University President Peter Salovey recently condemned the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine and announced other gestures of support for Ukraine: a panel discussion at the Jackson Institute and a “vigil for peace.” Anyone who supports Ukraine’s fight for its existence as an independent state will welcome these gestures, if they are meant seriously, but Yale runs the danger of rank hypocrisy if it continues to finance President Putin’s regime at the same time as it supports Ukraine with words. Any investment in Russian state enterprises and firms controlled by Putin’s associates, whether directly or through mazes of offshore accounts, was ethically dubious in the past. Now, any investment in Russia means providing Putin’s regime with the capital, technology and sense of impunity it needs to wage war against Ukraine.
The United States, the European Union and other democratic countries have already announced sanctions targeting the props of Putin’s regime. More sanctions will surely be announced in the coming days. But Yale should not wait to follow the government’s lead. Mere compliance with the law is not ethically serious. The Yale Investments Office prides itself for being “one of the first institutions to address formally the ethical responsibilities of institutional investors.” If Yale counts not financing a war of aggression among its ethical responsibilities, it will follow the example of Norway’s sovereign wealth fund and many other institutional investors and divest from assets linked to Russia.
According to Yale’s latest SEC filing, Yale’s endowment is exposed to at least $10 million of Russian assets through emerging-market funds. Yale should exit these funds until they have divested from Russian assets. For what we know, Yale’s financial entanglements with Russia could go much deeper. According to the latest endowment update, 6.5 percent of Yale’s portfolio was allocated to emerging markets. That’s nearly $3 billion. Regardless of the scale of Yale’s investments, the University should immediately begin a review of its investments in Russian assets and state for the record whether financing Putin’s war of aggression is compatible with its values. Yale set a hopeful precedent in January when it opened a review of its investments in China in light of the human rights abuses in that country. This is an opportunity for Yale to show that it stands with Ukraine in deeds, not just words. If the administration succumbs to bureaucratic inertia, it will be up to Yale students to ensure that the University lives up to its principles.