Should Universities Protect Protest Speech?


“It is important to insist that, contrary to the Chicago Principles, deliberation and protest are fundamental forms of free expression.”

That’s Anton Ford, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, writing at The Chronicle of Higher Education, about the protests, campus speech, and the Chicago Principles.

[photo of sculpture by Do Ho Suh]

He writes:

The University of Chicago, where I teach philosophy, presents itself as a champion of the freedom of expression. By now, more than 90 universities have adopted its framework for thinking about campus politics and speech, known as the “Chicago Principles.” This includes many universities, like Columbia and Emory, whose repression of student protests have made international news. In what would seem to many to be a flagrant violation of freedom of expression, the University of Chicago’s president, Paul Alivisatos, has threatened to break up an encampment of nonviolent student protesters.

There is something extremely puzzling about this entire issue. The freedom to express one’s political ideas, a traditional cause of the left, is now associated with the right. And self-professed defenders of free expression are unleashing police violence on peaceful demonstrators.

The Chicago Principles equate freedom of expression with freedom of discussion. The problem with this equation is that discussion is not the only mode of rational public speech: it differs from deliberation, on the one hand, and from protest, on the other. Discussion is truth-seeking speech; deliberation is decision-making speech; and protest is disruptive speech. All three are hallmarks of democracy, but only the first is protected by the Chicago Principles.

If a university only acknowledges expression aimed at discovering truth, then all campus speech is measured by the yardstick of a seminar discussion, and basic democratic values are sacrificed.

Ford argues that when university deliberation is undemocratic—as it has been, for instance, in regard to matters of what kinds of investments universities make—protest is the remaining form of speech for influencing the university:

When students, staff, and faculty are denied a meaningful role in deliberation, protest is our only means of shaping the university community. But protest is essentially disruptive; if it’s not disruptive, it’s not a protest. While not all protests are equally disruptive, all aim to disrupt normal life to at least some extent. A ban on “disruptive protest” is a ban on protest tout court.

As he notes, the Chicago Principles are “not intended to protect protest; they are intended to protect discussion — against protest, if necessary.” But, he says, this overlooks the value of protest and disruptive speech:

Disruption is an indispensable part of social and institutional change. The civil rights movement was not a classroom debate. It disrupted all institutions of society, including universities. At the University of Chicago, in 1962, university-owned housing, where many faculty lived, was still racially segregated. Students working with the Congress of Racial Equality protested, picketing outside the administration building, and then occupying the hallway outside the office of the president. Their occupation continued in a modified form for a week. In its negotiations with the students, the administration agreed to end racial discrimination in the rental of university-owned apartments.

Retrospectively, one can see that the civil-rights protesters — the agents of disruption — were the ones speaking rationally. Disruption was necessary, above all for the dignity of the victims of injustice. But it was also necessary for the well-being of the institution. The University of Chicago owes those protesters a debt of gratitude. There is no way to acknowledge such a debt in good faith except by incorporating some tolerance of disruption into one’s understanding of what is acceptable behavior.

You can read the whole piece here.

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harry b
18 days ago

Of course disruption has expressive and political value, but it seems odd to me to expect an institution to license disruption of its own operations (I’ve organised many protests, and in my experience organisers of protests think think out what others might do to disrupt the protest, and take steps to guard against disruption. Why expect universities to be different?). Indeed, its refusal to do so is part of what protestors want. Law-breaking and rule-breaking are part of the protesters’ toolkit, and if the authorities never react that blunts their effectiveness.

That said, of course the University of Chicago, like all universities, does tolerate some disruption. As do authorities more generally. They make cost-benefit analyses about when and how to react to disruption, and, of course, protestors know this, and try to anticipate the reaction, making their own cost-benefit judgements (sometimes trying to stay within the limits of what the university will tolerate, sometimes trying to provoke reaction). Sometimes one or both sides makes a serious misjudgment, and sometimes that misjudgment is because they assume they have more control over their own agents than they do (police officers sometimes screw up because they’re not well trained for a situation, or because individuals don’t live up to their training; similarly protestors, most of whom have no training and some of whom, protest organisers need to remember, are provocateurs). On my campus for the most part both sides seem to be judging one another reasonably well. At Columbia this seems not to be the case (though I might be wrong — maybe both sides are satisfied by what is going on, its not obvious what the end-game is of either side).

I kind of like the Chicago Principles, and also kind of like Ford’s critique of them, but both are a little detached from the realities of political organising.

