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Paxson opposes divestment referendum

U. president calls divestment polarizing, says publicizing investments not possible

Following the release of the Undergraduate Council of Students and Undergraduate Finance Board election results Thursday night, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote a letter to the Brown community Friday, articulating her opposition to a divestment referendum on the ballot. The referendum called for the University to divest from companies “complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine” and to increase financial transparency around its investments.

“Brown’s endowment is not a political instrument to be used to express views on complex social and political issues, especially those over which thoughtful and intelligent people vehemently disagree,” Paxson wrote in her letter.

Around 69 percent — 1,939 of 2,810 voting students — voted yes on the referendum, The Herald previously reported. Around 40 percent of the undergraduate student body voted in the referendum.

Brown Divest, the student coalition that organized the referendum, called for divestment from nine companies that the group identified with facilitating human rights abuses in Palestine.

But in her letter, Paxson wrote that she opposed “divestment from companies that conduct business in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Paxson previously declined calls for academic boycotts of Israel in 2013, writing that “doing so would inhibit the open scholarly exchange that is critical for the advancement of knowledge.”

For similar reasons, Paxson also rejected a recommendation from the University’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies in 2012 to “initiate dialogue about possible divestment from companies that do business in the occupied territories,” she wrote. ACCRIP “considers issues of ethical and moral responsibility” in the University’s investment policies, according to its website.

In her statement, Paxson also recognized and expressed appreciation for University community members’ dedication to finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But, she added that “divestment would polarize the Brown community and detract from the inclusive, intellectually-vibrant community we aspire to be.”

“I hope that instead of polarizing calls for divestment, the Brown community can continue to engage in productive discourse on this issue through our teaching, research and contributions to diplomacy,” Paxson wrote.

Brown Divest’s organizers are “disappointed, but unfortunately not surprised by President Paxson’s outright dismissal of the overwhelming democratic support for the referendum,” wrote Brown Divest organizer Noah Mlyn ’20 in a statement to The Herald. “We will be regrouping after break to strategize how we can best hold the administration accountable to the mandate issued by the Brown University student body.”

While Jewish Voice for Peace, a student group that is a member of the Brown Divest coalition, felt upset with Paxson’s response, they also felt “excited by the anger that we’re hearing from our peers about it, especially around the notion that investments can be apolitical,” said Brian Solomon ’19 on behalf of the student organization.

JVP will continue to participate in the Brown Divest coalition and is “committed to helping make sure that Brown Divest is committed to working without anti-Semitism, and against anti-Semitism,” Solomon added.

Brown Students for Israel, which coordinated a campaign opposing the referendum, posted a statement on their Facebook page responding to Paxson’s letter. “The Brown Divest vote polarized the student body, induced incidents of hate through online forums and created a hostile environment for pro-Israel students,” the group wrote. “However, with such a misleading, divisive, and hate-fueled referendum, we feel more motivated than ever to stand with Israel.”

BSI also expressed appreciation for Paxson’s response and pledged to continue to “engage and educate students on Israel,” the student group wrote. “Israel is more than its conflict.”

In response to the portion of the referendum calling for greater transparency with the University’s investments, Paxson directed students to the Investment Office’s March 18 Op-Ed, which explained why the University does not publicize its investments.

“The professionals who work in Brown’s Investment Office are committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity while sustaining the capacity of the endowment to serve Brown’s research and teaching mission far into the future,” Paxson wrote.


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