An Open Letter to Penn’s Trustees


Investment in tobacco company stocks is clearly antithetical to the university’s research, teaching and health care missions. Therefore, we support the October 2013 ad hoc committee proposal calling on the Trustees to exclude tobacco company stocks from the university’s direct investments.

The proposal is fully aligned with the Trustees’ statement on social responsibility in investments:

“[W]hen the Trustees determine that corporate policies or practices cause substantial social injury or substantial environmental harm, they, as responsible and ethical investors, shall give independent weight to this factor in their investment policies and in voting proxies on corporate securities." The Trustees define “substantial social injury” as “the excessive or deliberate injurious impact on employees, consumers, and/or other individuals, or groups resulting directly from specific actions or inactions by a company."

Few entities so abundantly meet the Trustees’ definition of companies that cause massive injurious impact as those that produce and market tobacco products.

(1) The World Health Organization has identified tobacco as the world’s leading public health problem: tobacco is implicated in 6,000,000 deaths every year.

(2) In the US, a thousand children become smokers every day.

(3) Tobacco companies manipulate nicotine to magnify their products’ addictiveness, and they aggressively market their products to children in the developing world, an especially vulnerable population.

Among our Ivy peers that have publically deliberated on divestment, only Yale declined. Harvard, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown have all divested. So also have Stanford, Michigan, the University of California system, and Johns Hopkins, among others. In addition, Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine is the only medical school among the top five without a divestment policy.

Investment in tobacco companies flatly contradicts the values that the university has articulated in its commitment to a “Year of Health.” In addition, we believe, that the case for divestment is strengthened by our location in Philadelphia. Today, one in four adult Philadelphians smokes, a rate that is 25% to 150% higher than in the nine other largest American cities.

The members of the Senate Executive Committee represent all of the university’s faculty constituencies On February 12, the members present voted unanimously, 30-0, in favor of the divestment proposal. A week later, on February 19, the University Council voted 51 in favor of the proposal, with just six opposed, and two abstentions.

Given the proven harm that tobacco products cause, the particular damage tobacco inflicts on our Philadelphia neighbors, the cynical marketing practices of the tobacco companies, and the manifest consensus among the Penn community in favor of the divestment proposal, we urge the Trustees to accept the proposal and agree to exclude tobacco company stocks from the university’s direct investments.

534 Members of the Senior Standing Faculty in Support of Divestment