Joining several of its peer institutions, Harvard University decided this past week not to reinvest in HEI Hotels and Resorts once its current contract ends, a move likely to resonate with students here who have been agitating against the U of C’s investment in the company for years.
The company has caught allegations of unfair labor practices and of antipathy toward unions. Students opposed to HEI cite complaints that the company has threatened employees attempting to unionize with mass layoffs.
The U of C would not comment on its investment activities. However, according to fourth-year Brita Hofwolt, a member of Southside Solidarity Network (SSN), U of C invests in HEI’s largest private equity fund, contributing to a pot of $515,350,000 for hotel acquisition and development.
President of the Harvard Management Company (HMC) Jane L. Mendillo stated that the Harvard’s decision was rooted in “factors related to the HMC portfolio and its strategy and needs,” not HEI’s controversial labor practices, the Harvard Crimson reported Sunday.
University spokesperson Steve Kloehn said that the U of C’s decision to invest in HEI, which runs hotels like Hilton and Marriott, does not pivot around the company’s public image.
However, he said, “The University’s investment team does perform thorough due diligence to ensure that the entities in which it invests and their managers have no history of illegal behavior and have a strong track record of meeting the professional norms of their businesses.”
Kloehn also quoted from the Kalven Report, a document stressing University neutrality in politically sensitive issues. Campus student groups have criticized the report for being a catch-all response to their objections to University policy, and in March Student Government sponsored a forum questioning the document’s use.
Still, first-year Emma LaBounty said that SSN is looking for ways to reengage the administration.
“The main issue is that the University has an unwillingness to engage in dialogue,” LaBounty said. “So our energy is focused on contacting other RSOs and other advocates against HEI investment.”
With momentum gaining on campuses across the nation, students are coordinating their efforts into “a unique campaign with tangible impacts,” LaBounty said.
–Additional reporting by Crystal Tsoi