President Bollinger Issues Statement Supporting Divestment from Private Prisons

On Friday May 15th, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger issued a statement on divestment from both companies that operate private prisons and from fossil fuels.  President Bollinger wrote the following:

“On March 31, 2015, ACSRI resolved to recommend to the Trustees that the University divest any direct stock ownership interests in companies engaged in the operation of private prisons and refrain from making subsequent investments in such companies.  I support this recommendation, which represents the culmination of thoughtful analysis and hard work by ACSRI and by our students, faculty, and alumni.  The recommendation will be taken up by the University’s Trustees at their next scheduled meeting in June.”

Columbia Prison Divest, a student led group, has been campaigning to get the University to divest from private prison companies for more than a year.  They have organized a number of town halls, teach-ins, sit-ins and week long periods of engagement to galvanize the student body, the administration and the broader public.

The full statement is below and can also be read on the Columbia home page.

Statement on Divestment

May 15, 2015

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:

I am writing to provide an update on the progress of two pending proposals regarding Columbia University’s investments: divestment from companies engaged in the operation of private prisons and divestment from fossil fuels.

The issue of mass incarceration in America weighs heavily on our country, our city, and our University community.  The student group Columbia Prison Divest has been a vocal and valued champion for private prison divestment and the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI), led this year by Jeffrey Gordon, Richard Paul Richman Professor of Law, has been examining this issue.

On March 31, 2015, ACSRI resolved to recommend to the Trustees that the University divest any direct stock ownership interests in companies engaged in the operation of private prisons and refrain from making subsequent investments in such companies.  I support this recommendation, which represents the culmination of thoughtful analysis and hard work by ACSRI and by our students, faculty, and alumni.  The recommendation will be taken up by the University’s Trustees at their next scheduled meeting in June.

Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time.  Columbia is home to some of the foremost scholars in this field and our University community is engaged meaningfully in this issue in a number of ways, one being the ongoing discussion regarding divesting University funds from fossil fuels.

Since 2013, a subcommittee of ACSRI has been working diligently to address this complicated subject.  The student group Columbia Divest for Climate Justice has petitioned for fossil fuel divestment and has kept this issue at the forefront of campus conversation, exactly where it belongs.  I anticipate that at an appropriate time during the next academic year, this matter also will come before our Trustees.  In the near term, I will arrange for the Trustees to hear directly from student leaders on this subject.  There is more work to be done, but I support the ongoing deliberations of the ACSRI subcommittee and it is my hope to see a resolution to this complex but vitally important issue within the year.

I deeply appreciate the thoughtful and substantive work of ACSRI, and of all students, faculty, alumni, and administrators who are committed to these efforts.

Sincerely,

Lee C. Bollinger

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