Sigal bp
Sigal bp
Reply to  harry b
18 days ago

Agree – detached from the realities if political organizing, and also from the realities of teaching and learning and conducting research. They offer one set of considerations among others.

harry b
Reply to  Sigal bp
17 days ago

Yes — in a way the chronicle piece takes the CPs more seriously than they take themselves.

ajkreider
ajkreider
18 days ago

This issue seems to me to be nearly entirely about the level of disruption. Clearly, some disruption in our lives, by others, must be tolerated. We could not live together otherwise. Minimally disruptive protests should of course be permitted on campuses and elsewhere.

But, things like occupying buildings, blocking bridges, and the like are objectionable because they treat others as a mere means. The goal of such disruptions is to require others to forego their interests on behalf of the interests of the protesters.

If this is to be overridden by consequentialist considerations, then it must be at least plausible that the coercive disruptions will in fact produce significant benefits – but, in these cases at least, it isn’t plausible.

Nick
Nick
Reply to  ajkreider
17 days ago

Collectively, it absolutely is plausible that the disruptions will produce very significant benefits. The protests are already putting significant pressure on the Democratic party and creating significant backlash against the Biden candidacy. If this pressure causes a ceasefire to be signed a single day before it would have otherwise been, then even by very conservative estimates ~100 civilian lives will be saved.

Of course, individual institutions may react differently to this, and of course there might be speculative concerns about large future casualties if the war ends too soon. But this is the moral calculus that protesters are obviously using, and it would be best to engage directly with it.

CeeDee
CeeDee
Reply to  Nick
17 days ago

I hope you are right, Nick. I do think there is a good chance that the student protests fed into Biden’s recent decision to get tougher with Netanyahu (e.g. by withholding some weapons shipments).

That said, potential harms of the student protests need to be considered too. If the student protest help Trump get elected (by giving him and Republicans a wedge issue to demagogue on), then that will be very back for Gazas (and Americans, and indeed, the rest of the world)…

CeeDee
CeeDee
Reply to  CeeDee
17 days ago

very *bad* for *Gazans*

(fixing typos in my post above, ugh)

akreider
akreider
Reply to  Nick
17 days ago

I suppose it’s possible, but recent polling data suggests that even college students aren’t focused much on Gaza, let alone the general public.

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/poll-college-students-gaza-war.html

It’s as least as plausible that the protests reinforce people beliefs about what they imagine goes on on college campuses.

Richard Hanley
Richard Hanley
18 days ago

I like the deliberation vs discussion vs protest framework. The Chicago Principles aside, there seems to me a distinction at work within the “disruptive,” between the “good” disruptive and the “bad” disruptive, which doesn’t in any way track non-violent vs violent, or whether “outside agitators” are involved. It seems too often to track instead whether you are on the right side of the issue from the institution’s point of view. As with Ford’s example of the racial equality protests from the 60s,it will be interesting to see how history judges our current college administrations.

Preston Stovall
17 days ago

Setting aside the first-order question about what anyone ought to do about the war in Gaza, and granting for the sake of argument that “deliberation and protest are fundamental forms of free expression”, the general principle Ford seems to be arguing for runs counter to the proper role of higher education in society. The University is a place that is and ought only be founded on the pursuit of truth — of what is, and not of what ought to be, save that concern with the latter is framed in terms of open debate according to agreed-upon conditions of time, manner, and place. As an institution, the university’s role is not to foster protest, or to permit the fostering of protest at the expense of the successful functioning of the university.

Leiter notes something similar at his blog responding to this essay: the University of Chicago is not a political entity, it’s a school of higher education. It also looks like Ford is wrong about some of the factual details concerning what the students were doing, and their violation of the content-neutral rules of ordinary educational functioning that the University had instituted.

This isn’t to deny that it may be right to engage in disruptful protest, even at the expense of violating the time-manner-place restrictions of one’s university — Mario Savio’s call for students to throw their bodies against the gears of the machine during the free-speech movement at Berkeley attests to that kind of righteousness, and of its productive impact on American society. But the university’s role is not one of enabling that disruption, and certainly not on the basis of an appeal to freedom of expression.

On that front, it’s ironic to compare recent episodes with the remarks Savio gave in his speech from atop the cop car at Berkeley in October of 1964: though I have no doubt that he and the crowd surrounding him were sincere, in some ways they were far too optimistic in supposing, as Savio suggested, that the left would wisely and responsibly use the hard-won right to engage in political discussion and activism on campus.

