Pitzer Students Threaten “Unrest” If No BlackRock Divestment

After the Pitzer Student Senate voted 16-1—with many abstentions—in favor of a motion to divest Pitzer College’s endowment from a BlackRock-managed fund, students threatened “unrest” if the president of the college does not meet their demands. Pitzer College president Melvin L. Oliver previously vetoed a student and faculty decision to boycott Pitzer’s study abroad program in Israel. 

After one student mentioned Pitzer President Melvin Oliver’s previously vetoed student motions—namely the proposed boycott against the University of Haifa in Israel—students stated that they would engage in “civil unrest” if the president vetoes this decision.

BlackRock manages approximately $60 million of Pitzer’s $140 million endowment. The firm created a unique environmental, social, and corporate governance-focused index-fund completely free of fossil fuel investments for Pitzer College. However, students said the firm was still part of an “unethical capitalist system.” They claim BlackRock is an objectionable investment for Pitzer College because of its investment in the GEO Group—an operator of private prisons—on behalf of its clients, as well as fossil fuel investments for different funds. 

In a poster made in favor of the movement (pictured below), the movement’s leaders elaborated on their grievances with BlackRock to include the firm’s supposed support of “mass incarceration, war, weapons, illegal political donations,” in addition to “climate destruction.”

A Facebook post encouraging divestment from BlackRock.


A Pitzer board member, Robert Fairbairn, is an executive at BlackRock, and the college receives a “near-zero” asset management fee from the fund. Pitzer uses its endowment fund mainly to subsidize tuition for low-income students. When asked whether divestment would harm low-income students, proponents at the student senate meeting responded, saying “we put people over profit at Pitzer College.” Another student mentioned that BlackRock has investments in “Alphabet [parent company of Google] [and] Microsoft, which have tons of environmental concerns.”

After one student mentioned that the college’s president previously vetoed student motions—namely the proposed boycott against the University of Haifa in Israel—other students stated that they would engage in “civil unrest” if the president vetoes this decision.

 

Update: This article has been updated with additional information on Pitzer’s investment relationship with BlackRock and student objections.

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