university considers future proposals and determines what actions should be taken within the endowment.”
Molly Gould, a member of TREE, noted that although she has not gotten to work with Smith, she hopes that TREE can work with him to create transparency around the endowment.
“As we get to know Craig Smith, we can work with him to create … more communication between the students and the [members of the] administration that make these huge financial decisions that impact all of us, and we don’t even know their names or where they are most of the time,” Gould, a rising senior, said.
In addition to transparency, Gould elaborated on the short-term and long-term goals that TREE aims to bring to the administration in the future.
“The more short-term [goal] is getting a commitment to not acquire any investments in the future in prisons and the prison industrial complex, and then also withdrawing the investments that we already have,” Gould said. “Long term, we want to … establish a process for ethical investment, which I can see is something down the line that we would want to work with Craig Smith on.”
Gould suggested setting up a social repair fund at Tufts, which would implement ethical standards for investments and put money into businesses owned by people of color.
“I think [a social repair fund] could show a more active role in social justice causes, if we were to not just divest from things that are actively causing harm but invest in positive, socially transformative things,” Gould said.
Smith emphasized the importance of the endowment and how its assets are essential to the university’s financial health and its long-term plans. He referenced the RIAG report from earlier this year in explaining the endowment’s purpose.
“The endowment is a force for good, made possible by the generosity of many thousands of alumni, faculty, staff, students, parents, and friends, and by the appreciation of investments over time,” Smith said, citing the RIAG report. “One hundred percent of funds from the endowment work to support the university’s good works and its mission of being a student-centered research university dedicated to the creation and application of knowledge.”
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