CPUC discusses divestment process, renaming campus spaces, graduate student life| May 8, 2018
During the final Council of the Princeton University Committee meeting of the academic year, representatives from the Resources Committee, the Committee on Naming, the Campus Iconography Committee, and the Graduate Student Government addressed University divestment from private prisons, initiatives to honor diverse individuals from the University’s history, and plans to improve graduate student life on campus.
The meeting took place in the Neuroscience Institute A32 lecture hall and began with roll call and an approval of the minutes from the March 26 meeting. President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 deferred to Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Linda Nilsen the single question submitted in an opening question-and-answer session, which asked about socially responsible investment accounts for the University’s retirement program.
“We do have a socially responsible account available in our retirement and our savings plan,” Nilsen said. “It is offered by TIAA-CREF and it is called the CREF Social Choice Account.”
Resources Committee chair Blair Schoene then introduced the committee and its history.
“The Resources Committee was set up not long after the CPUC in 1970, with the basic charge of asking and deliberating on questions regarding the investment of the University’s endowment,” Schoene explained. “We are charged with determining whether and when to recommend that the Board of Trustees divest and dissociate from a particular company or set of companies.”
According to Schoene, the University wants “to maintain an apolitical position regarding its decision-making, especially when it comes to issues regarding the endowment.”
He cited the reason for this stance as the necessity for the campus’s role as “a place where there is an openness of ideas where all ideas can be discussed.”
Noting that the University has divested twice in the past, in response to South African apartheid and genocide in Darfur, Schoene presented the committee’s deliberations on divesting from private prisons.
In the aforementioned cases, the University divested from South African companies and Sudanese companies, but not in multinational corporations that may have had investments in those countries. Specifically, in 1969, the University divested from stock in any firm that did more than half its business in South Africa. In the 1980s, the University selectively divested from companies that operated in South Africa. Finally, in 2006, the University divested from select companies that operate in Sudan.
“In the last couple years, the main point of discussion in the Resources Committee has been that of divestment from the private prison industry,” Schoene said. “This was a proposal brought forward by members of Students for Prison Education and Reform.”
Schoene also referred to Princeton Private Prison Divest, a group of undergraduates that has been working with the Resources Committee since May 2016.
The Resources Committee met with PPPD members throughout the following school year to discuss the initial proposal as well as a revised one. Schoene said that at the end of the 2016–17 academic year, the committee decided that it was “not ready to move forward with the recommendation to the Board of Trustees for divestment,” but ensured that they would continue to discuss the issue into the current academic year.
“Our discussions over the last couple of years started with a comparison between private prisons and public prisons,” Schoene said. “What we discovered was that this comparison is very difficult.”
Schoene explained that there was a “lack of transparency, difficulty of obtaining data, questions of funding sources of various studies,” and other issues the Resources Committee and PPPD faced while the topic.
According to Schoene, roughly half of the committee members were in favor of divestment, while the other half were against. As a result of the lack of consensus, the committee was unable to determine that there was campus consensus for divestment, one of the requirements to bring the proposal to the Board of Trustees.
“We hope that continued research on campus and debate about mass incarceration and the role that private prisons play in it should certainly continue,” Schoene said. “This was a huge educational experience for me and I thank [PPPD] for that.”
Schoene was followed by PPPD member Max Grear ’18, who discussed the divestment discussion process and recommendations for improving it in the future.
Grear is a former opinion columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
“After a lot of back and forth, we finally got the panel arranged for Feb. 2, which four committee members attended,” Grear said. “We didn’t have another meeting with the committee until March 10, [when] they told us that we didn’t have enough empirical evidence in our proposal.”
Grear expressed his frustration that it had taken four months since the revised proposal was presented in December for the committee to inform PPPD, setting back discussion another academic year.
He also criticized the committee for failing to inform PPPD that the University has not been invested in private prisons in the first place until a CPUC meeting in March of 2017.
Grear concluded with three proposals for future discussions involving the Resources Committee.
“The first proposal is that the Resources Committee should be required to meet with the divest campaign organizers for a bare minimum of twice a semester during the two academic years following the submission of the divestment proposal,” he said. “I understand that it takes a while to discuss these issues, but it’s more a question of what gets done during those two years.”
Grear’s second proposal was that “divestment campaigns should be notified about whether or not the University is invested in the companies specifically targeted within two academic semesters of the date that the divestment proposal is brought to the Resources Committee.”
The final proposal was that the committee keep the divestment campaign organizers updated with critiques about divestment proposals consistently throughout the process. In addition, Grear emphasized the importance of constant communication between the Resources Committee and organizers, noting that PPPD was not informed in detail about the committee’s deliberations until the most recent report, which came out shortly before the CPUC meeting.
Grear also pointed out that “the Resources Committee should ideally be representative of the campus community,” especially because mass incarceration and private prisons “disproportionately impact communities of color.”
“In the past two years, all of the non-student members of the committee were all white, so that was eight out of 11 committee members,” Grear said. “Given the power dynamics that undeniably exist between faculty members and administration and students, it doesn’t seem fair to put the burden of representation of a large community on students in this way.”
Micah Herskind ’19 also approached the podium to make comments about the arguments for and against divestment and to put them into perspective in regard to the University’s history with racial issues.
“I’ll remind you that [the University] was relatively late to divestment from economies of apartheid South Africa, and as important as it was, we only just this year dealt with our legacy of slavery through the Princeton Slavery Project,” Herskind said. “If we continue to refuse to divest, I think that we’re putting ourselves on the same trajectory of benefiting from injustice and then simply apologizing for it years later as opposed to taking a stand for what we know is right, even while it’s politically risky.”
