Divestment and The New School–Sonia Choi

In the middle of The New School’s classes, discussions, and events that circulate around the issues of fossil fuels, the prison industrial complex, Israeli apartheid and the problems that arise from these issues such as the endorsement of capitalist imperialist politico-economic interest and its implementation of racism, sexism, poverty, climate change, and a plethora of human rights and environmental violations, we found ourselves bounded by the irony of their economic practices. The university’s Board of Trustees is investing its endowment money on fossil fuels, private prison companies, and Israeli apartheid. The second problem we find ourselves dealing with is the fact that there is no transparency about the types of investments the Board of Trustees involves the school in and its amount; only members of ACIR (Advisory Committee on Investor’s Responsibility) have access to the in-voices of the school. Thirdly, since the endowment money is generated by donations of alumni and not typically used for the routine maintenance of the university, students don’t have direct monetary influence over where the endowment is spent. However, it is being used to directly influence communities within the school and outside of school who are impacted by these monetary relations, whether the Board intends to or not. These monetary relations uphold the material conditions as well as the ideological basis that many people live through, survive, and die from.

The primary target of our project is to call for the divesting of the school’s endowment funding fossil fuels, and to bring together folks within and outside of the New School using the same tactic to tackle Israeli apartheid (Students for Justice in Palestine’s Boycott Divestment Sanctions) and the lobbying powers of private prison industries. Divestment is both a tactic/strategy and movement. As a tactic, it is meant to take money out of certain investments typically at an organization or institution. It would be to recognize what our best interests are and what investments become conflicted with those interests (school’s mission/value/profitability) and to take the money out of there. It can be done either by changing who controls the money or changing what funds are being invested in. A lot of student movements have organized using this tactic for environmental concerns, child labor, apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s. It is criticized for being elitist and rightfully so, but it is a way for folks in the position of privilege to use it as a way to act accountably on how one can vote with their dollars.2 Endowments are created in institutions as a place where donors/alumnis can generate returns safely. Their money is loaned on Wall Street to generate more money and they do this because they can safeguard their money and get tax write-offs or because they want to help the institution grow, etc. Schools are invested in a plethora of industries. The Board of Trustees is a group of influential alumni, many of whom have backgrounds in finance and/or higher education. They are not paid for their work but held accountable by their fiduciary responsibility to the college. They are legally bound to act in the best interest of the university, though this can mean different things for the trustees.3 However, they also hire people to manage their investment portfolio so that they know what kinds of decisions they need to make in order for the university to generate more capital. Endowments can range from millions to billions of dollars for mutual funds, hedge funds, in order to get as much profit as they can. Colleges and Universities invest in a total of $400 billion in the US4 economy and The New School’s Endowment is $218,310,000 (2012)5. To make matters more complicated, the process that ACIR goes through to figure out what industries the school is in compliance with, they must research direct investments and indirect investments of endowments. With direct investments, money is given to a company and the company generates this back. Indirect investments are like mutual funds; this is when someone pays someone who gets money from a lot of different people, thus one would be invested in various different things. This process is safer, easier for less accountability, but a lot more complicated to divest. ACIR has been working on this sole campaign for two years.

Over the last 10 years, the institution has created the endowment. The Divestment campaign started in April 2013 in a panel discussion with 350.org including the Board of Trustees and people from the ACIR. A Board of Trustee member was willing to divest. 350.org pointed out the uniqueness of a Board of Trustee member saying that they should form a movement around this. The beginning strategy was realizing the entry point with the Board member but there wasn’t any student awareness of the issue. There were events, a petition, to put together the fossil fuel divestment movement. The symbolic tactic of the New School’s divestment with fossil fuels was taken away because we have no idea what exactly has been done and what they divested in, and we don’t have full confirmation on this as was stated in the last town hall meeting by our President David E. Van Zandt. Emerging other divestment movements besides fossil fuels was prison divestment, and Israeli apartheid divestment (BDS which has been active since 2005).6

The University Student Senate is working on student trusteeship with the Board, where they are trying to have 3~5 students be part of the Board which would mean that students would have a representative voice and have full voting power.7 The Board of Trustee meetings are closed meetings, where even the President and Provost are asked to leave at times, and the USS was only able to get onto those meetings since last semester. From this point on, there has been more communication between the USS and the Board as this relationship was strained during the New School occupation. This would build up a student representation to sustain the student’s democratic role and participation within institutional practice. The USS is trying their best to negotiate and come to terms with the Board in order to have information transparency and voting power.

