This Week in Villanova History: Anti-apartheid movement begins

By Brian Webb ’85

The University Senate is expected to vote on a resolution today that would urge the president and the Board of Trustees to examine the practices and policies of Villanova University which might “indirectly contribute to the continuation of apartheid in South Africa.”

The resolution is seen by many as being the beginning of Villanova’s first step into the growing debate on college campuses across the nation, as more and more colleges are being faced with pressure from students, faculty and alumni who are asking their schools to divest of moderate their investments in corporations that do business in South Africa.

The resolution, which was written last year by Amnesty International at Villanova, calls for the University to make a strong public condemnation of apartheid.

The Rev. John M. Driscoll, O.S.A., University president, refused to comment on the resolution earlier this week.

Edward A. Sullivan, moderator for Amnesty International at Villanova, told the Villanovan this week that the main purpose of the resolution is to “begin a dialogue” between the administration and concerned members of the Villanova community. He said this dialogue might eventually lead to a formal investigation into the University’s investment in corporations and its purchases of equipment.

“We as Christians need to know whether or not we want our money supporting the violence, racism and fascism of South Africa,” Sullivan said. “We have a moral responsibility to reevaluate any practice that might attach us to apartheid.”

Opposition to the resolution is expected to be led by Dr. Harry R. Strack, faculty senator and associate professor of political science. Strack said this week that the resolution represents a threat to the University’s Mission Statement because it would adversely affect the University’s academic freedom and its freedom to conduct research.

Strack, who teaches courses on “African World Politics” and “Sub-Saharan African Politics,” said students and certain faculty members might feel inhibited from openly expressing a view that is contrary to an official position of the University. He said this inhibition would be comparable to the fears that people experienced during the anti-communist McCarthy era in the 1950s.

“The very reason we’re here is to learn objectively,” said Strack. “We want education; we don’t want propaganda.”

Strack said he plans to introduce a substitute motion that will express a “Firm moral stance,” but will not mention apartheid specifically, and, therefore, will not threaten any specific research or academic debate.

Apartheid in South Africa is a government policy of racial segregation and discrimination against black and colored people, who outnumber white people by a 4-to-1 ratio. After one year of civil unrest, nearly 700 blacks (including mixed races) and four white people have been killed.

Villanova is financially connected to South Africa mostly through the TIAA _ CREF pension fund for its faculty and administrators, and through its endowments.

According to Gary B. Fenner, vice president for financial affairs, Villanova’s current endowment and related funds is $14 million. This money is currently being managed by two investment companies, Wright Investment Services and Common Fund. Fenner said these companies were instructed by Villanova several years ago to invest only in corporations that are “socially responsible” and, therefore, do not represent a moral threat to Villanova’s Mission Statement.

Fenner refused to comment on whether Villanova has put any additional restrictions on its investments in corporations that do business in South Africa.

Fenner said Villanova’s investments in corporations are much lower than most universities its size because it has a lack of endowment.

“The big schools are going to have to do it [affect change in South Africa], not little Villanova,” Fenner said.

According to a recent national study, Harvard University has the largest endowment fund with approximately $2.5 billion. After Harvard students, faculty and alumni voiced their concern, the university last February decided to divest $1 million from Raker International, a mining company that refused to sign the Sullivan Principles, which is a list of civil rights for firms to respect in their South African operations.

Robert J. Capone, director of Alumni, said this week that the University has received no feedback from alumni questioning Villanova’s indirect involvement in South Africa.

“Any Catholic or Christian that is not against apartheid is not true to his religion,” Capone said.

TIAA – CREF is a $35 billion pension system for colleges and universities. Of its 140 portfolio corporations having operations in South Africa, 69 have not yet signed the Sullivan Principles. The fund has approximately $1.26 billion invested in the corporations that have not signed and approximately $5.6 billion invested in the corporations that have signed.

Although several teachers and administrators from across the nation have indicated to TIAA _ CREF’s institutional counselor that they are concerned about thte fund’s investments in corporations that do business in South Africa, no mention of South Africa has ever been brought up in any discussions with Villanova’s administrators or faculty, according to Timothy M. Scerba, spokesman for TIAA – CREF.

Scerba said the pension fund has conducted first-hand dialogue with several portfolio corporations in an attempt to persuade them to implement “socially responsible policies” by signing the Sullivan Principles.

Although several large pension funds have recently decided to divest their holdings in corporations having operations in South Africa, TIAA – CREF has maintained their holdings so they can remain active by making stockholder proposals and attempting to affect change from within the corporations, Scerba said.

Legal and insurance regulations also influence TIAA – CREF’s investment strategy by requiring the pension fund to invest in stable and profitable corporations. The most profitable corporation, Scerba said, just happens to have subsidiary operation in South Africa.

“People who are divesting are making a strong moral statement, but those people don’t fall under the same requirements that we do,” Scerba said. “We have to balance our social responsibilities and our financial responsibilities and make sure that both interests are served.”

Sullivan said the Sullivan Principles (no relation) are a good “stop gap measure,” but much more drastic action must be taken within South Africa. “Broad political and social changes are needed; not just a few labor practices,” he said.

Sullivan said an organized international divestment, including Western Europe, would either lead to the end of the white minority government or force the government to being dialogue with the blacks.

“Divestment is the answer,” Sullivan said. “We must stop talking about the short-run. Apartheid itself is violent. Any solution that keeps apartheid intact is violence; it can’t be peaceful.”