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University Will Not Divest from Firearms Manufacturers

Trustees find issue does not warrant action

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After a protracted deliberation that spanned two meetings of the Board of Trustees, the Board’s Executive Committee has decided not to adopt a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI) that the University divest from civilian firearms manufacturers.

Robert Knox (CAS’74, GSM’75), chair of the Board of Trustees and of the Executive Committee, described the deliberation as “a big sprawling discussion that reflected a full spectrum of opinions.” When the Board did not find the “overwhelming consensus” required to support the proposal, the issue was referred to the Board’s 14-member Executive Committee, which determined that it should not be adopted.

The recommendation that “Boston University will prohibit new and divest of any existing direct investments in civilian firearm manufacturers until, in the University’s judgment, a level of state and/or federal regulatory control over firearm sale and/or ownership is achieved that merits repeal of this policy” is the first proposal to the Board from the ACSRI, which was established two years ago as an interface between the BU community and the Board of Trustees. The trustees first discussed divestment from gun manufacturers in the wake of the shooting of 20 schoolchildren and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012, before the ACSRI has been established. The issue was brought to the Board by the ACSRI in May of last year, and was the subject of comprehensive debate at Board meetings in September and December.

In response to Sandy Hook and other shootings, New York State’s public pension fund and California’s fund for teachers have frozen or divested their gun holdings. Trustee Rick Reidy (SMG’82), chair of the ACSRI, says he knows of no university that has moved to divest from companies that manufacture civilian guns. Reidy says the ACSRI decided to present the issue to the Board of Trustees to see if it “reached the bar” that would persuade the University to take action. He says that while the proposal was not adopted, the discussions did compel the Board to codify the principles that guide its consideration of recommendations for divestiture.

Those principles, described last Wednesday in a memorandum sent to ACSRI members by Knox, are as follows:

  1. When the Board, acting on behalf of the University, is asked to prohibit investments of the endowment in a given industry or in companies doing business with a particular government, it is being asked to express an opinion or take action on an external social or political issue that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is not directly related to the operations of the University.
  2. A fundamental goal of Boston University is to create an environment in which an academic community can productively consider, discuss, and debate a variety of viewpoints on social and political issues and that encourages freedom of inquiry. Such conditions allow scholars to pursue knowledge according to standards of evidence and logic without the encumbrance of an institutional position that may dampen discussion of alternative views. When the University, as an entity, adopts a single viewpoint or takes action relating to divestment, it risks undermining that goal. Therefore, non-investment or divestment actions based on social or political principles should be very rare and occur in only the clearest of circumstances, and should be judged to withstand the test of time in terms of how the wisdom of the University’s decision will be judged by future generations.
  3. Such circumstances exist only when (i) the degree of social harm caused by the actions of the firms in the asset class is clearly unacceptable; and (ii) any potential negative consequences of the decision (including the risk of censorship of competing views within the University or the risk that the wisdom of the decision will fail to withstand the test of time) are clearly outweighed by the importance of taking the divestment action in order to lessen or mitigate the social harm.

“Following this process and applying these principles,” Knox wrote to the ACSRI, “the Board did not reach overwhelming consensus on the proposal from the ACSRI to divest from civilian firearm manufacturers. The Board therefore referred the proposal to the Executive Committee. Taking the considerations described above into account, the Executive Committee has determined that the proposal of the ACSRI should not be adopted.”

President Robert A. Brown says the lasting value of the discussions lies in the principles that evolved from it concerning if and when the University should be used as a tool for social advocacy. “The discussion was about what our standards for that should be,” Brown says. “And the answer is, ‘Not never, but it’s a very high bar.’”

The ACSRI, which meets at least once annually, comprises three trustees, three faculty members, and one graduate and two undergraduate students. Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore (SED’87) and Brown sit as ex-officio members.

At least five of the committee’s nine members must vote in support of a recommendation for it to be passed along to the Board of Trustees, and that majority must represent a member from each stakeholder group.

Reidy says the ACSRI has been discussing a proposal that the University divest from fossil fuels, and may present a recommendation to the Board in the coming months.

15 Comments
Art Jahnke

Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.

