BU Opts against Forswearing Investments in Gun Manufacturers
BU Trustees Reject Request to Avoid Future Investments in Gun Manufacturers
Declining a petition, Executive Committee cites the board’s criteria for divestment
The Executive Committee of BU’s Board of Trustees has rejected a recommendation from the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing to avoid investing any University endowment funds in civilian gun manufacturers. The committee cited its belief that gunmakers’ social harm doesn’t rise to the divestment standard of the board.
BU’s endowment portfolio currently holds no investments in gun manufacturers. But the committee’s decision leaves the door open for future investments.
The issue surfaced last year in a petition created by Shana Weitzen (Pardee’25) that garnered more than 1,000 signatures, supporting avoidance of investments in civilian gun manufacturers.
Universities, which typically do not disclose what industries their endowment funds are invested in, have come under increasing pressure to divest, or avoid investing, in industries related to various social justice causes. This has presented challenging decisions for boards of trustees about balancing widely debated social concerns with fiduciary obligations to their institutions.
BU, with an endowment of approximately $3 billion, announced in 2021 that it would divest from the roughly $200 billion U.S. fossil fuel industry, due to those fuels accelerating climate change. (In contrast, the US civilian gun manufacturing industry, with only two publicly traded companies, is valued at roughly $20 billion)
Weitzen originally sent her petition to the board’s Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (ACSRI). The ACSRI, after a thorough discussion around the pros and cons of the issue, voted to recommend divestment and non-investment in civilian gun manufacturers to Board Chairman Ahmass L. Fakahany (Questrom’79). He asked the Executive Committee to consider the request at its February 14 meeting.
“I can report that there was thoughtful discussion of the issue and an appreciation for the harm caused by gun violence—but also, not a consensus that this issue met the criteria adopted by the Trustees for placing limitations on endowment investing.”
“The Executive Committee determined that the proposal should not be adopted,” says Trustee Richard Reidy (Questrom’82), chairman of the ACSRI. “I am sure that this outcome is disappointing to [some], but I can report that there was thoughtful discussion of the issue and an appreciation for the harm caused by gun violence—but also, not a consensus that this issue met the criteria adopted by the Trustees for placing limitations on endowment investing.”
Those criteria include that the reduction of social harm outweigh “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.” The criteria were adopted after the Executive Committee opted against a previous ACSRI recommendation that BU divest from gunmakers. That recommendation followed the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
“I’m just very angry,” Weitzen says. “There was just the shooting at Michigan State University only two weeks [ago]. It’s just really frustrating that these shootings keep happening, and the University continues to not understand that there’s this very large degree of social harm that firearms cause. I do take solace in [the absence of current gun investments]; I think that is a good thing, of course. But the market’s always fluctuating, things are always changing. The gun lobby and the [National Rifle Association] have a lot of power.”
A Republican bill to make the AR-15 the “national gun” could boost gun makers’ stocks, “which would maybe cause a place that has an endowment … to look into those kinds of stocks,” she adds. “So it just concerns me that this is more of an appeasement than a step in the right direction.
I hope BU will continue this reasoned approach of considering the facts and not base decisions on the hurt feelings “related to various social justice causes”
Indeed, and I am sure many people in this country are also convinced that guns only “hurt feelings” and nothing else.
Not about hurt feelings Bill, it’s about hurt (and killed) people. THOSE are the facts.
BU invests like a for profit corporation, so why not pay your taxes like one?
What moral, ethical, and logical contortions the board must have gone through to reach this decision. I am floored, outraged, and ashamed by their decision.
“the wisdom of the decision will fail to withstand the test of time”: grim irony, the understatement of this phrase when applied to the Trustees’ own cynical decision. For the second time, they have publicly affirmed the industries demonstrably complicit with gun violence.
“The committee cited its belief that gunmakers’ social harm doesn’t rise to the divestment standard of the board.”
Considering the number of schoolchildren and adults killed by guns manufactured by gunmakers, and the amount of social anxiety public massacres have created in this country, I wonder what the board considers the bar for “social harm.” Very troubling to me as an alum and an employee of this institution.
Roughly 100k overdose deaths  in the US annually (>2x that of firearm deaths). Some 43k people die in the US annually from motor vehicle traffic crashes (roughly equal to firearm deaths).
Should BU divest from pharmaceutical and auto manufacturers too?
AT, I think that’s an apples and oranges comparison. Cars serve purposes other than causing accidents, namely transportation. Similarly, pharmaceuticals serve significantly more purposes than causing overdoses. Guns, on the other hand, have an express purpose of launching projectiles at massive speed, and are commonly used to inflict death. It isn’t a byproduct of their existence like automobiles and pharmaceuticals, it is their express purpose to do so. Requesting the university commit to not subsidizing the firearm industry isn’t unreasonable. If cars were sold for racing (to make a fair comparison as I acknowledge guns can be used for sport) but we’re commonly used to massacre people, particularly school aged youths, I’d expect the same reaction.