Responding to what administrators say are issues of morality, not money, trustees of Pitzer College and the Claremont Graduate School have voted to withdraw investments from companies that do business in South Africa.
The two schools, which are governed independently, are the only members of the six-college Claremont cluster to divest themselves of funds from firms with South African ties.
While they join a growing number of educational institutions nationwide taking such action, the two Claremont colleges are among the first in the state to do so.
Pitzer College President Frank Ellsworth said that the school will divest $2.1 million from its stock portfolios to protest South Africa’s official policy of racial segregation. The figure represents about 20% of Pitzer’s total investments.
“We are making a statement that says we find the official government policy of apartheid to be abhorrent to the very principles upon which our country was founded and the laws by which we are governed,” Ellsworth said. The school will withdraw funds from about 20 corporations, most of which are “blue-chip” companies such as IBM, AT & T and U.S. Steel. Because of Pitzer’s relatively small endowment, Ellsworth said, it was probably easier for the college to consider divestiture than it is for some wealthier institutions.
“I think that from a financial point of view the implications are limited,” he said. “But from a political and moral point of view such action is significant.”
The Claremont Graduate School, which opted for divestiture from only five of eight firms with South African ties, already has sold stocks valued at $3.6 million from its portfolios, said Michael Groener, a vice president and treasurer of the Claremont University Center and Graduate School.
To make such selective divestment decisions, Groener said, the college evaluated how well each corporation adhered to the so-called “Sullivan Principles.”
The guidelines, which were developed in 1978 by the Rev. Leon H. Sullivan of Zion Baptist Church in Philadelphia, include equal employment opportunities for all races, equal pay for comparable work, an increase in the number of blacks in administrative, clerical and technical jobs and efforts to improve the quality of workers’ lives away from their jobs.
“The argument for partial divestment was that one should not just divest and walk away,” Groener said. “In our own small way we are supporting those who, in our judgment, have indicated that they find the situation appalling in South Africa and are willing to work toward change.”
The graduate school’s divestments represent about 10% of its $37-million portfolio, he said. The three firms with South African ties that the college is continuing to support--American Home Products, General Motors and IBM-- account for about 6% of its total investments.
None of the other Claremont Colleges has voted to withdraw investments. A spokesman for Claremont McKenna College, which last year assigned a committee to study the issue, said its Board of Trustees will make a decision next month. Spokesmen for Pomona, Harvey Mudd and Scripps colleges said those schools have no plans to divest.
Concerns about South Africa have prompted many other colleges and universities nationwide to consider divestment. Since 1977, at least 89 educational institutions have withdrawn more than $500 million from corporations that do business in South Africa, according to figures released in New York by the American Committee on Africa.
Stanford Takes Action
In California, Stanford University trustees voted this week to sell $9,900 worth of stock in Newmont Mining Corp. and warned two other companies to cooperate in opposing racial segregation.
Last year, the University of California Board of Regents, which has a $2.4-billion investment in corporations with South African ties, voted to set up a committee to conduct a case-by-case review of the “corporate citizenship” exhibited by those firms. The university, which has been troubled by student protests, voted in March to divest itself of $12.3 million worth of stock in Eaton Corp., a Cleveland-based electrical equipment manufacturer. In Southern California, California State University, Los Angeles, and California State University, Northridge, both have policies prohibiting their private foundations from investing in South Africa, although only the Northridge foundation has actually divested funds.
Pitzer College and the Claremont Graduate School apparently are the only other educational institutions in the Los Angeles area to withdraw funds from businesses operating in South Africa.
Human Rights Message
Kevin Newton, president of the Claremont Colleges’ Black Student Union, said that divestiture sends an important message to the people of South Africa.
“It sends a message of support to them,” said Newton, whose organization honored Pitzer College for its divestiture decision with a plaque presented to Ellsworth this week. “And to the government of South Africa, it sends a message that Americans see their policy of apartheid as wrong and as one that violates human rights.”
Before Pitzer College made any decisions, Ellsworth said, the school went through a long, deliberative process that began last year with a petition calling for divestiture that was signed by a majority of the students, faculty and staff.
The petition, however, did not specify whether divestment should be based on the Sullivan Principles or be made across the board. So the college established a committee on social responsibility comprised of students, faculty and staff to study the issue.
Opinions Were Divided
The ad hoc committee was split between complete and selective divestiture, Ellsworth said, although the majority favored the full withdrawal of funds from corporations with connections in South Africa.
Based on that recommendation, the trustee investment committee then voted for complete divestiture. The full Board of Trustees voted April 6 to follow that path.
“I’m very happy about the process,” said James Lehman, an assistant professor of economics who chaired the ad hoc committee. “It seemed to me thoroughly grounded in the community, and it reflects a widely held sentiment that some kind of statement needed to be made by the college as a body.”
At the Claremont Graduate School, student concern probably was less visible, but the Board of Trustees still was strongly divided over the best way to proceed with divestment, Groener said.
“I wouldn’t say any pressure came from our students,” he said. "(But) it may give those students from other institutions some ammunition to use against the administration to push toward change.”