Willamette students end occupation over arms investments, plan to resume in fall

Willamette University students occupy the lounge of the student center on Friday, May 3, 2024, supporting divesting the university endowment from U.S. arms companies profiting off the Israel-Hamas war. (Joe Siess/Salem Reporter)

A group of students occupying Willamette University’s library to demand the college divest from the arms industry — which they said is profiting from genocide in Gaza — have left campus buildings after five days.

The students met with Willamette administration Tuesday morning to discuss the university’s $305 million endowment and the possibility of divestment. Student leaders said administrators told them Willamette’s investments in the arms industry are negligible, but that divestment would be prohibitively expensive. 

Still, students opted to end their occupation Tuesday night with plans to resume in the fall.

“For now, we have successfully communicated the strength of student voice in this matter,” student leaders wrote in a post on Instagram. “We have not yet achieved our demands, but we have demonstrated with force for future generations that student solidarity and tenacity can impel the administration to negotiate.” 

Students demand the university disclose a complete list of all corporations supported by Willamette’s endowment funds, and to cancel all investments in the U.S. arms industry.  

On Tuesday morning, leaders of the occupation met with Dan Valles, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Willamette, and Lisa Landreman, the university’s vice president of student affairs. 

Valles and Landreman declined interviews with Salem Reporter, and the university’s Director of Communications Lauren Mulligan issued a statement via email on their behalf. 

“Willamette’s chief operating officer, who also is the board treasurer, along with the vice president of student affairs met with students today to answer their questions about the university’s endowment and how it is managed,” Mulligan said. “We have appreciated that students have respected the rights of members of the university community to work and study and maintained respect for the Willamette facilities during their time of protest. We have no further comment at this time.”

Willamette President Steve Thorsett last week sent an all-campus email telling students the endowment is managed by an outside firm, Global Endowment Management. The university in 2018 adopted a policy to consider the environmental and social impacts of investments.

“A report on Willamette’s (investment) policies is brought each year to the University Council, our representative body including students, staff, and faculty from all of our schools,” Thorsett’s email said.

According to occupation organizers, students left the meeting with the impression the administration believed divestment from the arms industry would be too “controversial,” and that the University does not wish to make a “political statement.” 

Contact Keizertimes Staff:
[email protected] or 503-390-1051

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