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