One of the oft-heard complaints about Occupy Wall Street and its various offshoots was that the movement's goals and vision were vaguely defined. But the Occupy Vanderbilt movement has a very specific goal: to encourage the university's Office of Investments to develop some basic guidelines for ethical investing. In particular, the group hopes to pressure Vanderbilt to divest from HEI Hospitality, which has a been at the center of some sticky labor relations issues.
Occupy Vanderbilt recently gave Pith a copy of the letter they sent to Matthew Wright, Vanderbilt's vice chancellor for investments.
Open Letter To:
Matthew Wright, Office of Investments
On Thursday, May 3, we took down our Occupy Vanderbilt tent encampment, which had kept an around the-clock vigil on the lawn of Kirkland Hall for 45 days. Hundreds of students, faculty, and staff participated in our opening rally on March 19th and our final rally on May 1. Thousands more participated in the movement for ethical investment by producing, showing, and sharing media, and hosting dozens of teach-ins including a march on the board of trust in November and a teach-in with over 50 faculty and students at the Chancellor's office in February.
Our movement for ethical investment at Vanderbilt draws on a long chain of grievances . Even after years of grassroots pressure from within and without the university, our investment office refused to divest from companies propping up the apartheid regime in South Africa. More recently, years of pressure to pull funds out of HEI, even after public divestment by Yale, Harvard, and other peer institutions, still has not resulted in a firm, public commitment by Vanderbilt to support HEI workers by agreeing to not re-invest until HEI reforms its labor practices. To our knowledge, Vanderbilt has *never *divested from a company citing ethical concerns.
This has been hard work. Our students and faculty have put in many thousands of hours this year educating and agitating for a better way of managing university resources. In half a dozen negotiation meetings with university administrators over the course of the year, we were consistently told that we should not and could not engage with the endowment; moreover, we were informed that there were no ethical guidelines of any kind for investing, since, in Provost McCarty's memorable words, that would be "redundant". Between meetings, we intensively researched endowment structures, investing strategies, land tenure systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, the political economy of food prices, and so on. Last month, we brought the researchers who broke the Vanderbilt "land grabs" story to campus, and invited the office of investments to attend (an invitation your office turned down).
We have bold and diverse visions for how ethical investment might become a reality at Vanderbilt, but we recognize that will be a long process. The first step is for the Office of Investments to establish public ethical principles, since we cannot hold ourselves to standards of conduct if we don't *have any standards*. To date, we have not seen an indication that the Office of Investments is willing to reciprocate our effort to ensure that university funds aren't used to finance unethical activities. This is something the Office of Investments should have done decades ago and needs to step up and do instead of passing the buck onto students.
We are writing to formally request that the Office of Investments spend the summer drawing up ethical investing principles. What sorts of things are morally reprehensible enough that Vanderbilt should not fund them? You have over three months, nearly 100 days, to craft your vision of ethical investment. During that time we will continue to familiarize ourselves with the intricacies of the endowment, and we will continue as students to organize and strategize the best way to implement the better university that we believe is possible. On the first day of fall semester we look forward to resuming the dialogue, and we hope that you are willing to meet us there by producing this small but crucial beginning point. We're waiting for your letter.