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Should Universities profit from murder and toxic pollutants?

Students at UFL are on hunger strike to push administrators to invest the University's Endowment, $1.2 billion, in Socially Responsible Investments. SRIs screen companies for bad behavior, such as union-busting, polluting, and making weapons.

765 Universities in the U.S. hold collective endowments topping $340 billion. Florida's endowment is the first domino in this chain.  These students have enormous potential to curb corporate bad behavior, but it hasn't reached critical mass yet.  A victory in Florida will likely launch a chain reaction at other Universities.  Eleven members of the Students for a Democratic society are on hunger strike until that reaction ignites

Harvard's endowment alone topped $30 billion this year.  A billion here and $30 billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Kossacks have the critical mass to ignite this reaction.  I know this is a little off topic for Kos, but it's the best thing you'll do all month.  Please pitch in and put the blogosfire to good use!  Call Bernie today.

To get a sense of the lunacy, consider the example of the Pew Charitable Trusts Paradox from The Nation

Mark Dowie, author of American Foundations: An Investigative History, said the Pew Charitable Trusts, "the largest environmental grant maker of all the foundations, was earning more money in dividends from the nation's largest polluters than they were giving to the environmental movement."

Our nation's Universities, through their endowments, have considerable influence over the market.  This is a smart, sensible strategy.  And students are not asking the administration to invest in feel good junk either.  They have requested the University adopt a transparent investment policy so students, faculty and alumni can educate themselves.

The administration has stonewalled them for a year.  I blogged about this yesterday, if you want more info, read this.  Or just make the call.

SDS students want us to call the University President, Bernie Machen.  Ask him if he thinks it's okay for universities to profit from war, environmental destruction, and human rights abuses:

Phone: (352) 392-1311
Fax: (352) 392-9506
Office of the President, 226 Tigert Hall, PO Box 113150,
Gainesville, FL 32611

Other administrators you can talk to:

Student Body President:

Office of Sustainability Director Dedee DeLongpre:, (352) 392-1336

Ask them to publicly declare their support for the hunger strikers and their SRI proposal.

Sign the SDS petition

Originally posted to American Blues on Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 04:25 AM PDT.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Please rec to maximize Kos Activism

  •  If this works (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    burrow owl

    and that socially responsible endowment investment generates sub-standard returns and the University then RAISES tuition..

    I hope those same students are willing to go hungry again to save up enough money to keep attending classes safe in the knowledge that its worth paying extra knowing that the University's MILLIONS are invested in things they can be proud of.

    Thinking men can not be ruled. --Ayn Rand

    by Wisper on Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 05:35:11 AM PDT

    •  Thinking men rule themselves (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Your argument is morally bankrupt.  It's true that University endowments offset tuition.  It's also true that most SRIs perform at standard levels, so your argument is also moot.  Finally, if our taxes weren't paying for all of the externalized costs of corporate bad behavior, perhaps we could use some of that money to subsidize education.  By framing the argument as either/or, you oversimplify the debate.  It's a false dichotomy.

    •  That's an interesting point, although (0+ / 0-)

      it seems to rely on the unlikely event that this will have much effect.  Returns won't go down nearly enough to impact tuition, and the effect on the target stocks will be close to nil (think about it: markets create efficiency.  Schools making the non-economic choice to stay out of certain stocks is an inefficiency that the market will correct.  eg, someone else will swoop in to pick off a stock undervalued, and the "conscience premium," or whatever we call it, will dissipate)

      Better would be a strategy of shareholder acvitivism: schools vocally trying to influence the direction of the companies they own stock in.

      "[G]lobalization is...increasing the efficiency of resource allocation through stronger capital markets" - Barack Obama

      by burrow owl on Tue Apr 29, 2008 at 06:11:24 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Shareholder activism is (0+ / 0-)

    one route that investors are exploring.  It's not without advantages, but lobbyists are quickly trying restrict the powers of proxy voting as this strategy becomes increasingly commonplace.

    I think you "misunderestimate" the power of capital.  First, it is limited.  That limit may be high, but it is limited.  The NYSE is worth about $30 trillion.  University endowments control slight more than one percent point of the market.  What about Foundations?  Pew alone controls $7.5 billion in assets.  How much are Foundations combined assets worth?  Or pension funds?

    Markets respond to fractions of a percentage shift in consumer demand.  Constricting access to capital, especially now that capital is more constrained, can have enormous impact.

    In addition, markets do not behave in a vacuum.  Universities, foundations and pension holders wield considerable political power.  If efficiencies do cause their stocks to perform lower, there will be a lot of pressure on lawmakers to tighten regulations.  

    Collective Action works.  This is pretty sophisticated collective action, granted, but it appeals to fundamental human desires.  Most people would be appalled by criteria corporations use to make decisions, but they are largely in the dark.  Universities especially are good places to bring that to light.  OK this another whole blog post already.

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