While GW announced this month its plan to pursue new international investments, University officials have not yielded to student requests to renounce any ties they may have with companies doing business in Sudan. Genocide in that African country’s Darfur region has killed more than 200,000 people and left another two million displaced.
Last week, Yale University announced its divestment from some oil companies that do business in Sudan. Yale followed the lead of Stanford University, which earlier this year divested from companies believed to do business in Darfur such as PetroChina, ABB Ltd., Sinopec and Tatneft. Divestment tactics have been used by groups in the past to put pressure on the South African government, which practiced segregationist Apartheid during the latter half of the 20th century.
Members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur have been asking the University to act similarly to Yale and Stanford, and refuse to invest in companies with ties to Sudan.
GW announced earlier this month that due to a 12.2 increase in the size of its endowment this year, more money will be put toward investments. But Executive Vice President and Treasurer Louis Katz declined to release information on specific companies in which the University has financial investments. He said instead of looking at individual performances of companies, he looks at overall strategies.
When asked if GW is investing in companies that do business in Sudan, Katz said, “I can’t say if we are or are not. It is not that simple.”
Katz said it is unlikely GW will take a stance against supporting such companies when it makes its new investments this year.
“There are bad things going on in a lot of places in the world,” Katz added. “We believe in being a responsible corporate citizen, but it is not as simple as saying we will divest.”
GW’s endowment grew last fiscal year by 12.2 percent to a record-high of $823 million. The University takes a percentage of the endowment, called the yield, to be used to fund University programs. Last year’s yield was 4.2 percent. The Board of Trustees approved a plan that would allow the University to take out 5 percent of the endowment in the 2007 fiscal year, which starts July 1. Katz said that money will be used for fundraising efforts and new investment strategies.
STAND has advocated for the University to divest in companies with holdings in Sudan since September, to no avail. Katz said that if GW agreed to STAND’s request, it would set a precedent and make it hard not to yield to other calls for divestment.
Justin Zorn, policy chair for STAND, said GW should draw the line at Darfur.
“Investing in a genocidal government is bad ethics and bad economics,” said Zorn, a junior.
STAND has taken several approaches to informing University administrators and the student body about the implications of investing in the Sudan. Representatives from STAND presented University Chief Information Officer Donald Lindsey with “an exhaustive proposal that included how-to instructions for every step of the divestment process,” Zorn said.
Lindsey deferred comment on the issue to Katz. In December, he told The Hatchet that it would be “very difficult for us to develop any type of specific social responsibility investment policy.” He said in December that because GW’s investment work is outsourced to private finance companies, he is unsure if GW invests in businesses with ties to Darfur. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg told The Hatchet in October that he is also unsure if GW invests in companies with ties to the region.
Katz said the University will increase the amount of its international investments and decrease its domestic investments this year. He said there is more to managing investments than just agreeing to avoid putting money into a particular company or country.
“The University does not have exact direct investment goals; you have a strategy of investing,” Katz said. “It’s more complex than just buying a stock.”
-Brandon Butler contributed to this report.