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The protests over the Israel-Hamas war put a spotlight on college endowments

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image of pro-palestine protests outside the new school in nyc

AP News, April 2024

“Divest from death” read the bubble letters written in chalk on the sidewalk on Tuesday outside of The New School in New York City. The slogan articulates one of the demands of the antiwar protests on campuses which call on colleges or universities to divest their endowments from companies profiting from the Israel-Hamas war.

Campaigns to pressure universities to divest for political or ethical reasons go back decades, at least to the 1970s when students pressured schools to withdraw from investments that benefited South Africa under apartheid rule. More recently, in the early aughts, schools made rules barring investments in things like alcohol, tobacco and gambling, according to a report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and Commonfund.

By the beginning of the next decade, a sizeable minority of endowments were including some environmental, social and governance criteria in their portfolios, which expands the factors considered in weighing the value of an investment beyond profits and losses. College and university endowments hold hundreds of billions of dollars in assets, for example, with Columbia University’s reaching $13.6 billion in 2023. Now, campus protests are bringing attention to who controls university endowments and how decisions about those investments get made.

Read more at AP News.

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