Board Shows No Interest in Israel Divestment (Updated)

by James A. Bacon

University of Virginia students this week voted two-to-one in favor of a referendum asking the University to “divest its stocks, funds, and endowment from companies that profit from any and all acts of human rights violations across the world.” The referendum specifically asked for UVIMCO, which manages the university’s $14 billion endowment, to audit its holdings and identify corporations financially “implicated” with Israel’s “apartheid regime.”

Thirty percent of the student body participated in the referendum in a process starting Monday and concluding Wednesday. The referendum generated significant publicity on Grounds.

The Board of Visitors had the perfect opportunity this morning to address the divestment issue when it met with UVIMCO’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer. But the topic never came up.

UVIMCO officials reported on their 2023 investment results, and board members did inquire about the investment group’s relationship with the university, its philosophy toward ESG (environmental, social and governance), and its ability to pick specific stocks, bonds and securities. The subject of Israeli divestment was never broached but the dialogue made it clear that purging individual investments would be exceedingly different under UVIMCO’s business model.

Update: In the afternoon session, President Jim Ryan said that it was his practice to stay neutral on student referenda, so he did not comment upon the Israel-divestment measure before the vote. The controversy “stirred a lot of passion,” and he feels sympathy for both Israels and Gazans about lives lost, but if he had been a student, he can now say after the fact, he would have voted no. “I do not believe the university should use its endowment to weigh in” on such matters, he said. However, out of respect for students’ freedom of speech and tradition of self-governance, he chose not to bias the outcome.

Ryan then let the matter drop, making no move to ask UVIMCO to comply with the referendum’s demands.

UVIMCO is a free-standing nonprofit company legally separate from the University. UVA has no authority to dictate investment decisions to the company.

Under contract with the University, UVIMCO manages the assets of practically all university and university-affiliated endowment funds. UVIMCO itself invests only a nominal portion of the endowment funds, and those are cash accounts, not equities or securities. UVIMCO allocates resources between different investment categories and selects fund managers within those categories. It does not pick individual stocks, bonds, or private equity investments.

UVIMCO enters into long-term contracts with its managers, typically investing “committed capital” into funds with ten-year time horizons. Under these contracts, UVIMCO has no power to tell fund managers which investments to make, and it has no right to withdraw its investments.

For all practical purposes, UVIMCO has no ability to carry out the wishes of the student-endorsed referendum, even if it were inclined to do so.

The company has publicly stated its commitment to certain ESG goals, especially environmental sustainability. It maintains an Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (ACIR) comprised of UVIMCO management as well as UVA students, faculty and staff to advise it on ESG goals.

“UVIMCO is dedicated to incorporating environmental, social, and governance best practices into its investment decisions while maintaining strong long-term returns for the University of Virginia and associated organizations,” states the company’s website.

How it implements those best practices is vague, however. CEO Robert Durden descibed its efforts as “engagement” with its managers.

The UVIMCO website hints at what “engagement” looks like:

UVIMCO is engaging with its managers around ESG issues, including emissions reduction and net-zero efforts. Directly engaging with external managers, participating in established sustainability initiatives, and investing in activist managers, is the most direct way to have an impact.

The company’s main ESG concerns have been environmental, and it has steered some investments into sustainability-related projects. States the website:

We believe that investments in climate solutions that help to mitigate the systemic risks of climate change will generate long-term returns for UVIMCO. Between 2021 and 2023, UVIMCO committed $215 million to climate solutions investments, including renewable power, innovative climate technologies, reforestation, and carbon markets.

The website cites no instances of human-rights considerations driving investment decisions. Whether that posture changes as a result of the student referendum remains to be seen. But until someone on Wall Street cooks up an Israel-free fund that UVIMCO can invest in, there may be no practical way to carry out the referendum’s demands, and even then, it would take many years to unwind its existing commitments.

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J. Swift
J. Swift
4 months ago

On a related note, I found it very interesting how Rector Hardie just now (Friday afternoon) moved any and all discussion of anti-Semitism into closed session on “student safety.” This is a topic that Ellis wished to discuss publicly and a topic which Wetmore emphasized yesterday. There were some fireworks as Rector Hardie said Ellis was “out of order” and would be reprimanded if he remarked in open session.

It’s as if the BOV needs a parliamentarian to call balls and strikes about what can be discussed when.

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago
Reply to  J. Swift

This was the most outrageous thing I have seen among all the fake, insincere “collegiality.”
Totalitarian much?
What happened to the answer to speech that offends is more speech?
This is all to protect Jim Ryan from having to take a public stand. If he denounces Hamas, he loses standing with the Left. He’ll mumble something in closed session, which members are not to leak, and keep it hidden, and still try to straddle his way through.
Like many things at UVA, there should be a real public forum, with real debate. But if you can’t control the terms of debate…you might actually lose your totally curated presentation.

