Yale investment vehicle sells private prison stock

Farallon Capital Management, a hedge fund that invests a portion of Yale’s endowment, has sold all of its stock in a private prison company that has been criticized for alleged human rights abuses, though such criticisms have not been cited as a factor in the sale.

The fund’s May 12 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission included no investment in the Corrections Corporation of America, the target of a yearlong campaign for divestment by Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization. But while GESO leaders said they believe their campaign to have affected the move, members of the University’s investment ethics committee said they did not advise divestment before the hedge fund sold its shares.

At several rallies during the past year, GESO members criticized CCA for alleged cases of prisoner abuse and for lobbying for harsher sentences. GESO spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said he believes Farallon’s sale of CCA stock demonstrated the impact of the organization’s opposition to “insidious” private prisons.

“At this point, we’re just very, very pleased,” Cobb said.

Farallon sold two thirds of its then-$1.5 million share of CCA in March, prompting GESO leaders to claim that their pressure on the University was working. But Yale’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility has maintained that CCA does not merit divestment under the University’s ethical policies, as private prisons are a regulated industry.

ACIR chair Geert Rouwenhorst has said that CCA does not appear to cause “grave social injury,” Yale’s standard for divestment. That policy is based on the 1972 book “The Ethical Investor,” which was written by a group of Yale professors and graduate students.

“Divestment is an action of last resort for the endowment,” Rouwenhorst said at the last public ACIR meeting, held in March. “We believe that selling the shares to someone who cares less than us [does] not necessarily [make] a good world.”

Zachary Bagdon, who heads the School of Management’s International Center for Finance, said Farallon most likely made its decision with profit in mind. If activism did a play a role, he said, it was because fund managers thought public opposition would hamper the stock’s performance.

“When people rally to get people to divest in something, that puts downward pressure on the stock,” Bagdon said.

A Farallon spokesman declined to comment.

But Cobb said that since CCA’s stock has been rising, public opinion must have had more of an impact than a perceived lack of profit.

GESO has not decided whether it will continue to campaign for Yale to take a public, policy-based stand against CCA, Cobb said.

“It would obviously be nice for the University to actually talk about this and weigh in on the issue,” he said. “In terms of where we go from here, I’m not really certain.”

When Yale officially divested from companies tied to the Sudanese government in February, it blacklisted several companies in which it did not hold stock but would exclude from its portfolio in the future.

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