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Divestment of university endowment investments that support illegal Israeli government practices? Not a financial problem, according to Professor Charlie Eaton

The mainstream news media and Columbia University President Shafik have been blowing smoke on the question of divestment.

To the editor:

One of the advantages of aging beyond 70 as a habitual reader of the mainstream news media is how easy it has become to recognize large swaths of the coverage of prominent issues like the horrible violence in Ukraine and in Gaza and Israel as ideologically tainted garbage.

By contrast, I feel refreshingly surprised on those rare occasions when I read or hear an interview in the mainstream media with a strong ring of well-researched empirical truth.

So it was when I heard Geoff Bennett’s interview on April 29 during “PBS NewsHour” with Charlie Eaton, author of the book “Bankers in the Ivory Tower: The Troubling Rise of Financiers in U.S. Higher Education.”

Professor Eaton told Geoff Bennett that any competent investment team managing a university endowment could easily find alternatives for an institutional investor like Columbia University to replace investments connected to the Israeli government’s practices of apartheid and lethal violence against Palestinians. He said that, if authorized by university administrators, endowment managers could easily replace divested investments with no harm to the yield or growth potential of a university’s investment portfolio.

Eaton stated:

I can say there are many, many other assets that a school can invest in. There’s no shortage of investment opportunities in our global economy that are socially responsible and can both grow the endowment and align the university’s economic ties to the larger economy in a way that fits university values about equity and justice.

Divestment is something that’s technically very doable. There’s hundreds of socially and environmentally responsible investment managers out there, that any endowment could shift its funds into those socially and environmentally responsible funds that have a range of criteria that guide their investment.

So it’s a matter of a university finding an investment manager whose investment practices match the values and principles of the community.

The mainstream news media and Columbia University President Shafik have been blowing smoke on the question of divestment. Harvard, Columbia, Smith College, the University of California, and other colleges and universities divested their investments in South African companies by the end of the 1980s. So what is the problem now with divesting investments in companies that sell weapons and technologies which Israel uses to oppress, imprison without charges, and kill Palestinians?

This veteran reader of news media doesn’t get it.

John Breasted
Great Barrington

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