On Oct. 11, the President’s Office released an email announcing that Reed’s Board of Trustees voted to “prohibit any new investments [by Reed] in public funds or private partnerships that are focused on the oil, gas, and coal industries…” and to “phase out all such existing investments in private partnerships in accordance with the funds’ typical life cycles, or sooner if both prudent and practicable.” After multiple years of student movements to divest from fossil fuels, the prison-industrial complex, and the military-industrial complex, the announcement came as a pleasant surprise to many community members, especially in a time when student demand for divestment has quieted since Divest Reed’s pre-pandemic swell.
Not all students, however, were thrilled at the announcement. Two days after the announcement from the President’s Office, Greenboard released a statement in SB Info that raised concerns about the vote: “Although we recognize and appreciate the move by the trustees to signal their divestment from fossil fuels, the time scale and specificity were strikingly unclear.”
Greenboard’s statement asked for greater transparency from Reed into what divestment from fossil fuels looked liked and called the trustees’ phasing out of only private partnerships “inadequate and unacceptable” when public funds focused on fossil fuels had no mention.
Alongside their statement, Greenboard and Reed’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) penned a petition demanding, among other things, “Clarification as to whether Reed’s recent divestment announcement includes phasing out existing investments in public funds… Divestment from any current and future investments in weapons manufacturing, mineral extraction, and private prisons… Accessible and timely public disclosure of the industries, funds, partnerships, and other assets the college’s endowment is invested in… That Reed switches from Wells Fargo to a more ethical operating bank with student and faculty consultation.” The petition’s demands echo the sentiment heard in Greenboard’s statement that the announcement regarding divestment is opaque and doesn’t allow for Reed’s divestment efforts to be monitored.
Greenboard’s and YDSA’s insistence on transparency and accountability aren’t made without precedent. According to a 2019 Quest article, Reed President Paul Bragdon announced in 1986 that Reed would be divesting from South African businesses during apartheid. After Bragdon’s announcement, Reed’s portfolio did not significantly change and the Trustees continued to do business with South African companies. Since the late 70s when Reed created its Investment Responsibility Policy, the college has held maximizing the financial success of its investments over any ethical concerns, stating in the policy that “to own is not necessarily entirely to endorse.” The 2014 Reed Magazine article quoted Board of Trustees Director Roger Perlmutter, saying, “Reed’s endowment is largely invested in funds whose strategies permit quick and untrammeled decision-making by fund managers. To these members, divesting from funds with carbon exposure would mean dissociating from managers carefully selected for the likelihood of high performance.” This leaves little room for Reed, much less Reed students, to make real decisions about the institutions which Reed invests in or even know where those investments are.
While COVID may have slowed the Divest Reed movement, a movement which pushes for divestment from Reed’s major bank, Wells Fargo, the Greenboard petition demonstrates that student concerns over Reed’s endowment have not gone away. The final demand of the petition is for “one-fifth of the board of trustees to be made up of student representatives, elected by the student body with privileges equal to those of any other member of the board.” Greenboard and YDSA’s statement and petition signals that there remains a desire for real and substantial change to Reed’s structure among students.
Students can find Greenboard and YDSA’s petition linked here