Sign my petition. It’s really important, it’s a cause supported by at least several dozen — uh, several people, and please, join me tomorrow when I scream at a building that houses the office of President Levin. I will bring lasting change to Yale, the country, and the world.
Right. Around here, if you walk by people wearing orange capes or acting out something stupid, it’s often safe to assume they’re joining a secret society or a fraternity. But sometimes it becomes painfully clear that that’s not the case: those damn liberal activists strike again.
Last week, a group of students calling itself YaleSHAME — Yale Stakeholders for the Aggressive Management of the Endowment, the most awkwardly named organization ever — staged a protest of Yale’s investment in the hedge fund Farallon Capital Management, LLC. I sincerely question the value of attacking Farallon: I am a fairly devoted defender of Yale’s investment strategies. Decades ago, Yale was the first major university to adopt an ethical investing policy. More importantly, however, the endowment growth Yale has experienced under the leadership of Chief Investment Officer David Swensen GRD ’80 is phenomenal. In addition to becoming my personal financial hero, Swensen has navigated the endowment to an $11 billion value. Someone’s doing something right.
The issue of divestment is not new to Yale — Yalies have protested investment in South Africa, big tobacco and, more recently, Israel. But Yale holds only a very minor percentage of stock in its own name, and it is impossible for the public to know what is being invested in on Yale’s behalf — making protest generally meaningless. Secrecy may not be the best thing, but frankly there is absolutely no chance Yale’s endowment would have grown to the size it has without prudence in disclosure.
It should be noted that one divestment campaign did succeed: South Africa. At the time, the Yale campus as a whole agreed (yes, it does happen) that such a move was the only ethical option. But — what a surprise! — few people agreed with the Israel campaign. (At a place where it is estimated that a third of the student body is Jewish, that’s not likely to happen.) It may be that Farallon is not the most ethical hedge fund, but let’s make clear that this is not a particularly large campaign of opposition — the action against Farallon was coordinated by a small group of students. It was not “Stanford University” — as YaleSHAME “Chief Executive Officer” Naasiha Siddiqui ’05 told the Yale Daily News — that sent a petition to Farallon, but a group of 18 students, according to the Stanford Daily. Investments aside, this most recent organization is one in a series that I christen “Liberal Organization X.” That is, it is a prime example of the way liberals on this campus tend to bandwagon on issues and then abandon the wagon at the first pothole they encounter.
I am willing to bet that most people at Yale have witnessed a group of liberal activists engaging in an “action” and have walked away shaking their heads in disbelief. I think my favorite scene was actually at an open meeting of the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, where approximately four students confronted former chairman and School of Management professor William Goetzmann about investment in Israel. The group of students displayed a total lack of civility. The meeting pretty much had to come to a close when one of them began crying and shouting hysterically at Goetzmann. I have never seen anything so silly and counterproductive in my life.
There is a clear pattern to liberal — and particularly anti-Yale — organizing here. Someone decides people need to rally around a cause; a group of the usual suspects institutionalize the cause by giving it a silly acronym; they stage a couple of ludicrous protests and confront administrators in the most uncouth manner imaginable; and finally the protesters get ornery when said administrators are more than reluctant to meet with them. One last step comes when said group of usual (and now frustrated and angry) suspects abruptly shuts down operations to move on to the next cause.
Protesting techniques vary, and I realize that sometimes you need to be vocal — and obnoxious — to be heard. But this is not always the case. What most annoys me, however, is people’s willingness to give up once something doesn’t succeed immediately. The half-lives of the Alliance for Sensible College Housing at Yale (that briefly fought for co-ed housing) and the Yale Divest from Israel Campaign were about that of radium (read: short). Incidentally, I don’t think the Undergraduate Organizing Committee has completely disbanded (we should be so lucky), but I notice its Web site hasn’t been updated since December.
I know from personal experience that Yale administrators are actually quite willing to speak with students who are not bearing megaphones and foaming at the mouth with hatred. Some of what I have written is generalization. Not only are there many liberal causes on campus whose ideals parallel mine (the co-ed housing campaign is a perfect example), but there are even a few whose methods I respect. I would much prefer not to have to attack “liberals” as a group given my, well, liberal political leanings. In fact, if it’s something gay, I’m one of those damn liberal activists — but guess what? Screaming isn’t my primary tactic. It is possible that YaleSHAME has an excellent point to make; there is a chance that its lifespan will total more than two weeks; there is a possibility that its members will not use the same old tactics. But given history, that doesn’t look likely.
Jessamyn Blau is a junior in Morse College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.