The Columbia College student body has voted to recommend that the University should divest from companies profiting from or otherwise supporting Israeli policy toward the Palestinian people.
At Columbia, questions about possible divestment of endowment funds are not decided by referendum but through a process involving the University’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), which advises the President of the University and Columbia’s Trustees on policies related to ethical and social issues, and which includes students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
I made clear earlier this year that I do not support the referendum. To do so would contradict a long-held understanding that the University should not change its investment policies on the basis of particular views about a complex policy issue, especially when there is no consensus across the University community about that issue. Furthermore, in my view, as I have expressed many times over the years, it is unfair and inaccurate to single out this specific dispute for this purpose when there are so many other, comparably deeply entrenched conflicts around the world. And, finally, I have also raised concerns about how this debate over BDS has adversely affected the campus climate for many undergraduate students in our community.
Of course, I remain an unflinching proponent of robust debate over contested issues such as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Such discussions and debates are part of the essential purpose of the University, and we should all welcome the critical thinking that so often emerges and leads to improvements in our world. But altering our endowment in order to advance the interests of one side is not among the paths we will take.