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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis appeases student activists

Published: October 4, 2013
Section: Editorials

Earlier this week, President Frederick Lawrence sent the Brandeis community an email announcing the formation of a new committee designed to explore the possibility of divesting Brandeis endowment funds. While there is no consensus on the wisdom and workability of divestment, we applaud the university for taking student concerns seriously.

Last year, community members orchestrated a highly conspicuous and effective campaign to spread awareness of the possibility of Brandeis divesting itself of corporations dedicated to the extraction of fossil fuels. They claimed that due to their contribution to climate change, these corporations violated Brandeis’ commitment to social justice.

The committee, which is to be composed of faculty, staff, students and trustees of the Investment Committee, has been given a relatively limited advisory role. Though it will assess how socially responsible our investment strategies are and suggest potential changes, the only real power it has is to issue recommendations for consideration by the Investment Committee. Beyond that, the committee has been entrusted with no significant powers or responsibilities.

According to Brandeis investment policy, as quoted by President Lawrence in a recent email, “Where a corporation’s conduct is found to be clearly and gravely offensive to the university community’s sense of social justice … consideration should be given to selling that corporation’s securities.” Because of the nature of college endowments, which are largely composed of indexes and funds over which administrators have little digression, divestment is easier said than done. It is clear, however, that many in the Brandeis community feel that oil companies implicitly breach the mores of our social justice mission.

The fact that the university is being so responsive to student concerns is a breath of fresh air. In his email, President Lawrence stated that one of the directives the committee has been issued is to assess “the views and appeals of students and alumni.” It appears that administrators are taking a proactive approach to establishing a higher sensitivity to the concerns of the Brandeis community.