Students protest benefit fund’s tobacco investment

Abdel Shakur

A University retirement plan that invests in Philip Morris Companies, Inc. came under fire Tuesday as the corporate watchdog group Infact organized a call-in protest on campus to object to the investment.

Under the University’s retirement benefit plan, faculty can choose from a range of options in which to invest. One of those plans, the College Retirement Equities Fund, makes a substantial investment in Philip Morris.

Many students called CREF headquarters to protest.

“Philip Morris is an immoral corporation,” said senior English major Liz Jones, who helped organize the campaign. “They have a lot of influence in areas that people don’t know about.”

Jones said she thinks most teachers discourage students from smoking and would not intentionally support Philip Morris.

“My mom’s an elementary teacher, and both of her parents died of lung cancer,” she said. “I know she would be completely against this.”

CREF spokesman Jim Tolve said he is familiar with protests against Philip Morris.

“We understand these concerns,” Tolve said. “That’s one of the reasons why we offer a socially conscious plan for our investors.”

The plan allows investors to avoid companies involved in nuclear, military, alcohol and tobacco production. Tolve said a recent investor referendum produced overwhelming support for the Philip Morris investment

Professor Daniel A. Feeney, who heads a committee on faculty retirement benefits, said he has heard similar objections to the funds in the past.

“This kind of thing goes up and down,” he said. “People have brought up protests for everything from military manufacturers to baby formula.”

Feeney said the University’s investment plan is one of the most comprehensive available, and that faculty have a wide range of investment options.

Feeney said although he invests some money in the socially conscious plan, the plan is not among the top five selected by faculty.

Infact organizer Megan Rising said the anti-Philip Morris campaign was designed to bring awareness to an issue that many students and faculty are unaware of.

“The University was a driving force in the lawsuit against the tobacco corporations,” Rising said. “People just don’t know that this money is being used to fund Philip Morris.”

Abdel Shakur welcomes comments at [email protected]