Ben Laurence
Ben Laurence
Reply to  Preston Stovall
17 days ago

I think both Preston Stovell and Brian Leiter in his curious blog post on the topic, mischaracterize Ford’s argument by missing the role of deliberation in the argument. The point of the article is that the university is indeed a community, one of scholars, students, and staff, brought together by teaching and learning–and so by scholarly debate and speech. However, once in a community that exists for this purpose, deliberation becomes an essential kind of speech that requires protection. Ford, I think, is presupposing that the form of that deliberation ought to be democratic in some way. When constituencies in a university are denied a voice in deliberation that affects them as members of the university community, then disruptive protest can become justifiable. Ford never says that a university should have rules allowing disruptive protest, although considerations of free speech will be operative in the regulations that ought to be adopted to regulate protest, as well as in political considerations about how to respond well when those rules are violated. Ford also never says that the role of the university is to foster disruption. On the contrary, he says that disruptive protest is justifiable when the university is failing in its other duties.

Last edited 17 days ago by Ben Laurence
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Ben Laurence
17 days ago

Hi Ben. It’s “Stovall”.

I don’t think an appeal to deliberation illustrates that I’ve mischaracterized Ford’s position. Ford says that breaking up the protest encampment at Chicago, which is in fact disruptive, is a “flagrant violation of freedom of expression”, and he makes the case that the University of Chicago should tolerate disruptive protests of that sort, writing that “[d]isruption is an indispensable part of social and institutional change” and complaining about a ban on disruptive protesting. Nevermind that Chicago did tolerate the encampment for a time: the fostering of protest at the expense of the successful functioning of the university runs counter to the proper function of higher education in society, which is the pursuit and dissemination of truth, not the enabling of disruptive political activism and social change.

Again, this is all said without any prejudice as to the first-order question about what ought to be done by anyone in Gaza. And if the students want to be instruments of social change, then as far as I’m concerned more power to them — again, think of the free speech movement at Berkeley. So if students want to have a role in the deliberative process over how the University of Chicago invests its funding, and they don’t feel like their voices are being heard, then perhaps disruptive protest is called for.

But that’s not to say anone’s freedom of expression has been “flagrantly violated” by the University when that disruption is removed. The students still have the right to express their views in a time, manner, and place that is permitted to everyone. And as David Wallace illustrates below, if the disruption was made in the service of a far right cause, I doubt we’d see so much willingness to tolerate it, to defend it under a banner of freedom of expression, or to call for universities to associate it with the deliberative processes that universities and students participate in.

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Preston Stovall
16 days ago

“The University is a place that is and ought only be founded on the pursuit of truth — of what is, and not of what ought to be, save that concern with the latter is framed in terms of open debate according to agreed-upon conditions of time, manner, and place. “

This is massively question begging. I suppose if there must be one function of colleges this might be a decent candidate for that, but it’s impossible to seriously maintain that there is or should be one function of colleges. Among other very good candidates for the legitimate functions of colleges is that they should play some role in helping their students become autonomous individuals and good citizens. Well allowing protest seems to fit very well with those ends. And I can’t think of anything more antithetical to them than brutalizing students when they dare to question admin and its dictates.

Heck even if one thinks one legitimate function of a college is job training (as I in fact do) then training students to have the courage to risk their wellbeing for their convictions is a good thing. I’d like the nurse taking care of me or a loved one in the hospital to be willing and able to do that if they think care is substandard. I’d certainly hope future lawyers, doctors, and government bureaucrats will learn to do that. Again tolerating some level of student protest is a good way to let students train themselves to do that, and beating them, tear gassing them, and throwing them into the maw of the criminal justice system the second they get out of line is a good way to teach them to go quietly do what their told. That may be good for their future bosses but it’s bad for society and, I’d argue, even the economy as a whole.

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Sam Duncan
16 days ago

I’m open to the thought that primary and perhaps secondary schooling have as a proper function the shaping of good citizens. In fact, a few years ago I wrote an essay defending Hegel’s claim that the point of an education is to make a person ethical. But in an open society higher education does not have the proper function of cultivating “good citizens” except insofar as being exposed to the truth, and to open debate about both truth and value, makes one a good citizen. Students and faculty nevertheless have the right to get together and seek to make themselves better citizens, of course, so long as their doing so doesn’t inhibit the functioning of the university as a place of learning. But it’s not the university’s task to enable that activity at the expense of its role in the pursuit and dissemination of truth.

