Campus calm as Trustees reinvest

by Christopher Johnson | 11/15/93 6:00am

The Trustees' decision Saturday to reinvest in South Africa closes another chapter in a decade-long controversy that caused the largest student protests in decades and ultimately led to the resignation of College President David McLaughlin.

But the once-passionate issue of the College's financial ties to South Africa has dimmed in recent years and the announcement has been received as another routine event during a routine Trustee meeting.

After just four years of restrictions on South African investments, the Trustees decided that the word of Nelson Mandela, the South African statesman and leader of the African National Congress, was enough to sway them into reinvesting.

Mandela, in a speech to the United Nations on Sept. 23, urged companies to end their economic sanctions and reinvest in South Africa.

The Board's about-face stemmed from a recommendation by the Council on Investor Responsibility, a group of faculty, students, administrators and Trustees, that advises the Board on how moral and social issues affect the College's investments.

The report said, "For exactly the same reasons that Dartmouth divested, it is appropriate that Dartmouth now reinvest."

The investor council was created in 1986 at the height of campus conflict over South Africa.

McLaughlin, the former president who resigned in part because of campus unrest over the South Africa issue, said the decision to reinvest "wasn't much of a decision at this point."

He said the issue of reinvestment has "become almost a national policy" and that the Trustees were following a long history of "acting after the fact, after events had already been set in motion."

McLaughlin did not support proposed sanctions against the white minority-ruled nation in 1983, when the Trustees first considered divesting. He said to "do so would be symbolic, and not have any effect. Many of companies were actually contributing to the betterment of South African citizens."

McLaughlin's stance angered students. He said yesterday that he still believes the College made the right decision to take the long-range view instead of reacting to political incidents at the time. "Sometimes when you become terribly reactive to student interest groups you don't always make the right decision. I thought the Trustees were right when they did not divest."

McLaughlin said leading the Trustee decision to keep investments in South Africa "always made it more difficult" for him to lead the College.

The Trustees' decision this weekend caught some students by surprise.

Randall Dottin, the chair of Paleopitus, a group of seniors that advises the administration, said the Trustees "are basically ignoring the issue."

"I think its extremely premature" to reinvest, Dottin said. "I'd like to see some proof of real change before companies start to reinvest."

Lee Addo '96, the African-Caribbean students organization president, said the Trustees "should have waited for the elections to be held so that all the parties can fulfill their commitments."

Tebogo Skwambane '95, a student from Namibia who studied in South Africa, said the decision "gives people a message that things are getting better in South Africa, whereas violence has escalated."

But other students said the Trustees made the right move.

Robert Leathern '97, a South African, said the economic sanctions had served their political purpose. "Dartmouth taking initiative is a positive thing. The College is saying, 'They're trying really hard to make things better and we're going to try to help you.'"

Georgina Gemmill '96, who is also from South Africa, said the decision "will have no huge direct effect on South Africa" because "the sanctions did not have a great effect."

Student Assembly members welcomed the decision. The Assembly passed a motion last week recommending that the College lift its ban on investment.

"I am naturally delighted that they agreed with us," said Assembly member Matthew Berry '94, who wrote the resolution.

Berry said the College should reinvest because of the "changing political climate and because reinvesting in South Africa would increase the return of investments in the [College's investment] portfolio."

Lyn Hutton, the College's vice president and chief financial officer, said the Trustee decision to lift restrictions could increase the endowment's performance.

"Historically, South Africa-free investments ... have under-performed the ones that didn't have constraints over a long period of time," Hutton said. No clear forecast is available on how much the College stands to gain from reinvesting, she said.

Dartmouth joins Columbia University and Yale University as the only schools in the Ivy League that have lifted their investment restrictions on South Africa. According to the College News Service, other universities, local and state governments and major corporations are reconsidering their positions on South African investments.

Some observers yesterday said the Trustee decision to reinvest was a result of necessity, not philosophy.

Berry said because more American companies are going back to South Africa, the list of companies Dartmouth could invest in would become slim without the decision to reinvest. "More and more U. S. companies going back," Berry said. "If policy wasn't changed, eventually maybe 50 percent of the Fortune 500" would be off-limits.

Jonathan King, the director of investments, said "A lot of the large American companies that got out of South Africa will go back in." That will result in a longer list of restricted investments, which could hurt the College, he said.

King said a maximum of 10 percent of the College's investments are with companies that do business in South Africa, like the computer giant Microsoft and large German and Swiss corporations.

Yesterday's decision "will play out over time," King said. "There's not going to be a lot of trading tomorrow."

Staff Writer Alexander R. Edlich contributed to this article.

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