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Paxson answers UCS questions on divestment, admissions

Members of Brown Divest debated with Paxson, asked about University political stance

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 25, 2019

President Christina Paxson P’19 presented on divestment and the national admissions scandal at the Undergraduate Council of Students’ general body meeting Wednesday evening.

The general body also discussed club categorization and re-activation at the end of the meeting.

During her address, Paxson maintained her position against divestment from companies that conduct business in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Members of student coalition Brown Divest engaged in debate with Paxson during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, with some students wearing red to indicate support for Brown Divest.

“In an academic institution devoted to academic freedom, we have to wade in very cautiously to take political stances,” Paxson said. “The University provides a forum for discussion and debate and learning, not as an institution that is taking advocacy positions on a set of different issues.”

The companies Brown Divest has asked the Corporation to divest from are “big U.S. companies that are engaged in business activities all over the world,” Paxson said. “They would be included in any index fund, any stock portfolio, … so it’s pretty hard to avoid them.”

Paxson also asked whether demands to divest are truly about what the listed companies are doing, “or whether it’s really a political issue about what’s going on in Israel and Palestine, which is something that’s a concern to many of us.”

The Corporation has “a fiduciary duty to grow and protect the endowment,” Paxson said. “I don’t think it can be used as a tool to broadcast political views.” Instead, Paxson said the endowment should be used to create the highest, most sustainable returns.

Paxson acknowledged “rare” situations in which divestment “makes sense,” referencing past University actions to divest from Sudan and tobacco.

In 2012 and 2013, the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies — a body that considers issues of the University’s moral responsibility in its investments — considered divestment from companies with business ties to Israel, according to Paxson’s presentation.

“This has been an ongoing process. There’s a history here,” she said. “The Brown community is so far from consensus on this issue.”

Following her presentation, students and Paxson engaged in a contentious debate.

A member of Brown Divest asked Paxson how she plans to remain “accountable to this conversation on divestment next semester without projecting your own political views,” adding that “what happened in 2013 was a three-year stall by the administration about divestment.”

In response, Paxson said that divestment is a “symbolic statement,” disagreeing with the assertion that not divesting is political. Several audience members laughed following Paxson’s comment.

Another Brown Divest member referenced the United Nations’ criteria for companies doing business in occupied territories.

“This isn’t something we’re making up. All of our criteria are rooted in international law,” the student said, who requested anonymity for fear of personal repercussions. “So my question is where is the politics in that. … I see this as companies violating international law.”

Paxson answered that ACCRIP is tasked with evaluating such considerations. “I will look at their recommendation and the Corporation will look at it with a very open mind,” she said.

Paxson also spoke about the national college admissions scandal and the University’s response to it. She said that all varsity athlete recruitments were legitimate, and that the University is reviewing the practices of the Office of Advancement, the Office of Campus Life and the Office of Dean of the College.

“I believe really strongly that when students come to campus that everybody should be treated equitably, fairly and equally,” Paxson said.

The recently created Ad Hoc Committee on Equity and Integrity in Admissions, a joint committee of faculty and corporation members, will examine if the University has “adequate safeguards to protect the integrity of the admissions process,” and if admission practices align with institutional goals of academic excellence and accessibility, according to Paxson’s presentation.

The committee will conduct a review and analysis of University practices over the summer to issue a report in the fall. All parts of the report that do not contain confidential information will be shared with the University community, Paxson said.

At the end of the meeting, Chair of Student Activities Alex Song ’20 presented on the Student Activities Committee’s decisions on student group applications for categorization and reactivation this semester. Student groups may be considered Category I, II or III depending on factors including their age and need for funding.

The Student Activities Committee approved the creation of 15 new student groups and 13 out of 17 applications for re-categorization. Two student groups were reactivated.

The Council voted to approve the Committee’s decisions after a period of discussion.

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