Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History

Sauer, Anne

Branco, Jessica

Bennett, John

Crowley, Zachary


South African Divestment, 1977-1991


Tufts University's investments in companies dealing in South Africa became one of the most volatile issues on campus from the late seventies through the late eighties. From the first news item documenting Tufts investments in 1977 to Jean Mayer's call for reinvestment in 1991, protest and controversy between students, faculty and administration surrounded the issue of South African investments.

In 1977, during a routine disclosure of Tufts investments, students noticed that the university held about six million dollars of stock in companies doing business in South Africa, at the time ruled by the racist apartheid regime. Tufts stock included holdings in IBM, which was designing computers to help the South African government trace the whereabouts of black workers, and Mobil Oil Corp., who had broken international sanctions by providing oil to Rhodesia though South African ports.

Soon after the financial disclosure, the death of anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko at the hands of South African police re-ignited protests against the South African regime. Due in part to the increased awareness of South African government policies and actions, the Tufts Trustees issued a statement in October of 1977 dealing with their South African investments. The statement set guidelines for the invested corporations, calling for "respect for human dignity," and also calling on companies to contribute to the economic welfare of all the people in South Africa.

Almost immediately following the trustees' statement, all of the companies in question agreed to follow the newly developed Sullivan Principles. The guidelines, developed by Minister Leon Sullivan, set standards for companies doing business in South Africa, calling for non-segregation in all facilities, equal pay, and the increased promotion of black workers. Students at Tufts, however, felt this wasn't enough. In January of 1978, students created the Tufts Committee for South African Divestment (TCSAD), designed to directly protest Tufts investment in South Africa. In February, Tufts divested from Citicorp after finding it had been loaning money directly to the South African government, and on March 7, the first of numerous discussions between trustees and TCSAD occurred during a public forum. Trustees claimed that complete divestment would ruin Tufts' financial portfolio. For the next two months, the trustees held this stance, even after an April 29 protest outside of a major trustees meeting.

The fall semester of 1978 saw continued protest. On October 18, 1978, eighty students marched in a candlelight vigil calling for divestment. The group chanted and sang in front of President Mayer's house for over an hour, and also dropped off a petition signed by students and faculty calling for divestment. They argued that the Sullivan Principles were inadequate because they did not challenge South African law, and pointed out that the U.N. had called for all of its member countries to divest from companies doing business in South Africa.

On January 23, 1979, an Advisory Committee on University Investments recommended that Tufts divest itself of all South African holdings by June 1, 1980, and in February the TCU Senate also voted to divest. In May, Tufts announced a plan to partially divest, and in October divested from two companies who had not complied with the Sullivan Principles. The partial divestment policy managed to calm campus protests, but the issue again came to the forefront of university life in the fall of 1985.

On November 20, 1985, 100 students marched on Ballou Hall to protest continued investment in companies doing business in South Africa. The protest managed to rekindle interest in the issue, and in February of 1986, the TCU Senate sponsored a referendum about divestment for students and administrators. President Mayer, with the support of the trustees, declared that Tufts policy wouldn't change. He said that without international support, US opposition wouldn't change anything, and also that disinvestment, where corporations remove their operations from South Africa, would be more effective. At the close of the referendum, sixty percent of those in attendance voted to divest by May 1987, but Mayer reiterated his opposition to any change in policy.

Hoping for more exposure among alumni and Tufts benefactors, students held a large scale protest at the February 21, 1986, opening of the Sackler Center, and then picketed outside of a trustees meeting in Cabot the next day. Protests continued during the spring, and in April, students built a shanty on the academic quad symbolizing the shantytowns South African blacks were forced to live in. On April 15, ninety-five students attended another rally outside of the president's house.

During the summer of 1986, the trustees voted to divest from any company with a low Sullivan rating, and in September they sold one million dollars worth of stock from two companies that hadn't signed the Sullivan Principles. In a statement released to the press, the trustees claimed that the stock was sold for purely economic reasons. Such sparring continued through the fall of 1986 and through most of 1987. In October of 1988, a petition signed by 1600 members of the Tufts community called for immediate and complete divestment, and finally, on February 25, 1989, the trustees unanimously voted to divest completely.

The trustees' statement cited the fact that their partial divestment policy wasn't bringing about the desired social change. They sold $6.7 million worth of stock, retaining only media stocks and minimal presence operations, such as airlines with only a few personnel on the ground in South Africa.

Although this should have been the end of the divestment controversy, protest again surfaced in September of 1991, when President Mayer called for reinvestment as apartheid was beginning to be dismantled. A number of brief protests followed, but soon the issue was cleared up, and eventually, Tufts did reinvest in companies dealing in post-apartheid South Africa.

Source: TW

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  • The encyclopedia seeks to capture more than 150 years of Tufts' achievements, societal contributions and outstanding alumni and faculty in concise entries. As a source of accurate factual information, the Encyclopedia can be used by anyone interested in the history of Tufts and of the people who have made it the unique institution it is.
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Dame, Lorin Low, 1838-1903
Dana, Charles A., 1881-1975
Dana Laboratory, 1963
Daniel Ounjian Prize in Economics,
Davies, Caroline Stodder, 1864-1939
Davies House, 1894
De Florez Prize in Human Engineering, 1964
de Pacheco, Kaye MacKinnon, ca. 1910-ca. 1985
Dean Hall, 1887-1963
Dean, Oliver, 1783-1871
Dearborn, Heman Allen, 1831-1897
Department of Anatomy and Cellular Biology, 1893
Department of Anesthesia, 1970
Department of Art and Art History, 1930
Department of Biochemistry, 1893
Department of Chemistry, 1882
Department of Community Health, 1930
Department of Dermatology, 1897
The Department of Economics, 1946
Department of Medicine, 1893
Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology
Department of Neurology, 1893
Department of Neuroscience, 1983
Department of Neurosurgery, 1951
Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1893
Department of Ophthamology, 1893
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, 1906
Department of Otolaryngology, 1895
Department of Pathology, 1893
Department of Pediatrics, 1930
Department of Pharmacology, 1915
Department of Physics and Astronomy, 1854
Department of Physiology, 1893
Department of Psychiatry, 1928
Department of Radiation Oncology, 1968
Department of Radiology, 1915
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, 1955
Department of Surgery, 1893
Department of Urban and Environmental Policy, 1973
Department of Urology, 1910
Dental Health Sciences Building, 1969
Dewick, Cora Alma (Polk), 1875-1977
Dewick/MacPhie Dining Hall, 1959
Dickson Professorship of English and American History, 1913
Dirlam, Arland A., 1905-1979
Dog Cart, 1900
Dolbear, Amos Emerson, 1837-1910
Donald A. Cowdery Memorial Scholarship, 1946
Dr. Benjamin Andrews Professorship of Surgery, 1987
Dr. Philip E. A. Sheridan Prize, 1977
The Drug Bust, 1970
Dudley, Henry Watson, 1831-1906
Dugger, Edward Jr., 1919-75
Durkee, Frank W., 1861-1939
Durkee, Henrietta Noble Brown, 1871-1946
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