Herskind pointed out that one of the main arguments against divestment made by the Resources Committee was that private prisons are a “consequence rather than a cause of mass incarceration.” He rebutted by pointing out that divesting from companies during apartheid in South Africa was not because they were responsible for creating apartheid, but rather because the companies were “profiting off of an unjust system.”
In addition, Herskind cited the second reason that the committee presented against divestment as the fact that private prisons are “not worse than public prisons.”
“Saying that we’re okay with private prisons because they aren’t worse than public prisons is pretty similar to saying that we’re okay with somebody cutting off a finger because it’s not as bad as cutting off a hand,” Herskind said.
Herskind addressed one of the final arguments against divestment in the Resources Committee’s report: that the University core values being violated by private prisons are unclear.
“This is in part because the University hasn’t actually enumerated its values,” Herskind said. “This is just another way in which divestment campaigns really have it tough, because how can you show which policies are in contrast with the University values if there are no enumerated core University values?”
In response to the committee’s claim that there is a “lack of clear consensus” on campus in terms of private prison divestment, Herskind pointed out that “there is far more demonstrable campus consensus today about private prisons than there even was about apartheid.”
“Eighty-nine percent of undergraduates who voted in the undergraduate referendum supported divestment, as did 85 percent of grad students,” said Herskind. “Hundreds of faculty have signed on for divestment, as have alumni and community members.”
Herskind concluded by urging the campus community to consider the implications of private prisons.
“I hope that everyone in this room will urge the Board of Trustees to grapple with our institution’s entanglement in wholesale human caging and to extricate ourselves immediately,” Herskind said.
Subsequently, Committee on Naming chair Angela Creager presented the committee’s recent recommendations for names for the new public garden at Firestone Library and the easternmost East Pyne Hall arch.
After receiving 21 suggestions of names for the garden, 17 for the arch, and 14 additional suggestions, the committee compiled a list including over 100 additional names from suggestions made last year.
“These spaces are spaces that represent our connection the public,” Creager said. “We were very eager to think about names that relate to the history of not just the University, but also the town.”
The committee chose Betsey Stockton, a slave in the Maclean House during president Green’s administration, as the name for the new Firestone garden.
“Upon her freedom, [Stockton] became a missionary then served the Princeton community in a variety of ways,” Creager said. “She founded the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church and the first school for colored children in Princeton as well as an adult school.”
In addition, the committee decided upon James Collins “Jimmy” Johnson, a fugitive slave who worked at the University for over 60 years, as the name for the East Pyne arch.
Creager explained that after being reported by a University student for being a fugitive slave, Johnson was arrested and put on trial.
“He was going to be returned to Maryland to his owner, but he avoided this fate because a woman named Theodosia Prevost paid about 500 dollars for his freedom,” Creager said.
Prevost was the great-granddaughter of president and slave-owner Witherspoon, whose statue is right next to the arch to be named after Johnson.
Following Creager, Campus Iconography Committee co-chair Treby Williams and secretary Debby Foster presented new initiatives being pushed by the committee across campus, one being the commissioning of portraits for ten individuals who have contributed to the University’s history.
According to Foster, the Portraiture Nominations Committee evaluated individuals who, in the past 75 years, demonstrated “excellence and achievement in a particular field, excellence in the nation’s service and the service of humanity, or through a significant contribution to the culture of Princeton University.” The committee also sought to bring about a “representation of diversity, broadly defined.”
The ten individuals chosen for the portraiture project were Bill Bradley ’65, Denny Chin ’75, Carl A. Fields, Elaine Fuchs GS ’77, Sir Arthur Lewis, Toni Morrison, Robert J. Rivers ’53, Ruth Simmons, Sonia Sotomayor ’76, and Alan Turing GS ’38.
The portraits of Morrison and Lewis had been commissioned last year.
In addition, the Public Spaces Working Group has been pushing forward projects in conjunction with other groups on campus to increase awareness of diversity through art. One of these exhibits is HYPHEN, which features photographs by University students and recent graduates and opened in Chancellor Green on Tuesday, May 8.
Williams discussed a new project implementing a virtual walking tour.
“We’re very excited to share that we will be launching a series of walking tours that we entitled ‘Making Visible What Has Been Invisible,’” Williams said. “These tours are web-based and mobile friendly, so you can access them on your mobile device while you’re on campus or when you’re not on campus on your desktop.”
The final speaker was Graduate Student Government president Mai Nguyen, who addressed housing, family support, and sexual misconduct policy for the graduate student community.
In terms of housing, one of Nguyen’s main concerns was that future graduate students housed on the Lake Campus would be “isolated from resources that other students had.” Mai said she hoped to work with administration to ensure a constant flow of communication.
Nguyen also encouraged expansion of family support for graduate students.
“One thing we’d like to work on is eventually linking GCAP [Graduate Child Assistance Program] to cost of living increases,” Nguyen said. “As you might know, the original GCAP was introduced in 2007, and since then has not been increased even though the cost of childcare has increased enormously over the past ten years.”
Finally, Nguyen addressed her hopes for sexual misconduct policies to be better detailed and more greatly enforced in the future.
“In the past year, sexual misconduct in the relationships between graduate students and faculty members came up quite a bit on campus and in the wider university climate,” Nguyen said. “With the help of some graduate students here, we made some very specific sexual misconduct policy proposals to specifically address the relationship between graduate students and faculty members.”
The schedule for CPUC meetings during the 2018–19 academic year will be released in the fall.