Michigan State University

Michigan State University (MSU) was the first university in the United States to officially divest from US companies profiting from Apartheid in South Africa. MSU established the Southern Africa Liberation Committee (SALC) in 1972 to provide aid to refugees in Rhodesia and South Africa. However, as the decade progressed, SALC focused more on the idea of divestment. They began “by educating the university community of apartheid’s horrors” via movie screenings, speaker series, and informational leaflets. SALC did host some small in-person protests around campus, but eventually “the organizers decided…that their energy would best be utilized by working through institutional channels.” MSU is a public university, so their Board of Trustees are elected to their positions via a statewide vote. SALC believed that this made the Board more accountable to student and community pressure. Throughout the campaign, they personally invited each Trustee to every movie screening and speech, they sent SALC representatives to every Board meeting to keep divestment in their minds, and they pressured every university student organization to pass a resolution endorsing divestment. These sustained actions caused the Board to form a committee that evaluated the financial impact of divestment from Apartheid. When the committee concluded that there would be no significant financial impact from divestment, the Board had no reason not to divest and “Michigan State sold $8.5 million of stock in thirteen companies.” 

The main takeaways from the MSU case are:
  • The student body must be dedicated to the issue to have enough support to pressure the administration into action
  • Public universities elect their Board of Trustees, therefore the Board is more susceptible to public pressure
  • MSU executed a series of well-coordinated actions aimed at tackling divestment through institutional means and achieved success this way