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June 05, 2002
Calls for Shareowner Action Continue to Rise on U.S. Campuses
    by William Baue

Swarthmore this year became the first college to singly file a shareowner resolution since the end of the anti-apartheid movement, and campuses across the U.S. are calling for divestment from Israel.


U.S. colleges and universities contributed to the collapse of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s by filing shareowner resolutions with and divesting from companies doing business with South Africa. After apartheid's end, many institutions of higher learning backed off from the role as active shareowner. Over the last few years, however, there has been a resurgence of action on college and university campuses calling for divestment or shareowner resolutions to advance social progress.

This year, Swarthmore College in Philadelphia became the first U.S. educational institution since the end of the anti-apartheid movement to file a solo shareowner resolution, according to Carolyn Mathiasen of the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC). The University of Washington in Seattle has been filing resolutions on Burma for the past several years, but it has done so as a cofiler, not as a solo effort.

Swarthmore's resolution, which called for Lockheed Martin (ticker: LMT) to explicitly bar sexual orientation discrimination in its employment policies, received support from five percent of voting shareowners.

"Supporting this proposal is both socially and economically sound," said Morgan Simon, an Honors economics major and a member of the college's Committee for Socially Responsible Investing, which initiated the resolution. "It's surprising that more colleges don't use their positions as stockholders in this way."

Lockheed Martin is behind its competitors on this issue. According to Diane Bratcher, president of the Equality Project, Boeing (BA), Honeywell International (HON), and Raytheon (RTN) all have a nondiscrimination clause regarding sexual orientation in their employment policies. Nevertheless, the Lockheed Martin board voted unanimously to oppose the resolution. However, at the company's April 25 annual meeting, Lockheed Martin President and CEO Vance Coffman agreed to a future meeting between college and company representatives to discuss a mutually acceptable solution.

Swarthmore divested from companies operating in the South African apartheid regime in March 1986, following in the footsteps of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Hampshire was the first college to use its influence as an institutional investor to oppose apartheid. Many other U.S. educational institutions similarly divested, and their collective action as investors helped topple the apartheid regime. Despite this success, colleges and universities since have been using this strategy sparingly, mostly against tobacco companies. But student and faculty pressure is again pushing educational institutions to support values, such as tolerance for diversity, which are taught in classrooms and often included in institutions' mission statements.

Yesterday, 126 faculty members from the University of California (UC) system joined members of the UC Berkeley-based Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to announce a petition of the UC regents to divest from Israel and U.S. companies that sell arms to Israel. Campaigns at 40 campuses across the country, including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Ohio State, and the University of Michigan, similarly support institutional divestment from Israel as a means of supporting Palestinians' basic human rights.

"The struggle against the [University of California's] complicity in Israel's present-day apartheid, its illegal occupation, and its ongoing violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people, is nothing without the faculty's support," said SJP organizer Hoang Gia Phan. "Such support demonstrates that people of conscience throughout the academic community, and throughout the U.S., are saying together: 'Not in my name!'"

The 1980s divestment movement gained widespread support because of the unquestionable immorality of the South African apartheid regime. The current divestment movement, however, faces the challenge of establishing that Israel's actions qualify as unquestionably immoral.

 

 
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