It’s for this reason that the Kalven Report advocates institutional neutrality for universities and colleges. But that’s to say the university doesn’t function, except indirectly, as a place for cultivating good citizens (that’s why I spoke of “proper function” in my reply to Ben Laurence, and here). And it’s a good thing the university functions this way, otherwise its institutions run the risk of undermining its educational function in the interest of fostering a political agenda — as it seems the protests at Chicago were doing, and which inhibits the proper function of higher education.

I should perhaps emphasize, this doesn’t settle one way or the other whether the protests were in fact cultivating good citizens, or whether the protesters were in the right.

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Sam Duncan
16 days ago

Redefining the function of universities won’t do the trick since any such function is likely to be impaired by the excessive disrupting caused by protests (not saying this is necessarily an apt characterization of the ongoing protests but let’s grant it for the sake of argument). Of course, whether they impair such function does not exhaust the reasons one may have to tolerate them or not. But your response doesn’t seem less question-begging than Preston’s.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Sam Duncan
16 days ago

“Again tolerating some level of student protest is a good way to let students train themselves to do that”.

Would you extend that to my hypothetical of the anti-feminist, anti-women-in-tight-clothes protesters?

(Not intended as a gotcha – I’m genuinely interested in the parameters of the view.)

David Wallace
17 days ago

As often, I think it’s clarifying to change the political valence. Suppose that for some reason a substantial group of students and faculty are highly motivated to oppose feminism and advocate for women on campus not to wear tight or revealing clothing. (No, those are not at all the same issue; protest groups are not always coherent.) That group definitely has free speech rights: if they want to display placards or organize protests or invite speakers, within the university’s time-place-manner rules, then that’s their right and I for one would (I admit rather grudgingly) defend it. And if individuals in those protests harassed women on campus, I’d agree that only those individuals should be punished, and it would be inappropriate collective punishment to deny the group at large its free speech rights.

But… if that group set up an encampment on a chunk of campus outside the permitted time-place-manner rules … if they disrupted the normal business of campus…. if they sent the university a list of demands that included making a statement denouncing feminism, divesting from investments in healthcare companies that manufactured birth control, and instituting a campus-wide dress-code… if they barred women from moving through the encampment unless they were dressed demurely … if they clearly and repeatedly declared that feminists (though not women per se) were unwelcome on campus… if a minority among them were sexually harassing women…

… then I hope the university would act quickly and decisively to insist that the encampment be dismantled, to suspend or expel students who did not comply, and if no other method was possible, to use force to remove the encampment, without any concern at all that they were infringing on the protesters’ speech rights.

… from which I conclude that there is no generalized right to disruptive protest as a form of speech.

None of that means that on a case-by-case basis a university might not be prudentially wise to tolerate a not-too-disruptive protest that’s not-too-unwelcoming to campus members. Nor does it mean that some highly disruptive protests might be *right*, even though there is no right *to* protest, and that its demands are reasonable enough and urgent enough that a university should accede to them, even in the face of general norms that rules should be enforced and that rulebreakers should not be permitted to coerce action. Plausibly the antisegregation protests at Chicago that Anton Ford references would fit that framework; if you have certain views on the legitimacy of the Israeli state and the efficacy of divestment, you might think the current protests do too. But in neither case would the protest be justified just because protests are a form of speech.

ECD
ECD
Reply to  David Wallace
17 days ago

Of course exercising such prudential wisdom opens oneself up to claims (or the reality) of favoritism for causes one agrees with, which renders a nominally neutral time-place-manner restriction into a de facto content based restriction.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  ECD
17 days ago

Well, that comes back to something I said previously on a different thread: that universities can’t have institutional neutrality as regards their own conduct. Chicago could and probably should have been silent on whether institutions in general should be segregated, but it still had to decide whether to be segregated itself, and that was an ethical question that institutional neutrality didn’t answer.

ECD
ECD
Reply to  David Wallace
17 days ago

Sure, but having a policy, or practice of ‘we shut down disruptive protests, except those we agree with’ is not a valid time-place-manner restriction, it’s a content-based restriction.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  ECD
16 days ago

Yes. I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about.

ECD
ECD
Reply to  David Wallace
16 days ago

It appears I’ve misunderstood the message I was responding to. I understood your statement that “ that universities can’t have institutional neutrality as regards their own conduct” to extend to enforcement of their own rules, which would undermine any ostensible neutrality for the time-place-manner restrictions.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  ECD
16 days ago

No, I don’t intend that. My (fairly minimal) point is that there might be situations where a university’s own conduct is so egregious that the morally right response to students protesting their conduct would not be to shut it down on procedural grounds but to say “yes, you’re right”. (Desegregation is plausibly such a case.) That would never be policy or practice; it would be a decision that the university’s own moral failings transcended the policy.