Governance for UVA is a JOKE.

4 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

Well stated, Walter. I agree 100%.

4 months ago
Reply to  J. Swift

The University needs a President and Rector who truly cherish civil discourse, open discissions, and diverse opinions.

I spent 4 decades in corporate finance and was on dozens of boards. In the real, non-academic world, boards encourage board members to present differing views. That’s how they grow and improve. Academia doesn’t seem to understand this truism. They prefer “rubber stamp” boards of yes men and women who cave to whatever the Administration presents them quarterly in their meetings.

Today’s BOV meeting was unequivocal proof that Hardie and Ryan only tolerate viewpoints with which they agree, and will not abide by anyone respectfully questioning (which Bert Ellis did) their leftist hegemony that rules the University.

Ellis cited proof of not just anti-Semitism, but physical attacks on Jewish students. I’ve seen the parents’ statements presented to Ryan, Provost Baucom and 2 other senior UVA administrators in a Feb. 14 meeting. They pleaded for him to protect their kids. Ryan has done nothing but spew platitudes about “not tolerating Islamophobia (which doesn’t exist at UVA) and anti-Semitism.” He’s all platitudes, no actions.

Ryan did not want to discuss this, since it would prove he is siding with Students for Justice in Palestine and their cohort who abuse Jewish students and support the terrorist group Hamas.

To paraphrase former VP Al Gore, these facts are “inconvenient truths” to Hardie and Ryan. They did not want to expose them in a public forum.

That is despicable. We need new leadership for Mr. Jefferson’s University.

Wahoo 76
Wahoo 76
4 months ago
Reply to  Wahoo74

Absolutely agree. I have previously predicted that Ryan will be gone (one way or the other) in 2025 when the Youngkin BOV becomes (or approaches) a majority. But now I see an interesting dynamic on the horizon. Hardie leaves effective 7/1/25. Vice Rector Carlos Brown, who theoretically would become Rector, is term-limited with Hardie, with his term ending on 6/30/25, BUT he is eligible for reappointment. Will Youngkin reappoint him? Surely not. If not, who becomes Rector? I suppose Youngkin would appoint a new Rector in this situation.

Wahoo 76
Wahoo 76
4 months ago
Reply to  Wahoo 76

I tried to edit the above comment but am unable to do so, so I will post a reply. I know the Youngkin BOV will become a majority on 7/1/24, not 7/1/25, and meant to word the comment accordingly. I still think Ryan will be gone in 2025, and certainly after Hardie leaves.