15 Comments on University Will Not Divest from Firearms Manufacturers

  • anonymous on 02.02.2015 at 8:39 am

    20 children and 6 teachers shot dead and an industry bent on manipulating the democratic process by buying politicians and targeting minority communities isn’t a high enough bar?

    • Daniel on 02.02.2015 at 9:18 am

      Firearms manufacturers have nothing to do with the commission of a crime by someone using their product; by your logic, we should hold electricity providers responsible for people being electrocuted, or car manufacturers for hit-and-runs, or cooking knife manufacturers for people using their knives to hurt other people, or…

      As for them “targeting minority communities”: please show me one instance in recent history where going manufacturers have their sights on “minorities.”

      • anonymous on 02.02.2015 at 10:57 am

        Your analogy is a false one, and there are plenty of well documented examples of the industry specifically targeting poor and disenfranchised communities. Here are just a couple:
        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/nra-new-commentators_n_2965934.html

        http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-gun-industrys-deadly-addiction-20130228

        • Samuel on 02.02.2015 at 1:41 pm

          I am astonished by the ignorance and blatant racism those “progressive” articles display. Just because a woman or an African-American are on an NRA talk show, that means they’re just pawns for the big, mean white machine that is the gun industry? You never thought to stop and think that they’re people too, and maybe they are there on their own accord, because they enjoy firearms and the freedom to own and use them? God forbid a minority owns a gun and contributes to the NRA, they must be a part of some hidden agenda to proliferate guns to poor people. Come on, not all of us firearms owners fit your deluded stereotypes. America is a diverse place, and so are gun owners and gun rights activists.

          • Roger on 02.03.2015 at 5:26 pm

            Samuel! They can’t be racist! They’re liberals. Don’t you know that?

      • Samuel on 02.02.2015 at 11:46 am

        People refuse to look at actual facts and figures an instead wrap themselves around the idea that firearms are the greatest evil to plague America, and won’t budge from that train of thought no matter what. This position is clearly displayed by this “socially responsible” investment recommendation. Rather than focusing on promoting responsible firearm ownership without relying on insane regulations, they would rather try to force more feel good laws which do nothing to make anyone safer. “Manipulating the democratic process”? Huh, seems to me that is exactly what this investment panel wants, because the last round of magazine and ” assault weapon” (an inane, inaccurate, and fear inducing term itself) bans failed to pass because America did not want them to pass. The only places where more regulations did go through, such as Colorado, New York, and Connecticut required shifty politics and borderline illegal voting processes where elected officials didn’t have time to read the wording of the proposed regulations before they were forced to vote on them. If that doesn’t scream “undermining the democratic process”, I don’t know what does.

      • kitty on 02.02.2015 at 12:34 pm

        Daniel,

        After Emancipation, with the right of all citizens to own and bear firearms now including those previously excluded, blacks were legally entitled to defend themselves, their families, and their property. In the past they had not.

        Are you suggesting that targeted advertising to black audiences is bad because they can’t manage gun ownership and are intrinsically dangerous when armed? That was the pre-Emancipation argument against firearm ownership for blacks: they can’t be trusted and are too ignorant to use a gun responsibly.

        Responsible gun owners comply with purchase and registration laws, and respect the harm that firearms can do.

        • kitty on 02.02.2015 at 12:41 pm

          I apologize: My comments were directed to Anonymous, not DAniel, with whom I agree.

    • BU Staff on 02.02.2015 at 11:27 am

      ^ What Daniel said.

      • ashamedAlumnus on 02.09.2015 at 8:31 pm

        Can we established that neither cars or knives are manufactured for the purpose of being used as weapons? Yes, accidents happen on the road or with electric appliances. Yes I can use a fork or a knife in my kitchen to attack someone. However, shooting someone with a gun is not done by accident! Guns are not utility tools. They have a single purpose: to kill. I’m ashamed to be an alumnus of this institution. Companies that profit on selling weapons have blood in their hands.

