Students gathered yesterday outside of the Yale Investment Office to protest the University’s actions regarding the sale of its Baca Ranch investment property in Colorado and subsequent plan to donate the profits to the Nature Conservancy.
Between 25 and 30 students representing several student organizations held a news conference outside of 55 Whitney Ave. where they voiced their concerns about the amount of money Yale is donating to the Nature Conservancy and the current amount of disclosure about Yale’s investments. Wanting to present a letter expressing their concerns to Chief Investment Officer David Swensen, the group entered the building but was denied entrance to the Yale Investment Office, dispersing after approximately 30 minutes.
The controversy surrounding Yale’s involvement with Baca Ranch began over two years ago when Yale’s unions revealed that Yale was a member of the partnership that owned the ranch. The ranch’s managing owner, Farallon Capital Management, wanted to develop the aquifer below Baca Ranch, prompting criticism from Colorado residents and politicians.
They contended that the proposed water development would harm local ecosystems. The 97,000-acre Baca Ranch lies adjacent to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve in the San Luis Valley.
Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard met with President Richard Levin when Yale’s involvement surfaced, and within 24 hours Yale had agreed to sell the Baca Ranch to the Nature Conservancy and donate its profits from the sale to the group. Yale currently plans to donate $1.5 million to the Nature Conservancy. The sale of the ranch was scheduled to close Feb. 10 but has not been finalized, according to Audrey Wolk, the director of marketing for the Colorado Nature Conservancy program.
The students protesting yesterday disagreed with Yale’s involvement in what they called an “environmentally hazardous” investment. Naasiha Siddiqui ’05, an organizer of the news conference, said the students had e-mailed Swensen a week ago in an attempt to set up a meeting to discuss Yale’s investments but had received no response. After the news conference the protesters tried to take the letter they had written directly to Swensen, but were not allowed to enter the office.
The building facility manager said the building was placed in “secure mode” due to the protestors — a process that includes turning the elevators off and escorting patrons into the building. Approximately 10 minutes after the group asked to gain entrance to Swensen’s office, four Yale police officers arrived on the scene. Yale Police Chief James Perrotti said the officers were dispatched because there was a large group of students in the lobby.
“What I’m led to believe is that he [Swensen] was not there and word was conveyed that they’d [the protestors] have to make an appointment,” Perrotti said. “They did leave a letter.”
The students expressed their frustration at not being able to hand-deliver the letter, but dispersed approximately 20 minutes after the police arrived.
“[This] is a sad reflection of the kind of secrecy and lack of open participation that’s exactly the problem with Yale’s investment practices,” said Justin Ruben FES ’02, a GESO organizer and one of the news conference’s coordinators. “That response makes a mockery of what I consider our community’s most central values of debate and inquiry and ethical leadership.”
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the protestors’ complaints lacked substance.
“[The protest] was without merit,” Klasky said. “We’ve been engaged for two years with the Nature Conservancy and the government to donate proceeds from the Baca Ranch.”
An official in the Investment Office refused to comment on the protest.
In the letter, the students alleged that President Levin promised in 2002 to donate $4 million to the Nature Conservancy from the sale of the ranch. Klasky said Yale never committed to a $4 million donation, and Levin recently said that while the gross revenue from the sale was $15 million, profits were only between $1 and $2 million.
Wolk said it was the Nature Conservancy’s understanding that Yale would donate the profits from the sale and added that she was not sure that an original monetary estimate ever existed.
“[Levin] suggested the proceeds would be $1.5 million, and we accepted that. We finally agreed to it within the last year,” Wolk said. “We have to take in good faith that President Levin is being honest, and that’s what the profits are.”
The students said in the letter that they also want to meet with Swensen about Baca Ranch and begin a public discussion about the University’s investments.
“We want to engage the Investment Office in dialogue about keeping something like the Baca Ranch controversy from happening again,” Ruben said. “We’re hoping to start a dialogue about how Yale’s investment practices can live up to our ideals.”
But Deputy Provost Charles Long said releasing investment information would compromise Yale’s advantage.
“[Yale] certainly doesn’t want [the Investment Office] to be subject to miscellaneous public approval every time they make a move,” Long said.
At the news conference, the students — who Ruben described as a “loose coalition” — outlined the contents of the letter, and students from Colorado and the San Luis Valley expressed their displeasure at Yale’s involvement in Baca Ranch. Even though the students were only able to leave a copy of the letter for Swensen, Siddiqui said they will continue to pursue these issues.
“Clearly we’re going to continue our efforts to engage the administration on these issues to shed light on these practices and push for a community wide debate on how our investments are used,” Ruben said.
While the deal has yet to close, Wolk said she anticipates the sale of the ranch to be finalized in the near future.
“The federal government asked us to postpone the closing to resolve some outstanding issues,” Wolk said. “We do not know how long it will take to work them out, but we’re hoping within the next month.”