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Do Calls for University Divestments Really Work?
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By Anthony Haddad
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 1, 2024

Protesters nationwide demand university divestment from companies tied to Israel, echoing historical movements. (Shutterstock)

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Protesters nationwide are rallying around a common chant: “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest.”

Analysis

Their plea is for universities to divest from companies that have business ties or investments in Israel, in light of the country’s invasion of Gaza. This call for divestment is not a new phenomenon but has deep historical roots, echoing successful movements from the past, such as the campaigns against apartheid-era South Africa.

The demands from these protests are varied yet united in their call for ethical investment practices.

At Columbia University, demonstrators are pushing for a broad spectrum of divestment targets, including tech giants like Google and Amazon. Meanwhile, at Cornell University, the focus shifts to defense contractors like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. This diversity in targets reflects a broader sentiment among activists to hold institutions accountable for their financial ties and the ethical implications thereof.

Does it Work?

While the chants and demands are loud, there is debate about the actual impact of divestments.

Analysts and experts point out that while divestment may not directly change corporate behavior, it carries significant symbolic weight. This symbolic victory is often seen as a moral stance, resonating with broader societal concerns beyond financial considerations.

The complexity of the issue is further highlighted by the University of California’s stance against divestments related to Israel.

The university acknowledges the right to express diverse viewpoints but raises concerns about academic freedom and the exchange of ideas on campuses. This opposition underscores the challenges universities face in balancing ethical, political, and financial considerations.

One of the central questions is whether divestment is an effective tool for change.

While it may not immediately alter corporate practices, its power lies in drawing attention to social and political issues. This attention can lead to broader discussions, policy changes, and heightened public awareness, making divestment a potent instrument of social activism.

The University Financial Landscape

Despite the calls for divestment, universities navigate a complex financial landscape.

Endowments, often in the billions, play a crucial role in funding scholarships, research, and other academic initiatives. Managing these funds ethically while meeting financial obligations presents a delicate balancing act for university administrators.

In essence, the chants and protests are not just about immediate divestment but about sparking conversations, challenging norms, and pushing institutions to consider the broader impacts of their financial decisions. It’s a nuanced dialogue that reflects the intersection of finance, ethics, and social responsibility.

To read more on this topic, please visit NPR

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Anthony Haddad,
Multimedia Journalist
Anthony W. Haddad, who graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with his undergraduate degree and has an MBA at Fresno State, is the Swiss Army knife of GV Wire. He writes stories, manages social media, and represents the organization on the ground.

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