Tensions High at Divestment Symposium

Panelists Joyce Babyak, Sarah W. Peck and Paul Bugala discuss and debate the pros and cons of the College’s possible financial divestment from Israel. The Divestment Symposium, which was held on Sunday morning in the Dye Lecture Hall, featured two sets of panelists in two 90-minute sections.

February 14, 2014
Filed under Features, NEWS

Nearly 100 members of the Oberlin community gathered in Dye Lecture Hall to discuss responsible investment in a two-part symposium on Sunday. Hosted by the College administration, faculty and academics from other institutions such as George Washington University were invited to appear on the panel and help facilitate a conversation about divestment and Oberlin’s financial goals for the future. Students Responsible Investment Organization was also invited to speak about the College’s investment plans.

“In terms of issues specifically involving divestment or different ways of trying to get companies to do things that are responsible, the first section was much more useful than the second,” Economics Professor Ed McKelvey said.

According to McKelvey and Professor of Economics Ellis Tallman, the second part of the panel was “muddled by the politics.”

“The second panel overshadowed the issue of the College’s investments and became a discussion of politics,” Tallman said. “In the second half, it became unclear what the objectives were.”

The College’s divestment from particular corporations has been a hot-button issue on campus for years, but has only gained recognition within the last year. Student groups in the community, like Students for a Free Palestine and Anti-Frack, have pushed the administration to withdraw the College’s investment in corporations that endorse specific practices, such as Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and pollution.

“[RIO] wasn’t trying to advocate for or against any specific issue but instead find a way to talk about and define responsible investment in a safe way,” said College senior and RIO member Andrew Follman.

In 2009, Student Senate, in collaboration with the Board of Trustees, founded Oberlin’s Socially Responsible Investment Committee with the hope of incorporating students in endowment and investing dialogues. In spring 2011, the SRIC released an online list of companies in which the College invested, resulting in the forced disbandment of SRIC that summer.

Since the disbandment of the SRIC, communication about divestment between student groups and the administration has been tense.

“RIO was supposed to help the administration plan the symposium on Sunday, but [it] never sought us out or returned our messages,” Follman said. “We were briefed on what would occur at the symposium, but we were not a part of the planning process like [it] said originally.”

David Roswell, OC ’13 and co-founder of RIO, shared similar sentiments, “In terms of what happened, we learned that [the administration] was planning this set of panels and [it] invited us to get involved initially,” said Roswell. “We were ready to help fund and plan the symposium, but were not contacted until the event was entirely planned.”

“Whether the institution wants to represent its values through investment or change the practices of the corporations that it invests in is unclear,” McKelvey said. “You can divest or you can be a shareholding activist, but it all depends on what your objective is.”

Agreeing with McKelvey, Tallman said, “I think Eve Sandberg made a very good point.  Once you divest, you’ve made your statement.  It’s the publicity that comes with divestment that makes a difference. When you sell [shares] someone buys [them].”

Although unclear about financial solutions for the institution’s endowment, RIO plans to host its own symposium in the coming weeks.

“RIO will be hosting a policy symposium that will be on March 8 and 9,” Roswell said.  “RIO’s symposium will not be focused on divestment but, rather, trying to create policy on what investment means to Oberlin and that may include divestment but may also include other avenues of responsible investment which includes community investment and shareholder advocacy.”

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5 Responses to “Tensions High at Divestment Symposium”

  1. Arafat on February 15th, 2014 8:16 AM

    While I find it highly questionable that “not a single Israeli academic institution has petitioned their government to protect the Palestinian right to education,” perhaps that is because they are too busy giving those students an education (including building the very Palestinian universities that didn’t exist until the start of the dreaded “Occupation”).
    And the accusation that Palestinians students are “forced to remain silent or face persecution” would be news indeed to that Tel Aviv University graduate student Omar Barhouti who has not only benefited from being enrolled in a world class Israeli university (a subject he would rather not discuss or have discussed) but is also free to travel the globe as leader of the BDS “movement” calling for the very school he attends to be shunned.
    This is type of hypocrisy (one which applies to the author of this piece much more than those she criticizes) that is not just personal but institutional within a BDS “movement” which devotes limitless time and energy into demonizing Israelis (including Israeli academics) but cannot seem to find a moment to help those Palestinians they claim to care for so much.
    While flotillas may float to Gaza to provide non-existent humanitarian aid to the segment of Palestinian population most likely to pull a trigger or launch a rocket, has this writer (or any of her BDS allies) sent so much as a single textbook over to the West Bank to support student learning there (or recommended the study of math, science or divinity vs. hatred of the Israeli “other”)?

    [Reply]

  2. Arafat on February 15th, 2014 8:18 AM

    That Israel is still the subject of hatred is deeply disturbing and one of the forces that drives my support for the Jewish State.
    In choosing not to stand idly by as the age-old hatred of the Jewish people has been transferred to the “collective Jew,” I have been speaking up against the new anti-Semitism that is so pervasive today.
    It targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world.
    It is perversely couched in the language of human rights.
    Just as conventional anti-Semitism denied Jews the right to live as equal members of humanity, the new anti-Semitism denies the State of Israel the right to live as an equal member of the international community.

    [Reply]

  3. Arafat on February 15th, 2014 8:19 AM

    While Saudis repress all their people (other than the royal family whom have private $500 million dollar private airplanes) we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are really just anti-Semites pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Pakistanis ethnically cleanse that once Hindu country of its remaining Hindus we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are really just anti-Semites pretending to be humanitarians.

    While Egyptians ethnically cleanse that country of its ancient Coptic community we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are anti-Semites masquerading as humanitarians.

    While Mali Islamists turn Mali into the next Sudan we focus our angst on Israel for deep down we are really anti-Semites dressed up in humanitarian’s clothes.

    While Yemenis turn that bread basket of the Arabian Peninsula into a place of starvation we focus our crocodile tears on Israel for deep down we are really anti-Semites dressed up in fancy humanitarian clothes.

    While Islamists in Southern Thailand kill off over 5,000 Buddhists in the span of a few years we ignore their plight and turn our focus on Israel for we are anti-Semites pretending to be concerned humanitarians.

    While Hezbollah kills off what remains of the Christian leadership in Lebanon we turn the spotlight on Israel for they are just Jews and we all know nobody has ever defended the Jews. They’re easy pickings and we are really just Brown Shirts pretending to be humanitarians.

    [Reply]

  4. Snow rage, clown shortage, reindeer jerky and more: A.M. News Links | Cleveland News on February 19th, 2014 11:57 AM

    […] Tensions High at Divestment Symposium  (Oberlin Review on discussion of what investments the college shouldn’t make for ethical re… […]

  5. Arafat on February 21st, 2014 12:36 PM

    Welcome to the liberal art meme where being PC trumps free speech.

    My comments, although disturbing to the PC community, are not unique nor are they likely incorrect. If nothing else they are worthy of debate at a supposedly open-minded, forward-looking school like Oberlin.

    Or, am I mistaken in thinking Oberlin is an open-minded college; a place where people’s beliefs are challenged even if it means discussing subjects that are unfortunate even if true.

    In any case it appears the PC police have issued their warning and that my days here are numbered. So much for freedom of speech at Oberlin. So much for open-mindedness and liberal values. LOL.

    [Reply]

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