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The Carletonian

Board of Trustees responds to calls for divestment

Carleton’s Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) encampment reached its second week of being up since its inauguration fifteen days ago. The encampment hopes to, in part, get Carleton’s endowment to disclose all investments related to the current Israel-Gaza war and divest from those companies. A senior member of Carleton’s SJP explained their stance on May 10, stating that the encampment is part of a broader national movement to support Palestine and protest investments that facilitate violence against Palestinians. 


“This encampment is certainly not divorced from the wider encampment movement all throughout the country at Columbia and UCLA and NYU,” they said. “I believe there’s over 40 campuses that have established candidates across the country, our encampment is very much in alignment with all of those movements. There might be some nuances as far as our demands go in comparison to other movements where they might deviate a little just based on the needs of our community, and addressing Carleton’s issues directly.”


Chairman of the Board of Trustees Wally Weitz told the Carletonian why he does not support divestment at this time: “If the objective is to bring about a change in a corporation’s behavior, I do not believe that selling our shares will have any impact on the company.  Our shares will be bought by new shareholders, and our absence on the shareholder rolls will probably not be noticed or mourned.”


Weitz argued that the obligation that the Board of Trustees has to the college makes divesting difficult. 


“To the extent that the endowment’s investment options are limited by divestment/proscription, the college is potentially harmed if it is not able to maximize returns that are used to run the institution, fund financial aid, etc,” Weitz said. “Trustees, as fiduciaries, have a legal obligation to manage the endowment ‘prudently’ (a legal term that is hard to nail down) and this duty trumps personal feelings about the issues involved.”


The endowment itself is set up in a way that includes multiple different investment vehicles. Kelsey Deshler, Carleton’s chief investment officer, identified the ways in which the endowments money is managed. 


“Roughly 15% of the endowment is invested directly,” Deshler said. “These are in stock, about 10-12%, and the remainder is in cash and other types of fixed income… and things that wouldn’t be fossil fuel oriented. What we’ve committed to is no longer owning fossil fuel companies directly, and that means it’s in Carleton’s name. So 15% or so is in direct investments, and then the balance — 85% — is invested through private partnerships.”


This 85% is invested in a way that incorporates multiple assets into a single investment, making the individual choices for the fund out of Carleton’s control. 


“These are funds that we invest in,” Deshler said. “We can’t control the underlying investments, the underlying stock holdings in these funds. We know what they are, and we can no longer invest in that fund if we don’t like what’s in the fund, but we can’t select the composition of the underlying investments in these funds. So they could be stocks or bonds or private companies, private assets, like real estate assets, for example.”


These funds, such as Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), are popular among many institutional and individual investors. Deshler argues that these kinds of investments are good for the college because of their nature being a basket of individual investments. 


“With private partnerships, these are what we would call ‘illiquid,’” Deshler said. “They’re hard to sell [and it] takes a while to get out of them. You wonder why [we’re] in these if they’re so hard to sell… [but] they offer a lot of value [and] generate a lot of returns…. So that’s just one way we help satisfy the objectives of the endowment.” 


SJP has noted that along with disclosure of investments that the college has in companies that are directly involved in the Israel-Gaza war, they seek for the endowment to divest from three companies in particular: Safran, General Electric (GE), and Woodward. Deshler explained that due to a corporate split that occurred with General Electric in April, Carleton is no longer invested in the defense portion of General Electric. 


“We no longer own General Electric…” Deshler said. “What happened with General Electric is that we didn’t sell it because of investment reasons related to anything with the war, the company actually split into two in April. So this is very recent. GE Aerospace split from GE Vernova. The aerospace part of GE is where their military defense businesses [is], and then Vernova is their power utilities division, so we continue to own the power and utilities company, we no longer own the aerospace company.”


Deshler argued that divesting from Safran, one of the other companies that is on the SJP list of companies to divest from, is difficult to evaluate to what degree they benefit from the war. 


“Under 10% of [Safran]’s revenue comes from the Middle East, and that includes all countries in the Middle East, and… they could understand further that most of their businesses are in commercial airlines, not defense. They do support some defense, but they have contracts with a lot of the Middle Eastern Airlines and other commercial [industries]… So if you think about it, a really small portion is related potentially to Israel. It’s really hard to… see connections here… versus fossil fuels where… all these companies do is fossil fuels.”


The final company that has been identified by SJP is Woodward Manufacturing, a manufacturer for aerospace and industrial components. 


“Woodward is a company that makes airplane control panels,” said Deshler. “And there’s nothing, even in SJPs report… that confirms that they have any business with Israel…. The company never said anything about working with Israel, and only 12% of the company’s revenue is defense.”


A student who asked to remain anonymous, and said their opinion does not necessarily reflect the view of SJP, was unconvinced by any of Deshler’s arguments. “We know that Safran is involved in Israel’s genocide in Gaza and we know that there are photos of Woodward labels on bombs dropped in Gaza,” said the student. “That’s your reason to divest, to stop the genocide.”


Another student commented that the board has a moral reason to divest. “I think as a board member, you are entrusted to represent your community as accurately and as accurately as possible,” said the student. “I think very few people on this campus would be comfortable with their tuition money being used to invest in the death and destruction of the Palestinian people. I think the precedent that has been set is that we are okay with investing in profiting off of and making money off of the death of people. Carleton College is effectively capitalizing off of death and destruction, and often genocide. I think as board members you have a responsibility to — like I said — represent the sentiments of your community. I don’t believe our board is doing that currently. Which is why we’re here protesting and demanding divestment.”


A Carletonian investigation confirmed that GE split into three companies on April 2, 2024 with GE Verona focusing on sustainable forms of energy. Safran does have a joint venture with Rafael, a defense system contractor, to create the Fireweaver, a coordination network that Safran claims “coordinates battlefield elements in real time.” Fireweaver was purchased by the Israeli Defense Forces in 2020. 

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About the Contributor
Bax Meyer
Bax Meyer, Managing Editor
Hey, all! I'm Bax (he/him), and I'm a junior Econ major with a Middle East Studies minor. I love talking about Middle East politics and American Indian Treaty Rights. I'll always send you good book or movie recomendations. You can probably find me on campus wandering the arb, on 1st libe, or at step areobics. I like dad jokes, American Indian Treaty Rights, shawarma, and publishing my hot takes in the Carletonian anonymously.
Red flags: econ major, will judge you for using the Oxford comma, and hates geese
Green flags: Middle East Studies minor, still uses the Oxford comma, and quotes the Star Wars prequels on the daily
Bax was previously Managing Director and Viewpoint Editor.

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