        • HappyStudent on 02.27.2015 at 12:03 pm

          ashamedAlumnus, I am going to make an assumption and say that you have never picked up a gun in your life. If you have, then my assumption is wrong, but then by your own statements, you have killed someone. So let’s go with the assumption.
          Now, lets give you a little introduction about the uses of guns. There are 4 intended uses for civilian owned guns. Hunting, self defense, range shooting, and collection.
          Hunting guns are mainly hunting rifles and sometimes pistols used to shoot animals of various sizes. Sometimes these animals are shot as prizes to be hung on walls. Other times, people skin the animal using a knife, maybe killing it with the knife first, then collect the animal with the purpose of eating the meat. Venison is pretty delicious.
          Self defense guns are typically smaller caliber rifles, pistols, and shotguns. These guns are bought by a person with the intention of defending themselves if the need should ever arise. That need being when someone is threatening the life of the person or their family. In this scenario, the person threatening the life of other people is the criminal, not the gun owner using the gun to protect his/her family. Many self-defense gun owners hope that they never have to use the gun, that revealing the gun to an invader will be enough to scare them off. However, sometimes this is not enough, so the self-defense gun owner will fire their weapon, a legal action for self-defense in most states. When they fire, yes, there is the chance the attacker will be killed, that is always a possibility when you fire a gun at someone else, even for the most trained professional. For the standard self-defense gun owner, they are just hoping the hit the attacker and stop them. So yes, you can argue that self-defense guns exist to kill people. I would disagree though. People who buy self-defense guns hope that they will not have to use the weapon against another person, but knowing they will if they have to. Shooting someone is not done lightly for the regular person, especially if it results in the death of the other person. If you are currently of the opinion that you should not be allowed to use a gun to defend yourself and your family in your own home, then I would be interested to see how you react to a violent intruder, the real criminal.
          The next type of gun is a range gun. These are guns that people shoot at a shooting range. People shoot guns at ranges either for fun or practice. After buying a gun, or even before buying the gun, people will fire the gun at the range to become accustomed to the gun and learn how it fires. Other times, people will shoot a gun at a range that they would otherwise not be able to shoot, such as a machine gun. This is done in front of an trained instructor. While this may sound ridiculous to you, to other people who do it, it is quite fun.
          Finally, some guns are bought for collections. This is no different from having a car collection, or even a baseball card collection. Yes, you may say that those things do not have the potential to kill people, or their intended purpose is to not kill people, but it is the same for guns. No one is spending the money to buy up a gun collection, which can be very expensive, to then go kill someone and waste it all. They collect the guns because they have an interest in the history or design of the gun, or because they like how it feels in their hand and shoots at the range.
          This was a brief overview of the intended uses of civilian guns. You can see that only one of the four purposes of guns has any association to even firing a gun at another person. Most legally owned guns, even self-defense guns, are fired at targets at shooting ranges instead of other people.

          Unfortunately, there are people who do not wish to follow the law and abuse guns by firing them at other people solely with the intent to kill them. However, this still does not mean the purpose of the gun is to kill. The gun is simply the tool used by a person who has the intent to kill. You may say that the person would not have killed if he/she did not have the gun, but if someone has it in their mind that they are going to kill someone, the lack of a gun will not stop them. They will use a knife, an iron bar, their hands, or really anything sharp or large enough to cause death.
          Sadly, in recent years, there has been a rise in the number of mass murders committed using guns. I agree that this is a terrible thing that I wish had never happened, but don’t blame the gun for the person’s intent. People are evil, not guns.

  • JK on 02.03.2015 at 6:58 am

    I appreciate the need for impartiality, but in this case the Board’s logic is “clearly unacceptable.”

    • PavePusher on 02.03.2015 at 12:09 pm

      Then refute it. Try using facts, evidence and logic.

  • Colby on 02.03.2015 at 10:37 am

    Why the call to divest only from manufacturers making small arms for lawful civilian use? Surely all the products of large military contractors (drones anyone?) cause far more harm and social ill in this world. Is it not hypocritical to endorse civilian disarmament but then be tacitly pro war by omission. Blood money is still blood money is it not?

  • […] politics, a win for their side isn’t guaranteed. The Boston University Board of Trustees recently rejected a proposal to divest from civilian market firearms manufacturers pushed by BU’s own Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing […]

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