Many Wesleyan students, parents, faculty, and alumni might be surprised to learn that Wesleyan University currently invests money from its endowment in two of the top six U.S. Defense Department contractors: Raytheon and General Dynamics. These two companies produce a wide range of deadly weaponry that has been used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Raytheon makes Patriot, Tomahawk, Maverick, and Sidewinder missiles, plus the GBU-28 “bunker buster” bomb, while General Dynamics makes F-16 fighter jets and is the country’s “leading producer of combat vessels, including nuclear submarines, surface combatants, and auxiliary ships” (corpwatch.org). In 2005 Raytheon and General Dynamics made a total of over $34 billion in Defense revenue (defensenews.com). Although Wesleyan likes to boast about its “socially responsible investing,” the university’s current investment practices do not seem to match its rhetoric. (See http://www.wesleyan.edu/treasurer/proxy for a list of Wesleyan’s investments).
Companies like Raytheon and General Dynamics have enjoyed massive profits as a result of invasion and occupation of Iraq. From 2000 to 2005, their combined Defense revenues rose by around 70 percent (defensenews.com).
In turn, Wesleyan University has also profited from a war of aggression that has to date left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and 3,282 U.S. soldiers dead. Members of the Wesleyan administration and even some students have argued that Wesleyan is merely making wise investments, the returns from which will increase the funds available for student financial aid, faculty salaries, and so forth. From a purely economic standpoint this is certainly true; U.S. military spending has increased by 67 percent since 2000 (globalissues.org), with the shareholders of companies like Raytheon and General Dynamics enjoying enormous profits. But what moral price do we pay in the process? Do we excuse the Northern businessmen who invested in the slave trade simply because it was sound business practice? Do we excuse companies who currently invest in the Sudan despite the ongoing government-backed genocide in Darfur, simply because those investments are profitable?
Wesleyan’s administration has not clearly defined “socially responsible investing,” yet it still claims that we practice it. Upon questioning, many members of the administration would surely dismiss the idea of divestment as being too “political” a statement. But though the people who decide Wesleyan’s investments don’t want to admit it, our university’s current investment practices are highly political in that they support the ongoing war in Iraq—a war that is opposed by a large majority of Iraqis and an increasingly large majority of U.S. citizens. Wesleyan’s behind-closed-doors decision to invest in weapons contractors implicitly associates each and every one of us with the continued occupation of Iraq, thrusting our money and our symbolic support behind the war.
But as Wesleyan’s Chief Investment Officer Thomas Kannam and others like him don’t want to admit, our university’s current investment practices are highly political in that they support the ongoing war in Iraq?a war that is opposed by a large majority of Iraqis and an increasingly large majority of U.S.citizens. Wesleyan’s behind-closed-doors decision to invest in weapons contractors implicitly associates each and every one of us with the continued occupation of Iraq, thrusting our money and our symbolic support behind the war.
So what should be done to bring Wesleyan’s “socially responsible” rhetoric in line with its investment practices? Of course, the term “socially responsible” is difficult to define, and the entire Wesleyan community may never agree on a precise definition. Nonetheless, in certain cases it is possible to reach a consensus concerning what is NOT socially responsible. Wesleyan has reached such a consensus three other times in its history, most recently in 1986 when it divested from corporations that had failed to oppose apartheid in South Africa. Divestment is appropriate again today, since investing in companies that make deadly weapons for use in wars of aggression clearly does not constitute socially responsible investing. As Wesleyan’s divestment from supporters of apartheid did in 1986, divestment from military contractors today would make a powerful symbolic statement about Wesleyan’s commitment to education rather than killing and warfare.
A public debate including every sector of the Wesleyan community could help to further define the concept of social responsibility. In the meantime, divesting from companies that hold military contracts would not mean sacrificing the financial future of the university; there are plenty of corporations which do not thrive upon war and violence, and which make money while still practicing responsible social, labor, and environmental policies. But until the administration divests from all companies with military contracts, we urge Wesleyan students and parents to call Tom Kannam at 860-685-4880 and President Doug Bennett at 860-685-3500, and express your opinions about our university’s current investment policies. And to all alumni who do not feel that Wesleyan’s support for weapons contractors constitutes socially responsible investing, we ask you to withhold all financial contributions of any kind—or to restrict any donations you make to financial aid—in order to help the administration reconsider its policy.
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