Legislation passed last Wednesday by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) requests that the UConn Foundation submit a statement detailing any holdings it might have in private prisons.
“The corporations profiting from private prisons have a financial incentive to promote the political and economic agendas of mass incarceration,” commuter senator Haddiyyah Ali writes in the statement of position.
The UConn Foundation is the University of Connecticut’s fundraising organization. It manages a $383 million endowment, annually receives $8 million in public funds and is explicitly exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), according to the Harford Courant.
Ali wrote that private prisons violate universal human rights, particularly those to life, liberty, security of person, privacy, family, home, ownership of property and to not be arbitrarily deprived of property.
There’s no direct evidence that the Foundation has been investing in private prisons, but Ali said it’s a common practice for hedge funds. The Foundation could be indirectly donating to these companies through their other investments, she said.
“It’s my assumption that if UConn hasn’t been told specifically not to do something bad then they probably are,” Ali said.
The Foundation is not required to release information about its donors. Ali said that they would not give her information proving that they had not invested in private prisons when she has asked in the past.
The same bill states that USG will support SB 333, an Act Concerning the Foundation of Constituent Units and Public Institutions of Higher Education, in the Connecticut General Assembly.
SB 333 would not require the UConn Foundation to name its donors, but the Foundation would have to submit a detailed financial report to the state legislature every year, The CT Mirror reports. That report would then become public record.
“I think that opening up about transparency can help us on these other issues,” Ali said. She noted that students have previously pressured the university to stop investing in coal companies, with some success.
The legislation will now be sent to the administration. Ali said similar efforts by students have succeeded elsewhere.
Last April, Columbia University became the first university in the country to divest from private prisons (specifically the company G4S) after student protests, CNN reports.
The University of California system also sold approximately $25 million of investments in private prison corporations following protests from their Black Student Unions, the Daily Californian reports.
“We represent the student body. We can cohesively use the student voice and push for the university make progress,” Ali said.
Chris McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.