Continued Calls for University Divestment from Israel, Boeing

Banners criticizing Rep. Kilmer and the genocide in Gaza which SDS hung in the dining hall on Feb. 7. Photo Credit: Abi Grebel // ASUPS Photo Services

By Mercer Stauch, Andrew Benoit and Veronica Brinkley

The University of Puget Sound is facing calls from some students groups and alumni to divest from Israel due to its ongoing genocide against Palestinians. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)’s Puget Sound chapter has been calling for the University to release specific investment information, which is not common practice at private universities. While the University points to its yearly fiscal reports when asked about investment information, these reports do not include the portfolio’s exposure to specific corporations or countries. The University’s pooled endowment, which is managed by Agility, has a 0.11% exposure directly to Israel, according to President Crawford.What exactly this means or what Israeli companies or bonds the University is invested in is unclear. The University declined to share specific companies or sectors they were exposed to. They also did not respond to questions about what specific monetary value was represented by the percentage, but given the size of the University’s endowment it could be a significant amount.  

  Even the University doesn’t always know exactly what they are invested in, thanks to the complicated nature of global finances. “The way that you deal with investment makes it difficult to be able to kind of speak at any one moment in time about what particular company one might hold investments in,” President Crawford said. 

  In an email to the campus community, President Crawford acknowledged the calls for divestment, and shared some specific financial data, which had previously been shared with The Trail. The statement also acknowledged the pressure to divest. “We hear the concerns some in our community have about our investments. Your voices matter, and we will carefully consider all divestment calls in light of our fiduciary duty. However, managing a large endowment responsibly requires a thorough review process for any potential changes,” the statement read.

Despite the connection to Israel, President Crawford stands by University investment policy and the results it produces. “While a small percentage of our investments may have some indirect exposure to many regions experiencing conflict, none of our holdings are directly associated with military or defense activities. This reinforces my confidence in the effectiveness of our screening processes,” he said in a statement to The Trail.

  SDS has also accused the University of complicity in genocide through its connections to Boeing, whose weapons are being used in Israel’s attacks on Gaza’s civilian population. “We want to tell UPS to cut ties with Boeing. We do not want blood money from a company that supports and enables genocide,” Annika Freeling (‘25) said in a speech on Feb. 7. The University has received at least $2,040,000 from Boeing in philanthropic commitments and grants since 1997. President Crawford pushed back against the idea that the University is complicit in a genocide. “We do not feel that we are part of an apparatus that’s engaged in that type of activity,” he said. 

  Veronica Craker, Director of Media Relations, told The Trail that the University’s portfolio has a 0.02% exposure to Boeing via passive S&P 500 exposure. “As of September 30, zero percentage of our portfolio supports firearms, and less than 1% is related to defense,” President Crawford added, explaining that the University’s investment practices are guided by environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles that aim to foster societal good. 

  Still, the University benefits from its relationship with Boeing, a major investor in the Pacific Northwest region. In 1997, the company made a two million dollar commitment to the University, half of which was used to support the construction of Wyatt Hall. The rest was used to create the Boeing Diversity Fund, which aims to recruit and retain students of color and to support science education at the University. This was the largest corporate grant the University had ever received. In 2019, the University received a $40,000 grant from Boeing to support Summer Academic Challenge curriculum development. Since 1985, over 300 students have received the Boeing Business Leadership Program Scholarship; on average, the scholarship awards a total of $15,000 annually. 

  When asked if he was concerned with the endowment’s 0.11% exposure to Israel while the country is committing a genocide, President Crawford said that all loss of life concerns him. “I think we all have concerns about the terrible loss of life in Gaza, as well as Israel, and I think we’re all hoping for a ceasefire as soon as possible. As we hope conflicts in other areas of the world will come to an end. Don’t we all value human life everywhere?” he said. 

  Few colleges or universities have taken serious steps to divest from Israel, though the movement has had some notable successes recently. In February, the student government at UC Davis voted to divest from Israel, separating the organization’s $20 million budget from any companies targeted by divestment movements. The University of Michigan faculty senate passed resolutions in January which called for the large state university to divest as well. Still, most institutions have seen little movement toward divestment despite the genocide’s mounting death toll.

  The University’s finances have potentially already been impacted by the backlash over its connections to Boeing and Israel. This year’s Logger Day Challenge, an annual event which raises money to support various facets of campus life, was boycotted by some students and alumni. In a Feb. 26 letter to Alumni and Parent Relations, alumni called for a boycott on all donations, especially for the Logger Day Challenge. This year’s Logger Day Challenge raised $176,537 less than last year’s event, and resulted in the smallest sum raised since the event’s inception in 2019. 

  Whether the difference is attributable to the boycott is unclear. The University points to the different structure of this year’s Logger Day Challenge as a potential reason for any discrepancy, which they did not view as significant. “This year’s fundraising event was structured differently from years past, making it difficult to make a direct comparison between the two. Differences include a donor goal rather than a donation goal, and shortening the time to donate,” Craker said.

  The University’s financial ties to Israel are part of a larger connection between the U.S. and Israel. Beyond military aid and other funding directly from the U.S. government – which totals more than $260 billion since WWII –  two way trade between the two countries reached $45.1 billion in 2021 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Direct investment in Israel through Israeli government bonds is common among cities, states and private investors. Even as public opinion on Israel and its genocide continues to turn, President Biden has stated that the U.S. will not abandon the country.

  Despite increasing pressure, and promises to listen thoroughly to all divestment calls, the University has made little indication it will make major changes to its financial policies, especially considering its current financial struggles. “We have to be respectful of our process with our investments in the companies in which we work and following standard protocol with the financial industry,” President Crawford said.