As the year winds to a close, it is time to evaluate the progress the University has made this year and assess the goals for tomorrow. One year into his presidency, University President Steven Knapp has worked to mold GW into an academic powerhouse, shifting the focus former D.C. Business Leader of the Year Stephen Joel Trachtenberg placed on the University’s expansion during his tenure. In this time of change, it is important that the University take a critical look at the ethics of their business partners and stop placing money before its main objective – educating and nurturing tomorrow’s leaders.
Students have spent the year protesting the University’s contract with a dining provider that has implemented a system of mandatory spending. But perhaps the greatest failure of the administration on this front is their refusal to address the decade-old controversial history of the Sodexho Corporation. Three years ago, the corporation paid out a settlement of $80 million, accepting blame for discrimination suits filed by thousands of African American employees, led by 10 individuals based in the D.C. region. In 2000, the corporation also came under fire for its association with “for profit” prisons such as the Harmondsworth Detention Center, which houses 6,000 refugees including many children, according to The Johns Hopkins News-letter. Protests raged at 50 universities, including American University, which boycotted the vendor upon news of this connection.
The University’s cloudy business record does not end there. Boston Properties, GW’s business partner for construction on Square 54, has come under fire for exploiting their migrant workers. Students at Boston University protested at the corporation, citing the company’s failure to provide adequate services to its employees. According to The Daily Free Press at BU, employees are paid as low as $39 per day and lack stable medical insurance, which forces them to pay full prices at any hospital in time of a medical emergency.
With partners like these, it’s no wonder that the University received a D+ last year as a measure of social responsibility and sustainability from the Sustainable Endowment Institute. The organization considers endowment transparency GW’s most significant problem, stating that “the (U)niversity has no known policy of disclosure of endowment holdings or its shareholder voting record; therefore there is no accessibility to information.”
In addition, GW has failed to seriously consider divestment from investments in Sudan, which ultimately assist the nation’s ongoing genocide. On campus, Students Taking Action Now: Darfur has campaigned vigorously throughout the years to have the university divest from Sudan, yet the University has not budged. In previous conversations about divestment, GW’s chief investment officer Donald Lindsey has told The Hatchet that the University should not be quick to make judgments about things of this nature.
Yet when neighboring colleges American, Howard and Georgetown, along with several multi-national corporations have all successfully divested, the real bottom line is: why haven’t we?
While the University should certainly keep growing and developing, using unethical business partners in this effort undermines GW’s growth as a premier college. The University certainly does much more good than harm in the world, but GW’s risky relationships may overshadow even their greatest achievements and tarnish a reputation that has taken years to create.
The writer is a freshman majoring