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Speaking Out

Music: 'A Mixed Message'

I wish to respond to Carol Scheman's letter (Almanac January 27) and clarify the record regarding the degree of consultation that has taken place regarding vending on campus.

In her letter Ms. Scheman asserts she and her staff have been working with "all interested constituencies" regarding a framework for the future of vending on campus. The fact is that there was absolutely no consultation with myself or any other member of the Music Department regarding placing a vendor court just outside our already noise-plagued classrooms. Surely the Music Department must be considered an "interested constituency" in connection with a proposal that will interfere so greatly with our ability to conduct classes.

Failures to consult such as this-I could cite others-can only result in some very mixed messages about just where academic departments reside on the administration's collective mental map.

- James Primosch, Associate Professor and Chair of Music

Ed. Note: A response was invited.

Investments in Burma

After reviewing the list of investments of the University obtained from the Department of Investment, it has come to the attention of the Free Burma Coalition and the Progressive Activist Network that the University is invested in three companies which have equity investments in Burma (Myanmar). We ask that the University immediately cease investing in companies with equity ties to Burma and sell all current investments in such companies.

The companies in question are Unocal Inc., Atlantic Richfield Oil (ARCO), and Hyundai. These companies are directly doing business with one of the worst military regimes in the world, one that has wrested power from the people of their country and ruled with an iron fist, caring little about democracy or human rights.

The list of atrocities is extensive. On August 8th, 1988, protests for democracy were ended with fatal gunfire from the army. The military allowed free elections in 1990, where, the National League for Democracy, led by Noble Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a sweeping victory with over 80% of the vote. However, the promise of democracy was not to come to fruition as the illegitimate military regime annulled the elections and placed Suu Kyi under house arrest for over 5 years. Other members of the party were jailed or forced to flee the country.

This tradition of authoritarian rule continues to harm the citizens of Burma. Ethnic cleansing, slave labor, offshore oil drilling, rainforest clear cutting, and drug trafficking and production are currently supported by the military regime. As the Levi-Strauss Company, a firm that has pulled its operations out of Burma said, "It is not possible to do business in Burma without directly supporting the military government and its pervasive violations of human rights."

Likewise, the University's investment in companies that have equity ties to the Burmese military junta only serves to legitimize those companies' involvement with the military regime. We as an institution of higher learning should strive to use our voices, our freedoms, and our democracy to help promote freedom for those who do not have it. As a university we should also be committed to ideals of learning and education, not profit and return on investment.

It is time the University acted to begin a policy of socially responsible investing of the University's funds. We ask that the University immediately sell all shares of stock owned in Unocal, ARCO, and Hyundai and setup a process through which all investments are examined for being responsible. We suggest that this be done through a committee of the Board of Trustees, one which has significant student participation. We look forward to hearing a response from the Board of Trustees or the administration within two weeks.

- Peter Chowla, President, Free Burma Coalition

- Katie Cooper, Progressive Activist Network

Response to the Free Burma Coalition

While we respect the Free Burma Co-alition's interest in human rights issues in Burma, the University has maintained a long-standing policy regarding such external issues. The policy ("Response by the University as an Institution to External Issues," 1980) is reflected in its entirety (below).

The policy recognizes that the University is comprised by a broad and diverse constituency, with differing perspectives. As such, the policy states: "The University of Pennsylvania encourages all its members to take an active role in influencing government and society according to the dictates of their individual consciences and to state individual positions on external issues. The University will provide and protect forums for the debate of issues to the maximum extent of its powers." Moreover, Penn's endowment is governed by strict standards of fiduciary responsibility and thus maintains an objective of maximizing investment returns consistent with appropriate levels of risk. To achieve this objective, the fund's investment alternatives should not be restricted.

It is the University's belief that proxy voting can represent an effective means for expressing social, political or environmental concerns. In 1996, the University created a Trustee proxy subcommittee in order to address shareholder resolutions concerning issues of social responsibility. Accordingly, we would be happy to forward your letter to this subcommittee.

- John A. Fry, Executive Vice President

Response by the University as an Institution to External Issues

The University of Pennsylvania and universities in general have traditionally avoided taking positions on issues not directly related to their academic mission. There are several reasons for this historical stance:

1. A primary function of a university is to provide, protect, and nurture a forum for the free and open expression of ideas. If a university were to take positions on such issues, the exercise of free inquiry and expression by proponents of differing passions within the university would be jeopardized.

2. A university is given a privileged status by society and government in recognition of its unbiased and non-partisan pursuit of knowledge. Society does not expect and should not tolerate the privileged position it has granted universities to be used to advocate positions on issues unrelated to their academic mission.

3. Universities are not organized to formulate moral distinctions and urge them on others, and to do so may imperil their fundamental mission of learning, teaching, and encouraging debate and research on issues of moral, philosophical, national, and international interests.

4. An effort to reach an institutional consensus on an external issue in a diverse university community may place harmful strains on the institution's social, intellectual, and economic fabric.

5. Finally, a university should save its credibility and influence for those occasions when it must speak out to protect its own academic mission and role in society.

The strong presumption against taking institutional positions on external issues may be inappropriate in certain unusual circumstances. Such is the case when the external issues affect the academic freedom of members of the University community as, for example, when a number of institutions opposed the investigative tactics of the late Senator Joe McCarthy. If, however, an issue does not closely related to the mission of the university, the University of Pennsylvania will take institutional positions only under the most unusual circumstances and only on those issues which are of the greatest social concern and deal with the most fundamental human rights.

Once the university takes an institutional position, it should use with great circumspection the instruments available to it to effect the ends it seeks. In particular, it should use the economic power at its disposal, which, with respect to its endowment, is tightly restricted by requirements of fiduciary responsibility, only in rare instances. Its powers of moral and political persuasion should likewise be used sparingly and selectively.

The University of Pennsylvania encourages all its members to take an active role in influencing government and society according to the dictates of their individual consciences and to state individual positions on external issues. The University will provide and protect forums for the debate of issues to the maximum extent of its powers.

The refusal of the University to adopt the varied (and often conflicting) moral and political positions of certain individuals or organized groups within our community is not a dilution of anyone's individual rights, but rather it is a recognition of the fact that the University is a particularly fragile institution which could be harmed irrevocably by efforts to make it an advocate for partisan views regardless of the sincerity and confidence of those holding such views.

Ed. Note: This policy was presented by the Trustees Committee on University Responsibility For Comment in Almanac September 9, 1980. After Council published a parallel statement on January 27, 1981, the Trustees incorporated this statement into its policy on investments.

Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. During weekly publication, short timely letters on University issues can be accepted Thursday noon for the following Tuesday's issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines.

Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated.-Ed.

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, February 3, 1998, Volume 44, Number 20