SAW to revise divestment plan

In an open meeting with the University’s Board of Trustees work group, members of Students Against War (SAW) called for the University to completely withdraw funds invested in six companies the group deems war profiteers.The proposed withdrawal from those companies – Halliburton, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Dyno Corp and Lockheed Martin – was met with hesitance by members of the Board.The Board’s major concern with SAW’s proposal is the broadness of the proposition.”It is the duty of the board to make a proposal that is executable,” John Snow, event moderator, trustee and work group leader said. “Maybe I was too idealistic in my expectations,” a tearful SAW member said after the presentation, “their job is to be part of a financial institution.” The work group is a standing advisory group that consists of members, including some students, who are appointed for two-year terms. Suggestions as to UVM’s endowment created by board members’ votes are made to the Board of Trustees, who have the final decision on the topic. After the presentation on Thursday, the work group advised the students to reassess their position.”We have to refine our points. Stick to our arguments,” SAW member and proposal presenter Ben Silverman said. “My hopes are high… We value their [the Board’s] input, but we’re not giving up ground.” SAW outlined their position in a slide show detailing company actions that, in the group’s opinion, oppose the University’s humanitarian ideals. In the presentation, members of SAW established the six companies as war-profiteers by showing a graph of their stock values before and after the war in Iraq. Members of SAW also said that many of the companies manufacture cluster bombs and munitions with depleted uranium – both of which can cause harm to civilians, members of SAW said. “As a former Marine, I can testify to what has been said,” SAW member Matt Howard said. “I have been exposed to depleted uranium, and I have witnessed the faulty nature of these weapons systems.” Howard served in the Marines for four years before his time at UVM. Executive Assistant to the President of Finance Al Turgon disagreed.”Depleted uranium has saved U.S. lives,” Turgon said. “I’ve seen soldiers die, and I want to give our soldiers every chance to succeed.” Turgon spent 22 years in the military, served in the Gulf War and retired as a lieutenant colonel.Turgon cautioned against the emotional response the photographs elicited. “There’s going to be collateral damage in war,” he said. “I could throw images up there showing the effects of M-16’s.””There are many gray areas,” Snow said of SAW’s complaints. He continued that Board members would “need a bright line to determine who is offensive.” SAW cited Raytheon as problematic due to a history of fraud, forged test results and production of sub standard parts. Northrop Grumman was charged with improper hazardous waste disposal.The Board agreed that the production of cluster bombs and depleted uranium are concrete problems that can be addressed, but noted that the fault SAW found with the other companies applied to many corporations.Board members repeatedly suggested developing some form of quantitative criteria or scoring system to identify companies worthy of divestment. “It’s very difficult to quantify a moral issue.” Silverman said. “They’re asking us to divest from a practice, what we’re talking about is a principle.”When asked by a Board member what, in the event that the University did divest, would be the criteria for reinvestment, junior Keith Zengel said: “The day that any of these companies are not themselves anymore.””The initial reason we set out to divest,” Silverman said, “Is that we wanted an attainable goal, something here on campus we can work for and win – our part in bringing justice to these companies.”The members of SAW walked away from the meeting with a renewed sense of what is necessary to bring that justice into the spotlight.”I don’t think this discussion is over,” Snow said.