Building the TNSDivest Media Campaign also has a prominent role in strategy towards making divestment possible in order to circulate information, have resources available about the school’s endowment investments, build social pressure and generally educate those involved with/within/and outside of the school. The interviews would also create a platform for folks in the school who have been affected by theses industries so that they can share their experiences with climate injustice, Israeli apartheid, police surveillance & abuse, imprisonment, and deterrence, so that their voices will be at the forefront of the struggle. These interviews will be on a Youtube after editing with the consent, comment, and critique of the interviewees so that students can learn from each other about the urgency of these issues, and how these struggles can be challenged in an institutional framework that is clearly yet intricately connected to a larger web of monetary influence that produce and reproduce the materiality and ideology of the struggles we experience. If you would be interested in getting interviewed, feel free to contact chois271@newschool.edu so that we can meet up and do some real talk!

Since divestment is not an exclusive experience, involving external affairs is also prominent, and in doing so we want to try and form coalitions to build a larger divestment movement within and outside the New School. If you are part of a larger divestment movement, please contact us so that we can build coalitions! Email us at thesustainabilityclub@newschool.edu to get in touch.

Works Cited:

1. “Endowment 101: A Play in Three Parts.” Responsible Endowments

Coalition. Web.

<http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/endowmentethics/pages/39/attach

ments/original/1381957316/Endowments_101.pdf?1381957316>.

2. “FAQ.” Responsible Endowments Coalition. Responsible Endowments

Coalition. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

3. Gunz, Rafaella. “Divestment By The Numbers.” The New School Free

Press. The New School Free Press, 20 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.

Useful resources:

http://www.endowmentethics.org

http://gofossilfree.org/the-new-school-focuses-on-divestment-for-campus-

sustainability-day/

Info on the New School’s investment in fossil fuels:

Divestment By The Numbers

the “Carbon Tracker 200”: A list of the largest 200 fossil fuel companies by

proven carbon reserves. This is the list of companies that most campaigns are

asking to divest from:

On Prison Industrial Complex:

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/plans-works-immigrant-family-detention-center

University endowments and prison investment:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/5-links-between-higher-education-and-

the-prison-industry-20140618

36 major private prison investors:

http://prisondivestment.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/million-shares-club-36-major-

private-prison-investors/

Colombia Prison Divest:

http://columbiaprisondivest.tumblr.com

UC Berkeley Divestment bill – past victories!:

http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/nora/uc-berkeley-student-senate-passes-

divestment-bill

http://prisondivestment.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/the-university-of-california-

invests-in-prisons/

http://www.endowmentethics.org/prison_divestment

Private Prison Divestment Campaign (Enlace):

http://www.enlaceintl.org/#!prison-divestment/cq8g

http://www.enlaceintl.org/#!resources/c1km9

ACLU Banking on Bondage:

https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/bankingonbondage_20111102.pdf

http://www.alternet.org/immigration/how-profit-corporate-prison-lobby-killed-

immigration-reform

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Pop-up Potluck

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Today, students of the first-year course, Sustainable Systems, on our campus-wide Sustainability Day, an initiative of the Sustainable Cities Club, came out during Corbin Hill’s, farm share, food distribution. The students’ study of food systems led to the design of their Pop-up Pot-luck Picnic event, the first that will help inform any that follow.

The Students wanted to explore ways to bring awareness and then consider what design strategies would support behaviors towards an everyday engagement with our civic agricultural systems, away from conventional food systems.
IMG_9985This was a start. They used their design skills, incorporated the expertise of students from other divisions, as well as examine what New School systems could be used to help realize their event. Students designed methods to research various practices around food and eating: questioning shopping, eating, dietary choices as they distributed Corbin Hill apples; encourage discussions with pot-luck offerings that feature food list items from the farm share and USQ Farmer’s Market, as well as ask about ‘food favs’ and ‘food fears’ with images made into buttons. Students will reflect on the event in the coming week, storyboarding visions of a future where our civic agricultural systems are seen as, yet another, benefit of being a part of The New School community. Thanks to all who participated and helped make this happen.

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