|Columbia University Archives|
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Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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At a Glance
Arranged in two series.
This collection contains the administrative records of Columbia University's divestment from companies doing business South Africa in protest of apartheid in the 1970s-1980s. Originally part of Columbia's Central Files, these records were kept separately because of their important subject matter. They document the extensive deliberations between the Board of Trustees, the President, the University Senate, students, and alumni though statements, reports, memos, petitions and correspondence. In most instances, materials created by students and alumni or by the University Senate are in support of divestment. The majority of the collection, however, documents the perspective of the Board of Trustees and Presidents McGill and Sovern, who did not support divestment until the 1985 Ad Hoc Committee's recommendation. Their records include background research and communication with other universities and groups debating divestment as well as their own statements and reports. The collection also contains a small amount of material on the 1985 student protests and University response.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
This collection has no restrictions.
This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); South Africa Divestment Records; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
Selected Related Material at Columbia
University Protest and Activism Collection, 1958-1999 [Bulk Dates: 1968-1972]: documents other instances of Columbia University student protests, most notably those of 1968.
Historical Subject Files, 1870s-2017 [Bulk Dates: 1968-1972] : Additional records related to the student protests in favor of divestment are in Box 127 folders 4-6: "South Africa Divestments, 1980s-1990s."
Central Files, 1890-1984 [Bulk Dates: 1890-1983]: Additional records documenting the administration's decisions about divestment are found in the Central Files, Box 923, folder 25.
Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Records, 1939-2006: Further records documenting the administration's decisions about divestment are found in Boxes 297, 298, 364, 451, 501, 513, and 619.
No additions expected.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Processed by Rachel Klepper. Finding aid written by Rachel Klepper in August 2018.
The South Africa Divestment Records were retained in the physical order in which they arrived. Most of the collection was placed in new acid-free folders. Folder titles were retained except where they were missing or were not specific enough.
2018-08-22 File created.
2018-08-22 xml document instance created by Celeste Brewer. Container list encoded by Rachel Klepper.
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
History / Biographical Note
In 1977 Columbia students began urging the University to divest (or disinvest) from companies doing business in South Africa in protest of South Africa's system of apartheid. Within the administration, deliberations began among the president, the Board of Trustees, and the University Senate. The Senate, a body made up of faculty, students, and administrators, was more supportive of divestment, while the Trustees and President remained concerned about the strategy and its implication for Columbia's investments. Presidents William McGill and then Michael Sovern, who took over in 1980, pursued a strategy of corporate responsibility, seeking to develop standards for ethical investment that did not require full divestment.
In 1978 the Trustees issued a statement that they would not divest, but would aim to strategically pursue more ethical investments in South Africa. Presidents McGill and Sovern supported this strategy, signing on to Reverend Leo Sullivan's "Sullivan Principles," which required businesses to agree to equal treatment of their employees regardless of race. They communicated with other school's administrators to share policies and ideas as many American colleges and universities faced these questions in the early 1980s.
In 1983 the University Senate passed a resolution that Columbia should divest fully from South Africa. However, the Trustees rejected that proposal, agreeing to monitor their holdings and selectively divest, which was seen by many as not going far enough.
The Coalition for a Free South Africa, a student group led by Danny Armstrong, responded to Columbia's continued investment with protests in April 1985 that included a two week hunger strike and a blockade of Hamilton Hall. The blockade grew quickly, with hundreds of students participating. Columbia received an injunction to remove the students and brought disciplinary action against about 50-60 students. Soon after, the university created the Ad Hoc Committee Regarding Investments in Companies with Operations in South Africa. The committee proposed full divestment of $39 million of stocks, which the Trustees accepted and set a mandate to complete by 1987.