Wednesday, February 07, 2007


As an undergrad at Cornell in the early 80's, I witnessed the movement to encourage the university to divest their endowment holdings in companies that do business in South Africa, to protest the apartheid of the time. Some students went as far to create a "shanty town" of tents, sleeping outside to make their point. I didn't support their movement for a selfish reason—my mother worked for one of those companies and it seemed hypocritical to bite the hand that fed me.

Last week the University of Chicago president announced that the board of trustees would not change the investment strategies of the university in response to calls not to invest in companies doing business with the Sudanese government, despite the fact that several other universities including Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale have decided to eliminate such investments. American companies are already barred from doing such business so a university could eliminate such investments reasonably painlessly but the University of Chicago didn't want to set a precedent.


  1. There are two but related issues here. One is to make profit from by investing to a company and the other is a company funding research. I believe in both cases the same ethical/pseudo-ethical issues arise.

    Refusing investing in certain companies is a very hypocritical thing to do. Why not to invest or to take money from any company? This is how things work in this society. In pretence of a stupid political correctness, universities are commiting such self-insulting actions. The greatest (and funniest) part of this hypocritical behavior is to cut-down financial relations with companies working for the Sudaneese goverment and in the same time to get involved in money from the US goverment or military which in many respects are worse. This sounds like a joke. Why we just don't get serious and look for the best interest of the university.

  2. Investing in a company gives that company leverage to do things such as expand its business. If the fundamental way that business operates is un-ethical according to your values sytem then it does not seem appropriate to contribute to that behavior by investing in it. Should one invest in cigarette or arms manufacturers, whatever?

    Typically, things are not so cut-and-dried. The unethical behavior is part of a much larger business that also operates ethically.

    That is realy the issue with a boycott as proposed. These boycotts have to be significant enough that they impact the stock price or influence the boards of directors. It takes years for them to be effective as it was in the case of the South Africa boycott. In that case, the social pressure on boards of directors was much more effective than any stock price impact.

  3. What doesn't make sense is Lance's incorrect use of marginal evil. Let's suppose the company is truly bad. If your mother works for the company, it's one strike against you. It's only _worse_ if you don't participate in the protest, not better.

  4. First, whoever compared the US Government and Department of Defense to what is happening in Darfur has there head rammed way far up their rear end. I would encourage them to inform themselves about what is going on in Darfur. Nuf said about that.

    Secondly, morality can be looked at from a pragmatic point of view or a pie in the sky point of view. Pragmatically, divestment in cases like this does (next to) nothing. So, one must argue about the basis of morality to get anywhere in this debate. I am not going to do that.

  5. So you're suggesting Lance should have sided against his own mother? No, I think Lance's logic was correct.

  6. divestment in cases like this does (next to) nothing

    Actually, divestment has sometimes been very effective in the past. However, in order for divestment to influence anything there has to be significant investment to begin with. Divestment from South Africa by major corporations actually worked within a fairly short time precisely for this reason.

    So how significant is corporate investment in Sudan to begin with?

    (It is true that even if the campaigns are successful there is no guarantee of their impact: For example, the jury is still out on the major divestment campaign against Myanmar.)

  7. Can Anonymous educate
    us about the difference
    between iraq and darfur?


  8. OOps, should be
    Anonymous 4

  9. What is happening in Darfur:

    For an overview, see:

    The Sudanese Government is in conflict with two guerrilla forces from the South of Sudan.


    “Incapable of controlling the situation because it had few troops (and many were made up of Westerners who refused to fight their brothers) the government used three types of tactics to try to curb guerilla activities:

    • Extensive use of airpower. Mil Mi-24 combat helicopters engaged in indiscriminate bombing and machine-gunning of civilians while Antonov An-12 transports were used to drop makeshift bombs on villages and IDP concentrations.

    • Recruitment of large numbers of “Arab” militiamen called “Janjaweed”, mounted on camels or horseback. These were at times recruited in neighboring Chad and were motivated by a mixture of cultural/racial prejudice and the lure of looting. They mercilessly engaged in the massacre of civilians.

    • Destruction of the means of livelihood of the population. Wells were filled, cattle were killed and foodstuff stores were destroyed. This caused massive displacement of civilians who either fled to what they hoped were “secure” areas of the province or to Chad.

    The government's hope was that the civilians would be terrorized into submission and that the civilian pool on which the guerillas depended for their political and logistical sustenance would dry up. Neither seemed to happen. Some desultory attempts at negotiating were made in early September. A government team headed by the notorious NIF activist al-Tayeb Mohamed Kheir, nicknamed “Sikha” (“iron bar”, a nickname coming from his preferred weapon), signed a ceasefire agreement in the Chadian town of Abeche . It soon appeared that what the government wanted was in fact a simple surrender of the guerillas, without any kind of political negotiation. When the desired surrender failed to materialize, military operations were resumed, with the same violent anti-civilian actions.

    The Khartoum government used every possible excuse to stop any humanitarian aid reaching the Darfur population. For example on November 16th it refused to unload US food aid bound for Darfur, saying that the cereals it contained were genetically modified. This was not the case but the food aid was nevertheless not distributed. In early January 2004 two Swiss NGOs, the Henri Dunant Center and the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, arranged a humanitarian conference in Geneva to organize relief for Darfur. After promising to come, the Sudanese government refused at the last moment, saying it did not want to internationalize the conflict and that such a conference should be organized in Sudan by the government itself.”

    Estimates are that 400,000 people have been killed--at least 50,000 of those by starvation. Millions have been displaced. There is certainly ethnic cleansing, many call it genocide. There are mass rapes and mass murders of innocent civilians.

    This is not to say that Iraq is rosy. It is only to say that the US does has not tried to with hold food from vast portions of the Iraqi population. Nor have they tried to kill civilians to the end of scaring the rest of them. Nor have they attempted to destroy the infrastructure to that end of making all Iraqis suffer. Nor have they raped thousands. This is not a very high standard to overcome, and I am not claiming it is a sufficient goal to do so. But the US has done so, and so Iraq and Darfur are quite different. While neither is good, one is worse.

  10. "Nor have they tried to kill civilians to the end of scaring the rest of them. Nor have they attempted to destroy the infrastructure to that end of making all Iraqis suffer."

    In my limited knowlege of history,
    I have not seen a single
    example that invading army of a country doesnot
    kill civilians to scare people or doesnot destroy infrastructure to make people suffer.
    Maybe US is different.
    What a great power!

  11. To previous anon: Yes, as you say, your knowledge is limited; however, it appears that your sense of moral superiority is great.

  12. Anon #10 takes the cake for the most ignorant troll post of the thread.

  13. Learn how

  14. Guys,

    My comment generated so many reactions. I am flattered.


    Anon 10.

  15. I really hope that Anon 13 is not the
    last one.


    Anon 10 again.

  16. Should divest assets in Israel/Palestine until their conflict is resolved, but any university that did so would be hit too hard by the ADL propaganda machine.