Divestment history

by By Christopher Kao | 11/15/93 6:00am

In January 1986, at the height of debate over Dartmouth investments in South Africa, 12 students armed with sledgehammers attacked four student-built shanties on the Green.

The attack took place on Jan. 21, the first anniversary of the national Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and set off a wave of protest.

Three years later, in 1989, after the Faculty of the Arts and Science unanimously approved a resolution calling for total divestment, the Trustees voted to eliminate all investment in U.S. companies doing business in South Africa,.

"These investments have great symbolic meaning to many within and outside the Collage, and the disputes over such investments undermine Dartmouth's ability to achieve some of its educational goals," the Trustees said.

The shanties, crudely constructed wood shacks, were erected in November 1985 to protest Apartheid in South Africa and the College's investments. The efforts were modeled after similar protests at Columbia University and other Ivy League schools.

"The DCD takes this action after failure, over the past 15 years, to communicate the importance of this issue through meetings with College Trustees," the Dartmouth Community for Divestment stated in a letter.

Forty-five professors signed a statement of solidarity in support of the DCD's shanty-town project.

A group called The Dartmouth Committee to Beautify the Green Before Winter Carnival, composed mainly of writers for The Dartmouth Review, claimed responsibility for the attack on the shanties. In a letter to The Dartmouth the group stated that its purpose was "to remove four unsightly 'shanties' from the Green."

The group wrote "The members of DCBGBWC are not trying to stifle debate on campus. We are merely picking trash up off the Green, and restoring pride and sparkle to the College we love so much."

Dean of Students Edward Shanahan said, "It is a sad day at Dartmouth college when a handful of undergraduates take it upon themselves . . . to remove shanties constructed on our Green for the purpose of demonstrating a deep-felt concern for the injustices suffered by the peoples of South Africa."

Two days after the raid on the shanty-town, Jan. 23, 1986, 200 students occupied Parkhurst Hall. The group, called the Dartmouth Alliance Against Racial Oppression, stormed Parkhurst and occupied the dean's office and the College President's office. They slept in the offices and drew national attention.

Another 100 students rallied outside Parkhurst.

Yves Denize '87 said the group was protesting "the deplorable act of violence committed on the national holiday commemorating Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr."

The College, at request of protesters, canceled classes the next day to discuss "racism, violence, and disrespect for diversity and opinion."

Although the shanty-town and the subsequent occupation of the president's office did not force the College to divest completely from companies doing business in South Africa, it did lead to an alteration in College policy on investments.

In June of 1985 Trustees voted to divest from companies that had not signed the Sullivan Principles, guidelines governing corporate behavior. At the time, South Africa investments constituted 15.3 percent of the College's $414 million endowment.

College President David McLaughlin said, "The Trustees believe that the presence of American corporations in South Africa has been a constructive force in bringing pressure on the South African government to end the abhorrent social system of apartheid."

The shanties led to a modification of College policy. In December 1985, the Trustees said by the end of 1986, the College would divest from companies that had signed the Sullivan Principles but had not made significant progress towards implementing them.

McLaughlin said, "The Trustees have, in good faith, set the College on the course of involvement -- involvement through a commitment to the use of our investments to achieve political and social change for South Africa -- while still fulfilling their fiduciary responsibility as stewards of Dartmouth's endowment."

Protest against College investment in South Africa started in 1980 with an Undergraduate Council resolution calling for the Trustees to divest from corporations in South Africa.

This protest stemmed from the wording of the College's investment policy, which was created in 1972 and revised in 1978.

The Trustees in 1972 stated "Investment policies should also reflect the broad societal goals for which the institution as a whole stands." At that time, a permanent Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility was created to advise the Trustees on the social goals involved with investment.

In 1978, the Trustees decided to invest only in U.S. companies agreeing to the "Sullivan Principles."

The Undergraduate Council resolution urged the College to "divest itself of and join the boycott of all investments in firms with commercial ties to South Africa and-or Namibia by May 1981."

McLaughlin, then chair of the Board of Trustees said the Board did not support full divestiture because it felt some U.S. corporations were helping improve conditions for blacks in South Africa and because divesting would harm the endowment.

College investments declined over the next few years as more American companies ceased to do business in South Africa.

Finally in November 1989, the Board divested.

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