In recent weeks, a campus group known as DIVEST BING has held protests, including one in which the group was opposing BAE Systems at the Feb. 12 men’s basketball game. The goal of this protest was to inform the public about deaths related to BAE Systems’ products and to hold the company accountable for these deaths.
Unfortunately, the group’s anger was misdirected. Although BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin do profit from weapons production, it is the government’s demand for and use of these weapons that actually kills people. Therefore, if DIVEST BING did successfully litigate a company like Lockheed Martin, the government would still demand these products from another contractor, and the company’s approximately 105,000 employees would lose their jobs.
This brings me to my second concern: intimidating protests staged at Lockheed Martin info sessions. These protests are again misguided, as they blame Lockheed Martin for hiring students. In reality, Binghamton University engineering students are the ones seeking these jobs by going to the info session. DIVEST BING’s only viable solution should be to educate classmates on Lockheed Martin’s weapons and their uses. If these students agree, they will refuse job offers from the company. If the incentive of higher pay causes them to take the job, that is their right, and this incentive exists whether a student is rich or poor. The most effective solution to the issues DIVEST BING presents is electing politicians who refrain from using military force and advocating for the reduction of military spending. This would prevent unnecessary attacks and casualties, reduce the amount of weapons demanded and therefore free up tax money for humanitarian work and services, directly benefiting the American people.
DIVEST BING has another mission: transparency in the BU Foundation, the organization that manages charitable contributions to the University. Unfortunately, DIVEST BING’s campaign has been riddled with misinformation, which has harmed the credibility of its message. For example, one of their banners asks, “Where is Our Money?” despite the fact that none of their student tuition goes into the BU Foundation. All $1.7 billion of 2018’s tuition goes to the SUNY system, a system which cannot allocate these funds to the BU Foundation. According to the BU Foundation’s consolidated financial statements, the BU Foundation receives most of their money from donors, student loan debt — which is student debt, not money — and returns from investments. Additionally, the BU Foundation is legally required to be a separate entity from the University. For these reasons, DIVEST BING does not have a right to demand transparency within the foundation because it is not their money at stake.
DIVEST BING has also failed to do adequate research into University investments. For example, they appear to claim that University investments could potentially be involved with illicit industries. However, the BU Foundation’s consolidated financial statements show that at least $42 million of the BU Foundation’s investments are unlikely to be involved in large illicit industries. These are capital assets owned by the BU Foundation, or alternative investments that are focused on private companies unlikely to be involved with fossil fuels and other such industries. The industries that DIVEST BING points to tend to involve large, publicly traded businesses, not smaller private enterprises like those the BU Foundation invests in.
With all this being said, I still support transparency within the BU Foundation, and I would like to share my approach to achieving this goal. Firstly, I recommend working with both donors and the BU Foundation instead of using demands and intimidation. This could be achieved through a stakeholder meeting where student needs, like improving mental health services, are expressed directly to the foundation and donors. This would encourage donors to restrict their funds to a specific purpose and lower the amount of unrestricted funds available for investment in the first place.
Secondly, I would challenge students to reflect on their own investment in fossil fuels. Most students rely on them heavily for transportation, heating and electricity while forgetting that these habits contribute to industry profits and pollution. In fact, if every student at BU drove an average car in the area for an average number of miles per year, we would spend over $30 million on gasoline alone, which is likely greater than the BU Foundation’s investment in the industry.
By taking these steps, DIVEST BING and the University community could create greater transparency while fostering a spirit of cooperation instead of resentment.
Spencer Haynes is a senior majoring in accounting.