Charles Richman
Charles Richman
4 months ago

Israel & Palestinian FACTS:
1.             Israel’s territory is 8,019 square miles. Smaller by more than 700 square miles than New Jersey & 1/19 the size of California. Middle East is 8,804,000 square miles; and the USA is 3,794,000.
2.             Religious majorities in the nations of the world: Islamic = 56; Roman Catholic = 49; Protestant = 20; Eastern Orthodox = 12; Hindu = 4; Jewish = 1.
3.             World Religions in population—Christianity = 2 billion; Islam = 1.4 billion; Hinduism = 900 million; Buddhism = 370 million; Judaism = 14.8 million.
1.             In 1947 the UN declared the land called Transjordan (2/3rd of the land designated, Arab; and, 1/3rd Israel, a Jewish State).
2.             In April of 1948 Israel formed the democracy of Israel and since the formation of the State of Israel, Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, is celebrated.
3.             Immediately following the Israeli Declaration of Independence, armies from 5 Arab nations attacked Israel. Israel survived and lost Jerusalem, where synagogues and cemeteries were desecrated and the capture area called the West Bank was occupied by Jordan and Egypt occupied Gaza.
4.             For the next 19 years the Palestinian peoples and leaders never suggested they wanted a Palestinian State.
5.             Prior to the attack by the Arab nations on Israel there were 800,000 Arabs living within Israel’s borders, 160,000 remained and 640,000 went to Arab countries. They left for many reasons:
 Escape war, wealthy Arab leaders had already left so they had no leadership, Arab nations told them to get out of the way and promised them victory, and taught them to fear being killed.
6.             Tens of millions of refugees from other war torn areas in the world settled in other countries.
7.             With the exception of Jordan, the Arab States would not accept the Palestinian Arab refugees, although the refugees were Muslim, spoke Arabic, and shared a common history. These Arab countries confined them to ghettos, refused them citizenship, their jobs if any were day laborers, and miserable for them. They used the Palestinian people as propaganda weapons against Israel. Furthermore, Arab nations of the Middle-East, e.g., continue to pay $25,000 to families who have lost a terrorist sons or daughters who attempt to kill or have murder Israelis. The Palestinian people have been used as ‘political footballs’ by the Arab nations of the Middle-East.  
8.             As King Hussein of Jordan stated in 1960, “Since 1948 Arab leaders have used the Palestinian people for selfish political purposes. This is criminal.”
9.             —–The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ana Liria-Franch, stated in Cairo in 2003 that “Arab countries want to keep this problem looking like an open wound.”
10.      Ralph Galloway, former Director of UNRWA in 1958 stated, “The Arab states do not want the refugee problem solved. They want to keep it an open sore and use it as a weapon against Israel.
11.      Now let us look at how Israel treated the 160,000 Arabs who stayed in Israel after 1948. (Note: in 2013 there are 1.4 million Arab Israeli citizens). The first Knesset (Congress of Israel); in 1948, 3 Arab Israelis were elected to the Knesset with as many as 17 in subsequent elections. Hundreds of mayors, councilmen, judges, police officers as well as other Arab Israeli officials were elected or appointed to office. Arabic, Hebrew, and English are the official languages of Israel. Israel has affirmative action policies to help minority citizens achieve full social and economic equality.
12.      What about Human Rights in Israel. All religious liberties including total control of their Houses of Worship are under the control of their own religious groups.
Gay and lesbian Israelis are protected against discrimination and hate crimes. Education is encouraged for all denominations and women.
The same percent (45%) of Israeli and USA women are in the workforce. Israel is a democratic country that enjoys free speech, a free press, freedom to assemble, fair and open trials, etc.
A Few Humanitarian Programs Israel has initiated:
1.             Israel opened the first field hospital in Haiti after the 2010 horrific earthquake.
2.             In Operations Solomon and Moses Israel rescued 28,000 Ethiopian people who were destined to be slaughtered by Islamic militants. These immigrants are now Israeli citizens prospering in Israel.
3.             Israel provided earthquake assistance to Greece & Turkey.
4.             SACH (Save a Child’s Heart) is the largest in the world that has saved poor children worldwide.
5.             Even during times of war Israel open its hospitals and clinics to West Bank and Gaza’s people.
6.             Israel was one of the few nations that accepted Vietnamese “Boat People”.
7.             Israeli educators train locals in 130 countries around the world including Albania, Zimbabwe, etc. with 230,000 being trained on water management, agriculture, disease prevention, disaster medicine, etc.
8.             Let me emphasize some history and current events:
Recall with me the tragedies that have been perpetrated against Israel in the last seven and half decades and the lives lost:
1948—The War of Independence
1956—The Sinai War
1967—The 6-Day War
1967-70—The War of Attrition
1973—The Yom Kippur War
1982 Literally “shake, shiver, and shudder” (from Nafada meaning shake off or get rid of; English translation is uprising/rebellion). —The Lebanon War ((1982-2000 the South Lebanon Conflict)
1987-1993-The 1st Intifada*
2000-2005-The 2nd Intifada*
2006—War with Lebanon
2008-2009-Operation Cast Lead
2012—Operation Pillar of Defense
          2014—Operation Protective Edge
From June 2015-June 2016 the knifing of more than 150 Israelis by, at least 50 cars used as weapons, shootings, etc. at innocent Israeli citizens and the loud applause emanating from Abbas and his followers. These attacks and hate motivated murders continued from July 2016 thru September 2018, e.g. on 16 September 2018 Ari Fuld was stabbed and murdered in a Gush Etzion by a hate filled terror merchant. And, if you don’t know learn what happened to the Fogel family in Ithamar a few years ago after they were moved by the Israeli government from Gush Katiff. The above are samples of the hate demonstrated by those entities surrounding Eretz Yisrael.
Am Yisrael Chai
Charlie Richman, Undergraduate Degree, UVA; PhD, University of Cincinnati; Post Doc, Harvard University
Professor Emeritus, Wake Forest University
Veteran, US Army Paratrooper Officer
Richman lived and worked in Israel 2.5 great years

walter smith
walter smith
4 months ago

Thank you. Do you live in the area? I’d love to have an event to lay out both sides, but doubt that we could trust the SJP crowd to behave, much less be reasonable.

4 months ago
Reply to  walter smith

Call me if you connect.

4 months ago

Outstanding. Absolutely incredible validation of the FACTS not the BS propaganda spewed out by Palestinians and the MSM US media.

I’d add one more key fact. The Gaza citizens voted Hamas in as their ruling party in 2006. #2 was Fatah, both terrorist organizations. Between them that was ~ 85% of the voters.

I don’t want to hear about the “innocent” Palestinians or the need for an independent state. Game over. They made their bed. They can now lie in it.

I’m Team Israel.
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