I think desegregation works as a case to establish that could occur. I am not claiming that the current issues fit this category. I am claiming that in none of these cases is there some general free speech right which the university would infringe by enforcing its rules.

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
17 days ago

While somewhat distant from the question at hand, I have a (very broadly) related question for the Daily Nous hivemind. I would like to learn more about divestment. Specifically, I am interested in the following questions:

(i) What are the actual upshots of divestment? Does divestment “work”, or is it merely symbolic, as some have alleged?

(ii) How are targets for divestment selected? What criteria are used, how objective are they, and how consistent is their application? Presumably, some corportations are “worse”, and thus more “worthy” of divestment, than others. How can we determine this? How do proponents of divestment think this ought to be determined?

(iii) Is divestment feasible? Is there a way for universities to divest from problematic corporations that does not significantly frustrate their own financial interests and/or medium-to-long-term fiscal health and viability? My understanding is that the bulk of any university’s endowment is invested in high-performing index funds. If this is right, then implementing a divestment strategy targeting specific corporations would require massive and risky overhaul of the unversity’s investment portfolio. To put it mildly, it’s not quite as simple as calling up a broker and saying “dump Boeing” or whatever.

Of course, answers to these questions hang on concrete details about who is divesting from what, to what extent and, perhaps, for what reason(s). There may not be highly general answers to these questions.

If anyone could point me to helpful sources in economics, political science, law, or any other related field, I would be grateful. I am sympathetic to calls for divestment on moral grounds, but I would need to know more before I could fully stand behind calls for divestment. At present, I am utterly in the dark on the relevant issues. Surely, there is scholarly work on these issues which would be of help.

SLAC Prof
SLAC Prof
Reply to  Confused Junior
17 days ago

As someone involved with the committee at my school that engages with the admin on ethical issues related to our endowment, let me offer what small insight I can.

a) People at my institution who advocated for fossil fuel divestment or who are advocating for divestment from companies involved (in some way) with Israel had/have different rationales: some seem to think that, as part of a collective effort, it will make a material difference; some see it as largely symbolic; some have something more like a “dirty hands” concern: they don’t want us making money from companies doing terrible stuff.

b) I don’t have a general answer here, but two questions that have come up at my institution in discussions with people asking for divestment from Israel are a) “What is the underlying principle that explains why we should divest?” and b) “What does “involved” or “implicated” mean here?”

Some people seem not to have given much thought to either question. With respect to the first, they are focused on Israel/Gaza and are not concerned with whether the rationale for divesting from companies that do business with Israel would imply that we should divest from a *ton* of companies that are involved with countries that are doing terrible terrible things (China, Saudi Arabia). Other people bite this bullet and say that divesting from companies involved in Israel is part of a larger effort to decouple the endowment from “capitalism” or the “US economic system” or some such. I admire the consistency I suppose (and it answers, in some way, your third question)! With respect to the second question, I can say that the demands students have made to divest from particular companies seems to be setting the bar for what counts as “implicated” very low indeed. They have identified companies that are not in any way arms manufacturers, but rather makers-of-things that are parts of things used by the IDF (e.g. an instrument panel).

c) Depends what you mean by “feasible”. A small part of the endowment at my institution is directly invested in individual stocks. So, it is possible to sell those holdings without selling anything else. They could call up their people right now and say “Sell”. The vast majority of our endowment, however, is in “indirect holdings”, roughly giant funds with bits of thousands of individual companies. Divesting from indirect holdings so as to avoid owning anything that is “implicated” in Israel — let alone other countries doing terrible terrible things — would require an institution to completely rethink how it invests and, I imagine, *severely* constrain what they can invest in.

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
Reply to  SLAC Prof
16 days ago

Thanks for the perspective. It is helpful to know more about some of the live considerations in actual on-the-ground discussions of divestment!

