Letter to the Editor: Lack of Current Investments is Not Enough
An open letter to President Christopher Eisgruber, Secretary Bob Durkee, and PRINCO President Andrew Golden| Apr 2, 2017
Last Monday, the Resources Committee of the Council of the Princeton University Community attempted to justify its decision to reject Princeton Private Prison Divest’s proposal for divestment and dissociation from the private prison and detention industry. But before committee chair Professor Michael Littman took the stage, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 made an unexpected address to the audience and stated that Princeton does “not hold investments in the companies that are the current subject of this petition,” and that it does not intend to obtain such holdings.
This informal statement is welcome news to PPPD, but its full implications require official clarification and elaboration. We request a formal statement from PRINCO that Princeton is not invested — either through primary or secondary investments — in the 11 corporations specified in our proposal. Given the lack of transparency from the administration so far, the campus community deserves proof of this significant announcement.
More importantly, lack of investment is not divestment. Even if the University is not currently invested in the industries in our proposal, PPPD’s fundamental demands have not changed. As top administrators have consistently stated, the issue of divestment concerns not only current investments but also the imposition of a permanent negative screen against a certain industry or group of corporations. That is to say, if the University truly has no intent in investing in these companies, the Board of Trustees must formalize that intent by officially instructing PRINCO and its managers not to invest in the industry at any point in the future.
That substantive divestment requires imposition of such a screen is the University’s own policy — evinced in statement and practice. Following President Eisgruber’s statement, University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69 clarified that “the question is whether Princeton should adopt a policy of prohibiting any future investment or association with a specified set of companies.” Secretary Durkee compared the present situation to when the University “divested and disassociated” from the Darfur genocide, noting that, “at that time, Princeton had no investments in any of those companies, but the policy provided that there could be no future investment in such companies.” By the University’s own articulated standards, then, divestment is the definitive end to forms of association with industries whose practices conflict with University values. Until the administration formally undergoes this process with regard to corporations that operate or contract exclusively with prisons and detention centers, it will not have divested or dissociated in any meaningful way from these industries. We continue to demand divestment and the imposition of a negative screen.
As PPPD stated during the CPUC meeting before staging a walkout, this was the first time the University has made a claim that PRINCO holds no investments in private detention, despite over a year of engagement with PPPD about the issue. This is characteristic of the University's handling of our campaign thus far, including the Resources Committee’s stunning refusal to articulate specific reasons as to why the proposal was rejected. We are disappointed, but not surprised by the administration’s ongoing evasiveness on this issue.
In fact, even in the days following the show of campus support for divestment at the CPUC meeting, the administration has continued to engage in meaningless semantics, rather than engage substantively with the issue at hand: their refusal to divest. Secretary Durkee has dogmatically insisted that the Resources Committee did not officially “reject” our proposal because the Board of Trustees is the only body capable of making official and final rejections. Whether the proposal fails to move past the Resources Committee due to the Resources Committee’s rejection or the Board of Trustees’ rejection, the proposal was definitively — and shamefully — rejected last Monday.
Professor Littman's presentation at the CPUC meeting and his responses to subsequent questioning exposed to the campus community what was already clear to PPPD — neither the Resources Committee nor the administration has engaged substantively with our proposal. Rather than engage with the gravity of the issue, the diversity of campus support for divestment, or the mechanisms for meaningfully disassociating from these industries, the Resources Committee has consistently delayed, distracted, and made facetious arguments in opposition to divestment. The Resources Committee’s conduct has undermined its legitimacy as an institutional channel for deliberation on divestment. As such, we request a meeting with the Board of Trustees.
Princeton has historically and presently attempted to silence student movements that address the University’s complicity in racial and economic injustice. PPPD rejects this silencing of voices, and will continue to act until the Princeton community’s wishes for disassociation and divestment are met. As Anthony Romero ’87, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, argued just this past Friday at the “¡Adelante Tigres! Celebrating Latino Alumni at Princeton University” conference, institutions like Princeton can and should divest from corporations which imprison oppressed people for profit.
The Princeton Private Prison Divest Coalition
Princeton Private Prison Divest is a coalition of University community members united in calling on the University to divest from for-profit detention corporations. The coalition can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.