President, Les Purce “GSU resolutions on divestment from Israel and boycott of Caterpillar” email from November 3, 2010
I have received the Geoduck Student Union's resolutions on divestment from Israel and boycotting Caterpillar. I would like to attend a meeting of the GSU to share with you my thinking about these resolutions and to hear your questions and ideas.
As you know, this is not the first time these issues have come before me at Evergreen. The responsibility for the overall operation of the college, including college investments, rests with me as the president. In the interest of transparency, through this letter I want to let you know my thinking on these issues and share some information about the college's investment and purchasing practices.
As an academic institution, the college has a fundamental reason to refrain from taking political positions. On political questions, the college's primary duties are to defend the right of its members to freely debate and question all political propositions and to encourage and facilitate discussion on difficult issues. If the college declares an institutionally preferred point of view on a political question, our role as a facilitator of difficult discussions is compromised. Also, Evergreen is a public college, established by the State of Washington, and it operates within the political and legal constraints that come with being a public entity. Reflecting these reasons, Evergreen's long-standing Social Contract includes the provision that 'the college is obligated not to take a position, as an institution, in electoral politics or on public issues except for those matters which directly affect its integrity, the freedom of the members of its community, its financial support and its educational programs."
While this principle from the Social Contract is important, I recognize that it does not necessarily end the discussion and that it often places the college in an awkward position. Political questions are, fundamentally, moral questions about how we construct a just society. Achieving social justice through education and public service is part of Evergreen's mission. At the same time, we emphasize civic engagement and urge students to carry theoretical and academic work into practice. While we teach students that they have a duty to become informed about political questions, form opinions, and act on those opinions, the college as an institution refrains from doing so. Instead, the college provides a place for all voices, including minority opinions.
In an effort to help us all become informed, I want to provide some additional information about the administrative functions addressed in the GSU resolution. The great majority of the college's investments are held in short-term certificates of deposit (CDs) or in the state's Local Government Investment Pool. In addition, in a few cases where public money has been contributed to an endowment, the college holds the public part of the endowment in stocks and bonds. The responsibility for overseeing these investments is delegated to the Vice President for Finance and Administration.
The college's purchasing and contracting authority is also governed by state law and the state's purchasing policies. Under these rules, when the college seeks to buy services or equipment, we are very limited in our ability to specify or restrict brands or manufacturers. The college does not have the authority to prohibit Caterpillar from responding to our requests for bids or to prevent our contractors or vendors from using Caterpillar equipment.
Money raised on behalf of the college, held by The Evergreen State College Foundation, is in fact held by an independent non-profit corporation with the sole purpose of supporting students and programs at The Evergreen State College. The independent status of the foundation allows it to maintain a favorable tax status and to make and accept gifts -- including student scholarships, faculty development grants and other discretionary money -- that the college cannot. The Foundation is governed by an independent Board of Governors. For this reason, I cannot speak for the Foundation board. However, I do know that the Foundation board, which is made up of alumni and supporters of the college, has a long history of engaging in thoughtful and practical discussions about their investment practices.
I have been moved by the eloquence and deep concern of the students and others who have urged the college to change its investment and purchasing practices. I have also heard from students and others who have a differing point of view. As you recognize, our community is divided on these questions. I believe that all those I have talked to share a genuine desire for peace and justice and that the disagreement is about the means to achieve those ends and the college's role in furthering those means.
In this situation, I believe that Evergreen is called on to do what we do best: focus on teaching and learning, facilitating engaged dialogue in a community that listens attentively to divergent points of view and cares for all its members. I hope that we can work together to ensure that Evergreen can live up to our core educational responsibilities.
As a step in that direction, I ask that you join me in two actions. First, I'd like to talk with you about how we, as a college, can expand and deepen our ongoing efforts to engage in difficult dialogues about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that grapples with the complexity of the issues, acknowledges the full history of both peoples, and allows for all voices to be heard in honest and civil discourse. Second, for that part of the endowment that is held by the college, I am asking the Vice President for Finance and Administration to undertake a review over the course of this academic year of our investment policy (which has not been updated since 1993), examining best practices for socially responsible institutional investing and proposing any changes to our investment policy that may be warranted, consistent with the role of the college as a public institution and consistent with a goal of maximizing the long-term benefit for the scholarships and faculty development initiatives that the endowment supports.
Both of these actions, to be successful, will require involvement from students, faculty and staff. In addition to meeting with the GSU, I plan to meet with members of the TESC Divest, and I am asking for time with the Faculty Agenda Committee.