Opinion: Why We’re Seeking an Updated Investment Responsibility Policy

Over the past forty years, two policies have stood at the center of Reed’s largest student-driven protests: the dissent policy (currently under review due to a history of institutionalizing racism), and the Investment Responsibility Policy. Compliance with the Investment Responsibility Policy (IRP) has long stood as the final bulwark against student movements: it provided the grounds on which Reed’s Board of Trustees rejected divestment from apartheid (throughout the ‘80s), the fossil fuel Industry (2014) and Wells Fargo (2017). This policy, wherever it has risen, has always trumped Reed’s other values, codes of conduct, and even the concern of the Board of Trustees itself. Notably, in 2014, the board decided to withhold action on their self-decried belief that climate change poses “quite possibly the biggest challenge in human history,” for the sake of abiding by the policy. While the statement’s original intent and values are noble, its nebulous definitions, self-contradictions, and idiosyncrasies in contrast with college documents have blocked meaningful dialogue, stand as a barrier from the implementation of the very values it strove to promote, and are an affront to Reed’s character as an institution.

It may come as a surprise, then, that the Investment Responsibility Policy itself was created in response to a student-driven movement, and many of the students originally involved with bringing about the policy would no doubt be dismayed about how the policy has been recently used and interpreted. In the period from 1978–1981 when the IRP was written and implemented, Reed was going through a reckoning. Near the end of the Red Scare, the Board of Trustees had resolved to fire tenured philosophy professor Stanley Moore because of his Marxist beliefs. Moore, leading up to the firing, had contended that “academic freedom meant employment criteria based on professional ability, not personal political beliefs.” In the name of academic freedom, students and members of the faculty began a campaign to reinstate the professor. In 1981, the campaign culminated in a vote of 12 to 7 by the Board of Trustees to state that the college ”regret the action” resulting in Professor Moore’s dismissal – although Moore never took up his former position.

Since then, oddly, the notions of academic freedom and political neutrality have been used almost exclusively to shut down rational response to scientific findings and popular student-led reforms, while not consistently applying to the college’s right-aligned financial investments and conservative legal behavior. As Sky Ford wrote in their 2018 Quest opinion “Challenging Political Neutrality,” “there is no politically neutral stance; denial of politics is itself a political position. This denial (or neutrality) is a statement of acquiescence to dominant culture or dominant practices.” We cannot forget that the horror and violence of apartheid was considered “politically neutral” by our institution in the 1980s, just as the separation of families and the outfitting of prison buses with baby car seats by the Wells Fargo-funded GEO group is considered “politically neutral” today.

Climate change, for example, is not a political issue. It is a phenomenon established by scientific consensus that has been politicized by the right. Yet our institution announced that issuing non-compliance with the fossil fuel industry, and its practices of spreading academic doubt and misinformation, is a political statement. Indeed, Desmond Tutu’s principle is a very simple one: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Reed is in the position of being able to ignore the issues of private prisons, climate change, and family separations for its own stated goal of financial gain. The college has stated that the college does not act on issues which don’t affect it directly. We must not forget that the possibility of ignoring these issues and the ability to exempt oneself from the systems which cause them is the very essence of privilege. Reed must have a policy which recognizes that it is not just an institution, it is a community made up all types of people, many of whom are threatened by these issues.

By now, while disagreeing with the interpretations and results of the IRP, you may contend: “Well, there must be some way to work within the Policy to change Reed into a socially responsible institution?” And indeed, in Statute III of the Policy, there does appear to be an opening for dialogue: “In acting on non-economic questions the College recognizes that its traditions require it to act only where the issue at hand is of a compelling social or moral character and where the action taken reflects widely-held, perhaps almost universally-held social or moral positions.” The only problem, which administrators and trustees have been quick to remind us of, is that the school doesn’t know what it is invested in. So how can the community hold “social and moral” positions on stocks if we cannot know what the stocks are? However, the Paradise Papers did reveal what some of Reed’s offshore Cayman Islands and Bermuda holdings are. Notably, this included EnCap Investments, the leading provider of venture capital to the independent sector of the U.S. oil and gas industry, which specializes in jumpstarting up-and-coming oil and gas projects.

Besides the haziness of the IRP’s definitions, and the obstacles to its full exercise, we also find issue in how the Policy is somehow exempt from the school’s other commitments. Imagine what a school would look like if the IRP’s exclusive focus on fiduciary objectives applied to the rest of its conduct, all in the name of perceived political neutrality! As Reed’s first president, William Trufant Foster, laid out, the ideal college is “a college imbued with that kind of democratic spirit that cooperates for the common good with all the agencies of social progress; a college with a view of its responsibility that is not shut off by campus walls.” And indeed, there is precedent for Reed to not comply with outside entities that work against our values. Former President John Kroger, when instating Reed as a Sanctuary Campus, wrote, “As a sanctuary college, Reed will not assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the investigation of the immigration status of our students, staff, or faculty absent a direct court order.” This decision, while in a way political, strengthened Reed as an institution, and reinforced our claims of neutrality. Why then should Reed fund the disinformation campaigns of massive oil companies? Why then should President Kroger have confirmed a massive new long-term deal with Wells Fargo at the height of student protests “before late November, when Reed’s Investment Policy Committee was scheduled to begin discussing students’ ardent calls for divestment,” and right before his resignation? (See “Secret Loans and Loyalty,” a previous Quest article by Arek Rein-Jungwirth.)

As mentioned in an earlier article in the Quest, Greenboard recently met with members from the Board of Trustees, and will soon work to pass legislation through Senate and the college’s Legislative Committee to update the Investment Responsibility Policy. We will compromise to create a policy which respects Reed’s financial obligations, and protects against the conditions which led to Stanley Moore’s firing, yet does not neglect social responsibility. Our meeting with the trustees was very productive; trustees present advocated updates to the policy, and displayed openness to working with us. Last semester, we distributed a petition which quickly garnered over one-hundred signatures, and we intend to keep the student body involved and updated in our discussions and progress. In essence, we are trying to work with the administration to continue the work of Fossil Free Reed and Reedies Against Racism to create a policy which better represents Reed’s values.

Ultimately, until the IRP is changed, there is little hope for student-driven reform movements to have the results that they strive for. Ultimately, until the IRP is updated, our tuition money is complicit with the destruction of the planet, the institutionalized racism of the prison-industrial complex, the suppression of academic research, and perhaps most damning, the defense of false equivalences between right-wing ideology and established fact. We encourage students, faculty, and other staff to help continue the conversation on how to make Reed a better school and to reach out to greenboard@groups.reed.edu.

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