BMC plenary resolution calls for Burma divestment
By biconews On 21 Mar, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Christine McCluskey

The word “divestment” brings to mind images of college students of the 1980s waving signs

reading “End Apartheid” and calling for their schools administrations to divest funds from South

Africa. As Bryn Mawr is poised to demonstrate, the idea of divestment on college campuses is not

a thing of the past: at this Sunday’s Plenary, Bryn Mawr students face a resolution on divesting

Bryn Mawr College funds from Burma, a country whose military dictatorship continues 10

violate the human rights of its citizens as it has done since 1962.

According to Chu Hui Cha ’03 and Anne Yereniuk ’02, the authors of the resolution and heads of the college’s newly established Free Burma Coalition, Bryn Mawr invests in the stocks of two companies that do business in Burma - Black & Decker and Nortel. Cha and Yereniuk said they considered divestment carefully before creating the resolution, attempting to ensure that it would not financially hurt the people of Burma as sanctions against other countries in similar situations, such as Iraq, have in the past.

“Barely anything trickles down to the Burmese people … they hear about each divestment, though, and it helps them to know that foreign countries are paying attention, said Cha.

For almost four decades, Burma has been under the rule of a military dictatorship widely

criticized for its violence: in an editorial last week, the New York Times called it “one of the

most brutal and repressive regimes in the world.” In 1988, a year of protests in which

thousands were killed by the military, citizens elected Aung San Suu Kyi in a democratic

election. However, she was never able to take oflice, as she was put under an almost constant

house arrest during the past 12 years.

Her family accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for her in 1991. She remains a popular and outspoken leader in Burma.

Free speech is severely limited in the Southeast Asian nation, and thousands have been killed or

imprisoned. The country’s universities were shut down in 1996. “That [the closing of the

universities] in itself makes this a legitimate cause for us - these are our peers abroad.” said

Cha.

Getting this resolution passed at Plenary is not an absolutely necessary step for divestment.

Nonetheless, Cha said she wanted to “make the college aware that students do care,” and to have

the backing of a significant portion of the student body before she formally brought the issue to the administration.

At the end of last month. Cha and Yereniuk brought the text of the resolution to Nell Booth, the

executive assistant to President Vickers and the staff member supporting the Committee on

Investment Responsibility (CIR).

That is the subcommittee of the Board of Trustees that would consider divestment.

The CIR “is essentially set up to serve as a forum for the college to consider its investments.”

explained Booth.

She also said that whether or not the resolution passes at Plenary, the ClR can consider its

investments in the companies doing business in Burma and decide whether divestment or

another course of action would be appropriate.

A subcommittee of the CIR, along with the President, reviews the “shareholder issues” of the stocks in which the college

invests, and decides which issues have “direct bearing on the mission of the college,” according

to the CIR’s procedural statement. At the annual meetings of the corporations in which the

college owns significant amounts of stock, the college abstains from voting on shareholder

resolutions which lack that “direct bearing” on its mission. If a shareholder resolution does

relate to the college’s mission, though, the college takes one of a few set courses of action. One of

these is divestment.

Booth explained that issues with direct bearing on Bryn Mawr’s ideals are often related to equal

opportunity and diversity, of which the college takes particular notice as an institution

dedicated to educating women and to maintaining campus diversity. Other issues do arise, though -

in fact, the most recent move toward divestment was initiated by two alumnae who wanted the college to get rid of its stock holdings in tobacco companies. In the end, the matter went to the Board of Trustees, and after many opinions were heard, the Board decided not to divest.

Human rights, as in the case of the Burma divestment resolution, is another issue that the CIR

has considered before, as when they “discussed appropriate responses to companies doing business in South Africa,” according to Booth.

Jerry Berenson, treasurer and chief financial officer of the college, said he had not heard of the

resolution before, but that the administration would be open to considering it. “Changing

investment policy is something to consider very carefully,” he said.

The money that the college invests in corporations does not come from tuition money, but from

donations from alumnae and friends of the college. Cha and Yereniuk maintain that students

should have a greater say in where Bryn Mawr’s money goes. Cha said that the Trustees “aren’t

as subject to student opinion as they should be.”

That may change, as another 2000 Plenary resolution calls for more student representation on

the subcommittees of the Board of Trustees. The CIR is a subcommittee of the Investment

Subcommittee, which would gain two student representatives if the resolution were passed at

Plenary and then sanctioned by the Board of Trustees.

For more information on Burmese issues, visit www.frecburma.com or email ccha@brynmawr.edu or ayereniu@brynmawr.edu

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