After another week of heated debate over the merits of divesting from weapons contractors, the WSA voted 17-7 on Sunday night to approve a modified resolution proposed by Erik Rosenberg ’08 and Students for Ending the War in Iraq (SEWI) that calls for divestment from the defense companies Raytheon and General Dynamics.
The resolution that the WSA ultimately endorsed was heavily revised from what was originally presented at the April 22nd WSA meeting. Rosenberg had originally asked that the University make a moral statement against all violence, as well as divest from three companies: Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Tyco. The resolution approved last Sunday was geared toward stating opposition against the Iraq War, not violence in general, and it targeted only Raytheon and General Dynamics, not Tyco.
SEWI hopes that the WSA’s support will move the divestment campaign forward, and attract the attention of administrators who wield power over investment decisions.
“If divestment has a significant impact, that’s one thing,” President Doug Bennet said. “Not that symbols are useless, but you don’t want to create an illusion that you’re dealing with the root causes of the war.”
Bennet instead suggested positive action as a University to examine what went wrong in the buildup to the Iraq War, and to work on the larger issues going forward so that decisions to commit military force in the future are made with greater caution.
WSA President Zach Kolodin ’07 says that the plan ultimately is to take the resolution to the Board of Trustees.
“We’ll send it to [Chief Investment Officer] Tom Kannam and discuss it with him,” Kolodin said. “Then most of our efforts will be focused on the Board of Trustees.”
The question is how Kannam, as well as the Board of Trustees, will react. During the debate, many WSA members argued that divestment would have serious financial consequences that both the Board and students might not be too happy about.
“The idea that we’d lose any money troubles me quite a bit,” said WSA Representative Mike Pernick ’10. “I cannot in good conscience vote for something that would take away from student services.”
“If we divest, we’re going to feel it,” WSA Coordinator Estrella Lopez ’07 added.
But after the meeting, Sam Astor ’07, a member of the Endowment Advisory Committee, said that the financial consequences of divestment might not actually prove too serious.
“Divestment in general hurts Wesleyan because it limits the companies we can invest in,” Astor said. “But this divestment only eliminates two possibilities.”
Wesleyan is currently invested in 69 different companies. Astor added that while Raytheon may be profitable now, there is no telling whether there will be even more profitable companies to replace investment in Raytheon. Kolodin agreed.
“Sam knows what he’s talking about,” he said. “The fact is that there are thousands of securities to choose from and the performance of each one is pretty unpredictable. We can replace the two weapons contractors’ securities.”
Kolodin wasn’t sure about how the Board of Trustees would respond.
“The likelihood of eventual divestment is moderate,” he said. “It’s really impossible to predict. What we do know is that the likelihood that they decide anything at the May board meeting is very low.”
Astor thinks that the Board of Trustees will certainly entertain the idea.
“We’re not seriously constricting the Board of Trustees when we take away two securities,” he said. “I think they’ll consider it.”
Beyond money, much of the WSA debate involved questions of morality.
“It’s supposed to be a moral statement that’s going to help us sleep at night,” said WSA Representative JZ Golden ’08.
WSA Representative Sam Ruth ’08 questioned the tangible effect of a divestment and stressed that it really is a matter of principle.
“Divestment will not affect these companies or the Iraq War,” he said. “The only place where this investment will have an effect is Wesleyan and that’s why we should do it.”
Rosenberg had a somewhat different outlook.
“This resolution is important because as an elite institution it is important to set an example for the rest of the country,” he said. “I think this can have an effect on the world and on our community right here.”
Divestment campaigns are currently taking place at Columbia University and at University of Michigan, where a campaign is being launched against Halliburton. But WSA Representative Nick Turner ’10 argued that it might not be the place of student government to make referendums on national policy.
“I questioned whether or not this is something I should be handing in as a representative of the student body,” he said.
Golden wondered over the same question.
“Is this the realm of student government?” he asked. “Is this even the kind of advocacy for the university to deal with?”
Ultimately, the majority assembly decided to make the political statement. The WSA had previously passed a similar resolution in 2003, one that condemned the war in Iraq. Overall, WSA members agreed that Sunday’s debate over divestments had been exciting.
“Divestment is a good thing because it provokes discussion,” Ruth said.
Kolodin agreed with this sentiment.
“There’s been some lively debate,” he said. “I think it’s important that there is debate when there is this degree of seriousness involved.”
SEWI hopes to continue bringing the debate to the attention to administrators this Friday at 3 p.m. through a pro-divestment and anti-war protest in front of North College.