Students Press on Investments, Administration Unmoved

Students and members of Swarthmore Students for Peace and Justice in Palestine (SPJP) marched a list of 40 companies up to the office of Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Suzanne Welsh on Tuesday, asking that Swarthmore disclose any direct holdings in these companies in the last quarter. Welsh told the students that it was not the College’s policy to disclose the requested information but that the list would be considered.

SPJP member Danny Hirschel-Burns ’14 had expected a more cooperative response.

“What was really interesting in what she said is that it’s not the College’s policy to tell students what they’re invested in, which is in direct contradiction with everything I’ve heard from Mountain Justice members who have gone through this process before,” he said.

At 12:40 P.M., five students  gathered at Parrish Hall to march up to Welsh’s office on the second floor, where they introduced themselves and delivered their list to Welsh.

That list includes Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard—companies which SPJP is interested in divesting from, according to Hirschel-Burns, because of their participation in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. However, it also includes other companies such as Lockheed Martin, Philip Morris, and Chevron.

“We have investment advisory agreements with the [investment firms that manage portfolios for the endowment],” Welsh said via email. “Those agreements usually include a confidentiality clause. For competitive reasons firms do not want to make public the composition of their portfolios.”

Welsh raised the same concern last December in an op-ed about Swarthmore Mountain Justice’s  divestment campaign against fossil fuel companies.

“[I was told] that the College would tell us about any companies that they had domestic direct holdings in in the last quarter . . . I thought it was public information. I guess I was wrong. Or, at least, she told me I was wrong,” said Hirschel-Burns.

Welsh told the students that the College’s holdings change from day to day and that information on holdings during a single quarter may be of little relevance. When she asked what criteria SPJP had used in creating the list, a member said that each of the listed companies was “bad, in some way or another.”

“Simply as Swarthmore students, we’re interested in the College’s investment policies, because the College has absolutely no screens on its investments, which is very, very unusual for a college, especially if you’re one that talks about its Quaker roots and its commitment to social justice,” Hirschel-Burns said. “So to us that’s pretty shocking—that, as we understand it, we could be heavily invested in arms manufacturers, tobacco companies, Wal-Mart.”

“If we do find out that we are invested in quite a few of these companies, I would hope that Swarthmore’s moral sensibilities required to actually put into action an ethical screen,” Hirschel-Burns said.

Shortly before the SPJP members left her office, Welsh asked for a summary of why they had chosen to target each of the companies on the list. The group agreed to provide her with such a summary, but Hirschel-Burns expects the immediate outcome of the list’s presentation to be no more than modest.

“This was, in the grand scheme of things, a pretty minor action. We weren’t expecting that much. We were expecting that she’d at least get back to us,” he said. “We’ll see if that happens.”