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Campus News

Letter to Caucus Co-Conveners Concerning Bank of America

by Jonathan Ehrlich, Vice President for Administration and Finance / Chief Sustainability Official

To the Caucus Co-Conveners:

As you are aware, under the college’s procedures this resolution was referred by Caucus to the president. It was his prerogative how to respond, and he chose to refer the recommendations to the Administrative Policy Committee for its consideration. This committee spent two meetings reviewing the various issues involved, and deciding on a course of action. The committee’s response, while not agreeing to certain aspects of the resolution, did recommend to the president development of guiding principles upon which to base the conduct of college business. From the committee’s viewpoint, these principles will ultimately affect and guide business relationships on a broad scale and on a long-term basis. It was up to the president to determine if he found the committee’s response acceptable, which he did. At this point that is where the issue stands, as the president has indicated in a letter that his decision on the proposal is final. The Administrative Policy Committee intends to move ahead next fall with the work involved in developing guiding principles. This will be done in a manner which includes input from various campus constituencies and in conjunction with President Steve Solnick as he develops his vision for this aspect of the college.

Over the past several months multiple individuals have been involved in meetings and consideration of this issue, including the current and incoming president, the chair of the Board of Trustees, the Business and Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees, the Vice President of Administration and Finance, the Controller, and the members of the Administrative Policy Committee. Without revisiting the issues raised nor undertaking a review of the pros and cons of Bank of America’s investment activities — both those which fund a range of industries and those which fund multiple social service activities –, it must be recognized and is indisputable that the college has a long-term financial relationship with this bank that would literally cost the college millions of dollars to unwrap at this time (this refers to a hedge swap for the bond which funded construction at the college). That course of action is something that the trustees agree is not realistic; changes in the country’s financial markets may change this situation, at which time it would be feasible to reconsider this banking relationship. It should be clarified that Bank of America provides financing to the college for a number of activities, and it handles operational banking accounts which are too complex for many smaller financial institutions. Another way of saying this is that the bank is only a pass through custodian for college funds, and has through its lending made possible significant capital investment on the campus. The college’s endowment is NOT invested through Bank of America.

The college certainly does not condone activities by any of its business partners which may have a negative environmental or social impact, but it does not necessarily always have the ability to respond by eliminating this relationship, nor is this necessarily the best response. When the college has an ongoing relationship with a business, there is an opportunity to let its views be known and to attempt to exert pressure to affect the business’s practices. Once the college “takes itself out of the game” by removing its business, it has lost any leverage it may have had. This is an important point, if the college wishes to be in a position to try to influence business practices.

As a client of Bank of America, the college may have an opportunity to have a positive impact on its policies and practices, if it approaches the bank in a strategic and informed manner. I can assure students that after the development of the guiding principles which will be developed by the Administrative Policy Committee, I am prepared to present these to Bank of America and other business partners, first to ensure that they understand the values of the college, and second to try to positively influence practices.

I sincerely respect the views and the commitment of those students who feel that the college should sever its financial relationship with Bank of America. In return, I hope that they respect the processes for making decisions at the college which are in place, as well as the good intentions of all those who have considered this complicated issue.

Thank you.

Jonathan Ehrlich

Discussion

4 Responses to “Letter to Caucus Co-Conveners Concerning Bank of America”

  1. An open letter to Jonathan Ehrlich:

    Dear Jonathan,

    I’m hearing you say that you feel it would be the best course of action to stay in Bank of America, trying internally to influence their policy. I feel that you’re disrespecting the historical precedent US colleges and universities have set in boycotts against immoral and oppressive regimes.

    Please follow in the footsteps of other schools of conscience such as Harvard University, University of California, and Hampshire College, etc., who listened to their students and divested from Apartheid South Africa due to the racial injustices. Even today, Bank of America, supported by the money of instutions such as Warren Wilson College, lends at a higher interest rate to racially disprivileged social groups. I’m sure you’ve heard the other facts from members of the campaign, so I won’t get into the details.

    I’m asking that you look at the larger national strategy universities can play. If Warren Wilson College divests, it will set a historical precedent similar to universities of conscience during the 1980s. Warren Wilson students deserve to attend a college on the cutting edge of progressive society, and Bank of America is a dead weight to their progress.

    For all the communities Bank of America has poisoned,

    Anonymous

    Posted by Anonymous | May 7, 2012, 3:18 pm
  2. Wow. Mr. Ehrlich’s letter demonstrates his complete disconnect of what I thought Warren Wilson represented. Not only are his words disconcerting, it reads almost as a joke. Ehrlich’s compliancy in the status quo of big business and environmental destruction is frightening. Does he honestly believe that he has some magical leverage that will undo/change Bank of America’s long laundry list of negative business practices?

    Jonathan Ehrlich’s unchecked privilege (ie. white, male, rich liberal) shines through with his writing. It’s easy for him to negotiate with Bank of America. Ask the communities who have suffered as a result of BOA’s classist, racist, and environment record. Do you think they would like to “exert pressure” on BOA as Ehrlich puts it? I’m sure they would, but probably not the kind that allows BOA to continue their war on marginalized people.

    Jonathon Ehrlich’s submissive attitude towards BOA represents someone who has no qualms working within the corrupt system that continues to oppress and destroy people in his own back yard (but you know, it’s far enough away that he doesn’t have to see it).

    It’s really unfortunate that Wilson has degraded to this lack of accountability. You know what they say- birds of a feather..

    Posted by William | May 10, 2012, 2:09 pm
  3. The two of you are focusing on the wrong thing here. Ehrlich isn’t saying that we need to stay with BoA so that we can change it from the inside–that’s just a minor sideshow benefit he suggested to try and make the real truth seem more palatable. Simply put, we can’t afford to split from BoA right now. Yes, it’d be nice if we could, but we can’t, not even if they start setting puppies on fire to heat their corporate meetings. Best to just accept that money is important and the college needs it to run.

    Posted by Nathan | May 14, 2012, 5:20 pm
  4. Re: Bank of America. I was with a company that insured some of the banks. Not much difference between them as funds on the larger scale become a blur in some views. I once had an account there and closed it due to their practices. No impact to them of course. Maybe I had something that Harry Truman said in my mind or the front of the WWC catalog. Oh well, inspiring words do nothing but sometimes actions with loud voices do.

    Posted by Jim Gourley | July 18, 2012, 10:30 pm

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