02/19/2014 05:18 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2014

Occidental College Pledges To Ban Investing In Makers Of Military-Style Assault Weapons


Occidental College in Los Angeles has decided that it will not knowingly invest its endowment in companies that manufacture military-style assault weapons to be sold to the general public.

The board of trustees' decision, reported Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times, is a first among American institutions of higher education.

The college made the decision to bar future investments in companies that produce military-style assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines for public sale following pressure from its professors.

Christopher Calkins, chair of the Occidental Board of Trustees, told the faculty in a Jan. 27 statement that the college's endowment does not currently hold any investments in such companies according to its investment adviser, Cambridge Associates.

"[T]he Board of Trustees agrees that, as a matter of practice, the endowment will not knowingly invest in such companies in the future," Calkins wrote. "The Trustees further agree with the rationale stated in your letter and support the recent decision of President [Jonathan] Veitch to sign a letter calling for reinstating a ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines."

Faculty members began pushing for this action following a slew of mass shootings over the past year and a half, including the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Military-style assault weapons were frequently used in the shootings.

"It's a statement of principle about the mission of higher education to be a voice of reason in a world of a lot of violence," Occidental politics professor Peter Dreier told the Los Angeles Times.

The Campaign to Unload, a group that advocates for such divestment from manufacturers of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, praised Occidental for its decision:

The group also pointed out that President Barack Obama made his first political speech as an Occidental student during an anti-apartheid rally in 1981. Colleges were widely pressured in the 1980s to divest from companies doing business in South Africa as a way to protest apartheid.

More recently, schools have been pushed to divest from certain companies by climate change activists, albeit with little success.

Calkins, the trustees chair, offered one caveat about his board's decision.

"It is important to point out that a significant portion of the endowment is invested with managers that co-mingle our funds with the funds of other investors," he wrote. "We have no direct control over and no day-to-day knowledge of the investments made by such managers. However, we have communicated our concerns to Cambridge Associates who has responded that, for various reasons, it is very unlikely that any of our investment managers would invest in companies that manufacture military-style assault rifles."