I’ve generally considered myself an innocent bystander as corporate policies wreak havoc around the world. I haven’t been out on the street protesting everyday, but by no means have I thought that I’ve been supporting violence or immoral corporations, even indirectly. I haven’t actively supported weapons contractors, big oil, corporate farming or voted for war-mongering business. Sadly, it turns out that by just attending the University of Michigan I’ve been supporting exactly the kinds of companies and products to which I am morally opposed.
Two weeks ago I went home and had one of those slightly uncomfortable conversations in which I was forced to try to defend an ideal against my family. My parents are progressive and extremely liberal in almost every sense, but when I started talking to my dad about potentially investing in the stock market, I uncovered something that made me uneasy: my parents invest their money in bonds and mutual funds, a practice as common as owning a car. As my dad explained what each of these were, he described how mutual funds diversified his money in a variety of companies for enhanced safety. It turns out that some of his money was invested in companies that he knew hardly anything about.
I’m not chastising my dad; he’s a great man. Along with my mom, he has helped send all three of his kids to school, as well as provided abundant love and a comfortable life for our family. I was just a little disappointed to hear that he was potentially investing money in companies that could be doing anything from killing people to harming our environment. This hands-off investing practice is so common that he didn’t think twice about it.
The campus community needs to examine what the University is investing in. There isn’t space to discuss these companies in any great detail, but I encourage you to research them. The products and practices of Monsanto — the agricultural biotechnology company — have caused an incredible amount of controversy. Here’s one outrageous tidbit: the company patents its genetically engineered seeds, surveys surrounding farms and then sues the farmers who may unknowingly have had their crop contaminated by Monsanto seeds. And the harm done to society by Monsanto doesn’t end there — their health and environmental record is questionable, to put it charitably.
British Petroleum’s actions and global impact probably don’t need to be introduced.
The problem with the University’s investment in Northrop Grumman also seems obvious and is perhaps the most troubling. Northrop Grumman makes weapons. Weapons kill people. The debate on this investment, as with many issues here on campus, has been bogged down by bickering about Israel and Palestine. Who is killing whom is irrelevant. Something about benefitting from the eventual death of human beings in any way is inexcusable.
Schools should be places that drive societies forward. If positions of dissent and outrage aren’t fostered here, where will they materialize? Who will fight corporate farming, hold oil companies responsible and protest wars? Most adults are too busy investing in these processes to question them. An essential part of this University’s identity over the past fifty years has been to advocate justice in the face of wrongdoing. What these investments mean is that not only is this institution neglecting to foster resistance to global atrocities, it’s perpetuating them. It is our duty as paying students to hold the University accountable for its actions.
By investing in these corporations, our administration supports the actions of Monsanto, BP and Northrop Grumman — a horrifying prospect to me. If we get to the heart of the matter, the University’s motives and mindset are most likely the same as my dad — to turn a profit while ignoring the negative implications of the investments. I can understand (but don’t support) an individual owning a potentially questionable mutual fund, but for such a prosperous school with a strong history of advocacy to knowingly invest in such companies is absolutely unacceptable. The only reasonable course of action for the University is to immediately divest from these companies.
Jonathan Aylward can be reached at email@example.com