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The University of Maryland improved its grade in yet another rating of sustainability among US colleges, though it fell short of true-green academic stardom because of the way in which it handles its endowment. 

The flagship of the state's university system scored a 'B' on this year's College Sustainability Report Card, the fourth annual evaluation not only of the green policies and practices on college campuses across America but also of how the schools handles their endowments.  The rating is prepared by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to socially responsible investing of donors' gifts.

College Park moved up from a B-minus last year and landed on the rating's list of "campus sustainability leaders."  Indeed, UM matched or nudged out almost every other peer institution in Maryland and in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  In-state, only private Johns Hopkins did better.  And in the ACC, UM was bested only by Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  But on this score, UM President Dan Mote can brag about outgreening the University of Virginia (full disclosure, I'm a Wahoo alum, and parent of a Wahoo and a Terp).

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UM garnered As on five of six categories rating the green-ness of college campus operations, including food and recycling, building and transportation.  It also got an apple for student involvement, in part because undergrads gave administrators a hard time last spring over plans to chop down an ecologically important eight-acre grove of trees.   The report card didn't otherwise factor the woodland destruction issue into its grading of the university's overall sustainability efforts.

The school flunked, though, on endowment transparency and "shareholder engagement."  The University of Maryland Foundation provides only limited information to the public on how it invests donors' gifts, according to the report card. Nor does the foundation seem to embrace social responsbility in investments or open up to shareholder proxy voting on such questions, the report card contends.

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The institute that does the ratings believes universities should actively consider climate change and other sustainability issues in deciding how to invest their endowments, and should weigh the views of students, faculty and alumni.  To be fair, relatively few universities measured up in this category - the average grade was a D.  There's a longstanding tension in the endowment/trust fund world between those who think money should be invested solely to get maximum returns, and those who believe investments ought to directed to good corporate citizens and away from businesses that pollute or oppose any government action to mitigate climate change.

Of 332 colleges and universities rated nationwide, more than half earned B-minus or better on sustainable campus practices.  Only 12 schools, however, picked up top grades for open and socially conscious handling of their endowments - and just 26 campuses scored as overall sustainability leaders.

For details on UM's grade, and how it stacks up against other schools, go here.

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