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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Student groups call for more transparency in endowment

By Maya Pisel

This fall, the new student organization Mac Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights or SUPER, began spearheading a discussion about whether it is socially responsible for Macalester to invest in companies that support Israeli military operations. The Israel divestment issue is part of a broader student movement calling for more transparency and responsibility in Macalester’s endowment investments.

Dean of Students Laurie Hamre said the students lobbying the Social Responsibility Committe SRC fall into three general categories: “[Some] have some specific interest in divestment from any companies that might support Israel military operations. Then there are some other students who I think are interested in the endowment supporting more sustainable initiatives. And then I think there’s a third group that just wants to have a sense that students can have more knowledge about what our investments are so that they can make sure that Macalester is being socially responsible,” Hamre said.

“Palestinians have put out an international call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions.” SUPER member Sarah Levy ’12 said. “This means that they think it is up to other countries to stop Israel’s military occupation of their land. This is because Israel is dependent on other countries-mainly the U.S.-to get the funds and military supplies it needs in order to continue its illegal occupation,” Levy said.

“As long as Macalester has money in corporations such as Caterpillar, ITT Corporation, Motorola, United Technologies, and General Electric.we are indirectly helping support the occupation and aiding a humanitarian catastrophe,” she said.

SUPER formally expressed these concerns Tuesday in a presentation before the SRC.

The recent discussions continue a history of looking at Macalester’s endowment from an ethical point of view. The SRC-a committee of students, staff, faculty and a board member, was founded in the 1980s to deal with divestment from apartheid South Africa.

Hamre said that after the issue with South Africa was resolved, the SRC was “dormant” until 2000, when student questions about sweatshops prompted the committee to begin meeting regularly again. Three years ago, in response to outcry over the genocide in Darfur, it recommended to the president that Macalester divest from companies with holdings in Sudan.

“Last year we spent a great deal of the year developing procedures which would make our holdings in our endowment more transparent,” Hamre said.

Hamre said the SRC decided to create a Web site that lists all the companies and indexes in which Macalester invests its endowment. “Then students could go and scroll through the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of companies and see if any of the places where we have some of our investments have [investments of concern],”

“Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” is not an exaggeration, said David Wheaton, the vice president of administration and finance.

“Either directly or indirectly, we own almost every big company in the country,” Wheaton said.

Macalester hires about 40 managers who each get a piece of the endowment to invest. “Each of those managers,” Wheaton said, “have different expertise and operate quite broadly.”

Macalester also buys index funds. When the endowment is invested in an index fund, such as Standard & Poor’s 500, it is invested a little bit in each of the 500 companies in the index.

Despite having holdings in a broad reach of corporations, “we don’t own any significant portion of any company.[and] we have almost no proxy voting rights,” Wheaton said.

This investment style makes it complicated to divest from a specific company or country, Wheaton said.

“In the investing style that we’ve chosen, we don’t get any say in what’s in and what’s not,” he said.

However, Wheaton emphasized that “it’s not impossible” to divest of a company or companies. Macalester could change the way the endowment is managed, investing with particular managers and staying away from index funds.

Beyond economic complications, Hamre said the social context of divestment is full of challenges.

“There’s probably a number of people on our campus who believe that Israel has all the rights in the world to have military operations in Palestine,” she said.

“With the Sudan, it was very hard to find anyone who might disagree. It’s not such a slam dunk between Palestine and Israel,” Hamre said. “That’s why the [SRC] has a procedure; you have to do a pro and con for your idea, you have to talk about what it means for the community,” she said.

While “those are the rich conversations,” she said, they are the most difficult for passionate, committed students. The challenging responsibility of the SRC, she said, is to navigate those conversations and make a decision that reflects the entire community.

Levy said that Mac SUPER understands that divestment from Israel could only happen with broad community support. However, she feels that a media bias in the United States has clouded many Macalester community members’ understanding.

“Most countries besides the U.S. have condemned what Israel is doing and have put forward efforts to stop it,” she said. “However, the U.S. continues to block these resolutions that would do anything to stop Israel because we have so much invested in it.”

“Mac SUPER is planning on getting as much of the community on board and in support of the effort. I think that through education, discussions and debate, most people would agree that this is the right thing to do,” she said.

As they work to win the support of the Macalester community, Levy said Mac SUPER plans to continue working with other organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul on citywide divestment from Israel.

Regardless of the SRC’s decision on Israel, Needham Hurst ’11 suggests a strategy that transcends one particular issue or situation.

“Divestment from one or two companies is not enough,” Hurst said. “We need to shift our strategy to being more holistically focused on sustainable and socially responsible investments,” he said.

“Rather than simply divest, let’s find financial tools that invest in sustainable, socially responsible industries and firms while getting solid financial return,” Hurst said. “There is an entire industry of socially responsible mutual funds that Macalester doesn’t seem to be invested in.

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  • W

    Wanda DuncanSep 11, 2019 at 1:11 am

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  • J

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