Education

Investment firms named in U of M disclosure, divestment supporters request increased transparency

A professor speaks on campus
Sima Shakhsari, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota, speaks at a rally demanding accountability from university leadership to work towards divestment after an agreement was reached with UMN Divest on May 2.
Tom Baker for MPR News

Updated May 22, 7:23 a.m. | Posted May 21, 7 p.m.

At the end of last week, students with UMN Divest, a coalition of University of Minnesota pro-Palestinian student groups, received additional details from the University of Minnesota regarding the school’s investments in Israel-based companies and U.S. defense contractors.

The most recent disclosure comes after university leaders promised student organizers it would make a good faith effort to provide as much information as possible about the university’s holdings in publicly traded companies with ties to Israel.

MPR News obtained a copy of a new one-page disclosure from a student organizer with UMN Divest. The university confirmed the accuracy of the document.

As of the end of March, the university benefited from 16 investment funds managed by 10 separate investment firms, according to the disclosure. The list of investment funds totals more than $518 million.

Earlier in the month, the university provided a list with the names of specific Israeli-based companies and U.S.-based defense contractors, several with ties to Israeli military. The investments totaled just over $5 million.

Those investments represent less than 1 percent of the school’s $2.27 billion endowment. 

“This latest data provides the names of the funds that house those investments,” according to University of Minnesota spokesperson Jake Ricker.

In referencing both disclosures, Ricker wrote, “Together, these documents provide both the specific companies/investments, as well as a list of the globally diverse index funds that include those investments.”

Merlin Van Alstine is an organizer with Students for a Democratic Society, one of the representatives of UMN Divest.

Van Alstine said they are concerned by some of the investment firms listed in the most recent disclosure. One firm Van Alstine said they are concerned about is BlackRock. BlackRock is an investment manager that UMN Divest says they have researched and found ties to Israel-based companies doing business with Israeli military. The recent disclosure shows six investment funds managed by BlackRock.

Van Alstine attended a recent meeting between student organizers and university officials to discuss divestment. They said receipt of the most recent disclosure “kind of pushed us forward and knowing that we will need a policy to control what different companies were invested in.”

Van Alstine and other student organizers are calling for a policy to guide the university’s investments into companies that profit from war or those who manufacture weapons.

Steven Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council for Minnesota & the Dakotas, said calls for the U of M to divest are “part of economic warfare against the state of Israel.”

“There have been attempts at the so-called BDS effort before the state legislature, before the courts, and this one before the university will likely fail too,” said Hunegs. BDS, short for Boycott, Divest, Sanction, is a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.

UMN Divest calls for more transparency 

Friday’s disclosure does not make clear the connections between the investment funds and the companies listed in the May 7 disclosure.

Disclosure of university’s public investments was one of the central demands made by UMN Divest after the coalition set up encampments on the campus just before graduation to protest Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis.

Student organizers from UMN Divest plan to continue to meet with university officials every two weeks for the foreseeable future.

Speakers at a university board of regents meeting
Interim University of Minnesota President Jeff Ettinger (right) and Board of Regents Executive Director Brian Steeves listen to students from UMN Divest during a Board of Regents meeting at the University of Minnesota on May 10.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Adam Abu is one of the student representatives of UMN Divest.

Pointing to the difficulty in gleaning information about investments from the university’s most recent disclosure, Abu said he would like to see the university create a system for monitoring divestment from companies who “profit from war” similar to the dashboard used by the university to track the school’s investments into environmental sustainability.

“We want everything to be accessible and easy to read,” said Abu. “It shouldn’t be hard, it shouldn’t take hours, it shouldn’t take days and weeks to research companies that are invested [in] by the university.”

University spokesperson Jake Ricker said the both the board of regents and university leaders will “continue to work on honoring the commitments made to both the UMN Divest coalition and those representing Jewish students during their meetings earlier this month.”

A man speaks to a crowd
University of Minnesota grad student Taher Herzallah speaks at a rally demanding accountability from university leadership to work towards divestment after an agreement was reached with UMN Divest on May 2.
Tom Baker for MPR News
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