UT's questionable corporate ties

By: Forrest Wilder, Columnist
Daily Texan
April 10, 2002

Unlike other universities that the University likes to compare itself to, the University has no discernible policy of social responsibility. For example, the University of Wis-consin refuses to do business with a number of corporations that run sweatshops, have egregious environmental records or violate basic human rights. Here, we invest in most of the major weapons manufacturers companies that profit from war. We invest in Monsanto, maker of napalm, Agent Orange, Round Up and all sorts of toxic dioxins. The University does business with Sodexho-Marriott, a food service company which had ties to the for-profit prison industry at least until UT student activists exerted pressure on the University and the company to divest from their prison holdings. This list could go on. To exonerate the University from charges of social irresponsibility, students must learn more about each case.

If UT had a scrap of decency or even a basic policy of social responsibility, it would stop buying paper from Boise-Cascade immediately. Boise is the country's largest logger of old-growth forests and is also the largest logger of U.S. public lands, according to U.S. Public Interest Research Groups' "Timber Industry Hall of Shame." Boise turns a profit from cutting down 200-year-old redwoods in national forests and turning them into printer paper. There is no justification financial, social, or ecological for cutting old-growth forests in national parks.

Financially, logging on public lands only provides 3 percent of America's wood products. In fact, corporate welfare to timber companies costs taxpayers over $1 billion per year. Socially, there is almost no public support for logging public land. Over 2 million Americans sent comments to the U.S. Forest Service in support of protecting pristine, roadless areas within national forests, making the Forest Service's Roadless Forest Protection Plan the most popular administrative ruling in history. Ecologically, the cost cannot be calculated. Scientists estimate that less than 4 percent of native, old-growth forests remain in the U.S. most of these on public lands. Since Boise is a global corporation, it is carrying its destructive habits beyond the United States to sensitive areas where regulations are less stringent and consumers have less power. In Mexico, Boise has been implicated in the arrest, torture, and imprisonment of local, nonviolent ecologists who were later exonerated of their bogus charges. Boise threatens our national heritage, our opportunity for outdoor recreation and our long-term economy, life itself.

There is no justification for a University to purchase virgin paper products from such a corporation. The University's missio is drastically different form Boise-Cascade's, thus maing a symbiotic relationship between the two ideologically impossible. The mission statement for UT-Austin states that the responsibility of the University is "to serve as a catalyst for positive change in Texas and beyond." The mission of Boise-Cascade is to "improve the Company's long-term value."

The amount of virgin paper the University consumes is staggering. For example, 10,500 cartons of Hammermill virgin bond paper were purchased in the spring semester of 2001. How many ancient trees were killed for those computer lab coversheets? The most heinous part of UT's parasitic paper purchasing is the fact that it violates the spirit of recently-passed state legislation. The First Choice Amendment to Senate Bill 1127 mandates that the state give preference to recycled paper products. The University exploits a loophole that allows it to decide between recycled paper or virgin paper when the virgin is cheaper. In the '90s, Nike offered the UT athletic department a choice between sweatshop and non-sweatshop athletic gear. UT chose the former.

Not surprisingly, the University chooses to purchase virgin paper; it's cheaper due to the $1 billion corporate subsidies doled out by taxpayers. Every time a UT department abuses this loophole, Larry Faulkner has to sign a "justification letter." I wonder if Faulkner can "justify" doing business with a barbaric, soulless corporation like Boise-Cascade. Unprincipled penny-pinching is inexcusable for a university. Unfortunately, it's hard to convince corporate zealots like Faulkner, who owns stock in Monsanto and Enron, that the University has a responsibility to conduct itself in an ethical manner.

If universities are the conscience of society then students are the footsoldiers of progress. We must force our University to adopt ethical standards when using public money, dispensing contracts or doing business with individuals and corporations.

Wilder is an English senior.