Druids launch campaign on college finances

The Purple Druids have launched a campaign to convince Williams trustees to submit the College’s investment portfolio to an analysis of its stocks’ social costs and monetary benefits. The Druids’ long term goal is to have the College institute criteria for social investing.

In order to facilitate this, the Druids brought Jonah Zern of Student Alliance to Reform Corporations to campus to give a talk and brainstorm with the Druids about ways to address the issue.

Mike Levien ’01, co-leader of the Purple Druids, noted, “the meeting got people excited because we realized that making a change was do-able.” The Druids obtained a copy of the stocks in the College’s portfolio, which was published in last week’s Record.

The Druids decided to concentrate on the College’s holding in Phillip Morris as a rallying point, believing students will find this investment particularly dubious.

Levien outlined the Druids’ campaign: “We want the student body to get excited about the posters around campus and then circulate a petition to urge the College to divest certain stocks. We also hope to get alumni, faculty and College Council support on this issue.”

In this process, the Druids have encountered some opposition from the trustees. Levien noted “a few of the trustees stated that their job is to maximize profit and social problems will always happen.”

This is not the first time the issue of socially responsible investing has arisen at Williams. In the late 1970s the issue was raised, driven by the fact that the College held an interest in companies which were investing in apartheid South Africa. This led to the establishment, in 1978, of the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility, which acts as an advisory body to the trustees.

The answer to the movement to divest in companies doing business in South Africa was similar to the preliminary trustee responses to this movement. Then-President of the College John W. Chandler argued in an essay on responsible investing that “any use of the College as a political instrument to pursue goals that lie outside its educational purpose threatens its own integrity and effectiveness as a political institution.”

Then Treasurer of the College Williams S. Reed argued that “the purpose of the endowment has always been to provide financial support.”

Levien argued “If colleges all across the country start adopting socially responsible investment criteria for investment decisions, it could have a huge impact on corporate behavior. This is a result of both the colleges’ influence as shareholders and the fact that colleges are institutions which have the potential to be political catalysts.”

Levien further stated that “with an endowment that has been hovering around a billion dollars, Williams has the leeway to locate some of its investments in a more responsible manner, especially as there are many responsible investment opportunities that offer better returns than our current investments.”

Other measures the Purple Druids are taking to ensure that Williams is spending its money in a more socially responsible manner include working with Joel Tolman ’98 to set up a fund alums can donate to with the assurance that it will be invested in a socially aware manner.

The Druids are also working to make available information about the social responsibility of various corporations available at the Office of Career Counseling.

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