A coalition of about 50 students and local activists gathered near the new residential colleges on Tuesday morning to demand that Yale cancel its Puerto Rican debt holdings, less than a month after a similar protest outside University President Peter Salovey’s house.
The decision to hold the demonstration on the walkway between Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray was no coincidence. In addition to protesting against the University’s $740 million investments in the Baupost Group — a hedge fund that owns nearly $1 billion of Puerto Rican debt — activists emphasized that the establishment of the Prospect Street facilities is also linked to the island’s debt.
Charles Johnson ’54, who broke the University’s donation record in 2013 when he provided $250 million to finance the construction of the new colleges, is the biggest shareholder of the investment firm Franklin Resources. According to an Oct. 25 story in the Wall Street Journal, Franklin Resources, was at one point the second-largest mutual-fund holder of Puerto Rico bonds.
The Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, which advises the Yale Corporation on the social implications on endowment investments, reached a decision in January that divestment from the Puerto Rican debt “is not warranted where an investor is abiding by applicable bankruptcy procedures.”
“The committee’s understanding is that the U.S. has passed legislation placing the Commonwealth under federal court protection, enabling the suspension of payments and a workout with creditors, and that Baupost is abiding by that legal process,” Chair of ACIR Jonathan Macey LAW ’85 told the News in January.
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy previously told the News that the University does not comment on specific investments.
Speakers and attendees at the Tuesday protest included members of New Haven’s Puerto Rican community, Yale undergraduate leaders, elected officials from the New Haven Board of Alders and the Connecticut General Assembly’s Black and Hispanic Caucus, and Local 33, the aspiring union for some graduate students at Yale.
Local 33, which withdrew its petitions for union recognition earlier this month, continues to play a central role in rallies criticizing the University’s endowment investments. In a recent email provided to the News, Local 33 asked Yale’s Chief Investment Manager David Swensen GRD ’80 to immediately disclose and cancel Yale’s holdings of Puerto Rican debt and to urge other investment managers and universities to follow suit.
According to vice president of Local 33 Charles Decker GRD ’18, activists organized the Tuesday protest in the hopes of vocalizing and amplifying the demands made in the email.
“Yale has a choice,” Decker said during the rally. “Will it use its influence to offer Puerto Rico meaningful financial relief in times of crisis? Or will it seek to grow its $27 billion endowment by continuing to extract from a devastated island?”
Referring to lawsuits against the island, Decker said that litigation of this nature can drag on for years and hinder the government’s ability to restructure its finances and rebuild the economy.
Addressing the crowd, David Diaz ’18 said he was surprised to learn about Johnson’s link to Puerto Rican debt.
“I wasn’t very surprised that Yale has invested in Puerto Rico’s debt. But I admit, I was surprised to learn about this building here,” Diaz said, pointing to the newly built facility. “So Charles Johnson gave Yale its biggest donation in its history to build Benjamin Franklin College, and there’s a plaque right there with his name.”
In a speech during the protest, Ward 4 Alder Evelyn Rodriguez said Yale should harness its alumni connections to relieve Puerto Rico of its “unsustainable” public debt. She suggested that the graduate and professional schools, such as Yale School of Medicine, should work on developing projects that could help Puerto Rico while also benefiting students and faculty.
“When we talk about Puerto Rico, let’s talk as if the hurricane hit Connecticut,” Norma Rodríguez-Reyes, a representative from the Hispanic Democratic Caucus, said during the rally. “Imagine if our towns in the suburbs were devastated. All I am saying is, the same thing you would want for Connecticut is the same thing you should want for Puerto Rico.”
The rally concluded with a “cancel the debt” chant.
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