Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Investment Office’s response to divestment is misleading

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

To the Editor:

In their recent op-ed, Dowling, Dietze and Kennedy ’97 argue that it is infeasible for Brown to divest because of the complicated nature of managing the endowment. This claim is concerning, considering the fact that Brown University has claimed to divest from tobacco, genocide in Darfur, and HEI Hotels and Resorts. This is an especially striking claim coming from administrators, whose job is to execute the divestment resolutions of the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies and the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body. If the University has been unable to effectively divest, we must take a deeper look at our endowment management practices.

Brown claims to have an ethical endowment; the ACCRIP exists precisely for this purpose — it ensures that the University’s investments live up to its ethical values. It is the institution tasked with ensuring that our endowment is socially responsible and consistent with Brown’s goals and principles. The ACCRIP charter states the organization’s responsibility to “consider issues of moral responsibility in the investment policies of Brown University.” Moreover, the charter states that ACCRIP will “recommend divestiture … when divestiture will likely have a positive impact toward correcting the specified social harm, or when the company in question contributes to social harm so grave that it would be inconsistent with the goals and principles of the University to accept funds from that source.”

The ACCRIP recommends divestment to the Corporation, which votes on whether to adopt the measure. On three occasions, a divestment proposal by the ACCRIP has been accepted by the University. The first came in 2003, when the Corporation voted to “exclude from Brown’s direct investments, and require Brown’s separate account investment managers to exclude from their direct investments, those companies that manufacture tobacco products and that the Investment Office share with all investment managers the University’s desire to adhere to this investment philosophy.” Then, in 2006, the committee advised divestment from companies profiteering off of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Again, the Corporation voted to “exclude from Brown University’s direct investments, and require the University’s separate account investment managers to exclude from their direct investments” any company seen as complicit. Most recently, in response to the work of Brown’s Student Labor Alliance, the ACCRIP recommended divestment from HEI Hotels and Resorts.

Brown Divest’s demand to “divest all stocks, funds, endowment, and other monetary instruments from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine” is in line with previous acts of divestment by the ACCRIP and the Corporation. In fact, the ACCRIP’s stated policy on investments related to human rights violations is as follows: “Support resolutions seeking reports and codes of conduct on investment in countries where there are pervasive violations of human rights.” Thus, Dowling, Dietze and Kennedy do not provide a logically sound argument against divestment; in fact, their piece bolsters calls for increased financial transparency like the demand included in the Brown Divest referendum item. Brown Divest’s proposal to “establish a means of implementing financial and student oversight of the University’s investments” would ensure that gestures such as divestments are being carried out effectively.

With additional transparency and student oversight, hopefully we can be more confident that the University will actually divest when it says it will. ACCRIP claims that divestment is possible and has been implemented in the past. We must ensure that recommendations for divestment are being effectively carried out by administrators like Dowling, Dietze and Kennedy, who are responsible for following the guidelines set by the University (guidelines that are explicitly referenced in the verbiage of Brown Divest’s referendum item.)

Lastly, it is deeply irresponsible for the editorial board of The Brown Daily Herald to publish pieces like the op-ed by Dowling, Dietze, and Kennedy without acknowledging that divestment is part and parcel of Brown University’s institutional history, through the ACCRIP and the aforementioned divestment actions by the University. In submitting this piece, I demand that the editors of The Herald include an editorial comment in Dowling, Dietz, and Kennedy’s op-ed acknowledging that Brown University has, in fact, divested in the past, and that the ACCRIP’s charter explicitly references the University’s responsibility to divest when University values are at stake. I cannot say whether the editors will make the changes I have suggested.

If it is true, as Dowling, Dietze, and Kennedy suggest, that the Investment Office is not carrying out the University’s own approved divestment resolutions, this beckons a serious inquiry into the Office’s ability to carry out Brown’s goals and principles. This would make a great article for any self-respecting student publication.

Tal Frieden ’19.5

Tal Frieden can be reached at tal_frieden@brown.edu.