TF79
TF79
Reply to  Confused Junior
17 days ago

I know a bit about this topic in the context of climate divestment discussions, and my sense from the literature is:

i) No (though it depends on what you mean by work) – empirically there’s at best modest effects on firm outcomes. While there’s a tendency to treat stock prices and their movements as some sort of morality play/fodder for news stories, at the end of the day the stock market is just one way that firms raise capital (in exchange for a share of future profits), and at best, a sustained divestment campaign miiiiigggghhht marginally increase the long-run cost of raising new capital for targeted firms. I think a lot of the skepticism of divestment protests hinges on this point – “What do we want? To hopefully cause a small increase in the cost of raising capital for defense/fossil fuel firms! When do we want it? In the long-run!” feels a bit… lacking. That said, I would say that the line between “works” and “merely symbolic” may not be as clean as suggested – while there’s no evidence that the South Africa divestment efforts (or even the more pointed economic sanctions) really did much to affect firms, they did send a signal that maybe kinda sorta coulda moved the needle in the big picture. Also, on the personal side, I think “symbolic” isn’t necessarily a bad thing either – if I found that the pizza parlor down the street employed slave labor from Alpha Centauri, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to not want anything to do with their pizza, despite its awesomeness, even if it never “worked” to move the needle on justice for the Alpha Centauriians. Though obviously there’s a distinction between how a person vs an institution would think about that.

ii) Not sure – my sense is that it mostly revolves around heuristics, though I could imagine using something like this in the fossil fuel case: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-013-0986-y?wptouch_preview_theme=enabled

iii) Endowments tend to be in large index funds as you note, and are very diversified as well (stocks for when the economy is doing well, bonds for when the economy is doing poorly, private equity and venture capital to roll the dice on risky big returns, real estate etc). There may also be some smallish holdings of individual stocks – small in relative terms of the endowment size. While I’m not sure how feasible it is to somehow pluck out the “bad” actors from those big composite funds (finance folks are insanely creative and clever, and I mean that both as praise and a pejorative), the effect on the value of the endowment itself would likely be minimal unless all composite index funds are indirectly implicated and therefore off the table. The whole point of the broad diversification across different asset classes and stocks is to minimize exposure to any one firm or type of firms having a bad run, so dropping defense stocks from 0.3% of the portfolio and increasing pharmaceuticals or whatever from 0.9% to 1.2% is unlikely to matter a great deal to the overall endowment value. My understanding of the empirics on ESG investing is that there doesn’t appear to be a huge gain or loss relative to traditional investing.

This paper The Impact of Impact Investing by Jonathan Berk, Jules H. van Binsbergen :: SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3909166 is a good starting point I think, and perhaps this one for the financial impact A Review: The Financial Impact for Socially Responsible Investors by Shaun Davies :: SSRN

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
Reply to  TF79
15 days ago

Thank you! I look forward to reading this stuff.

Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
Dr. Lothar Leidernicht
Reply to  Confused Junior
17 days ago

Well, for you to divest, someone has to invest – you can’t sell, unless someone is buying. Will you sell with profit or with loss? Moreover, if a company’s fundamentals are solid, and there remains market for its product, there is no difference. The whole thing is basically symbolic nonsense. Finally, I would think universities probably do not buy direct stock but something more complex and so taking out just some particular stock might be problematic even if they wanted to.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Confused Junior
16 days ago

I think there are many different scopes of action that have been called for under the heading of “divestment”.

I haven’t had a chance to talk to protestors at my campus (I’ve heard there might sometimes be an information table, but haven’t seen one on the occasions I’ve visited) but one of the prominent posters they display singles out Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and BlackRock as targets. Those three companies seem to me to illustrate three very different cases! Boeing and Northrop Grumman are major parts of the military-industrial complex and are thus potentially highly relevant to any such divestment campaign – but Boeing’s main business involves manufacturing a product that universities would find it *very* hard to stop supporting, making “divestment” an odd choice. With BlackRock, I’m having a harder time finding out the motivation – searches for “BlackRock divestment” have found that about a dozen Republican-run states have divested from BlackRock because of their choice to offer a non-fossil-fuel investment portfolio, which I don’t think is the motivation for the protestors.

A post here a few days ago included a statement by NYU grad students mentioning a plan to “divest from weapons manufacturers, war profiteers, and other companies complicit in the Israeli military’s ongoing war in Gaza.” This links to a list (https://afsc.org/divest) that includes many companies beyond Boeing and Northrop Grumman (but not BlackRock) and it seems that there is some group at that organization that has put some thought into which sorts of actions are worthy of divestment (and which don’t seem to be as indiscriminate as the phrase “other companies complicit” suggests).

Confused Junior
Confused Junior
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
15 days ago

Thanks! These links seem pretty promising. I’ll read the “Methodology” and “Divestment Research” stuff on that site soon. Cheers!