MIT students confront grayBy Michael J. Garrison
About 50 protesters marched to the office of President Paul E. Gray '54 on Wednesday. They questioned Gray on MIT's policy on South Africa. The protesters came from an anti-Apartheid protest outside the Student Center [see story on page 19] and spoke with Gray outside his office for 45 minutes.
Gray first offered to speak to students in small groups, but the protesters insisted Gray come out of his office. They shouted, "No backroom meetings." Gray was accompanied by Vice President Constantine B. Simonides and Walter L. Milne, assistant to the Chairman of the Corporation and the President, and several Campus Police officers.
Just before Gray emerged, a student announced, "Paul Gray is payed by the Corporation to keep the peace.... [He] will gladly lie if it will diffuse student activism on campus."
As Gray came out of his office the crowd began to yell, "Divest Now! Divest Now!" When Gray turned to go back into the office, the crowd quieted down.
"How long are you going to keep on participating in the murder of the South African people with your money?" shouted one protester. Gray responded "If thats the level on which you want to carry on this conversation we aren't going to get very far in it."
After some discussion, however, the crowd began to ask Gray about his positions on the subject.
Gray first stated that he spoke only for the MIT and himself, not for the MIT Corporation. "My view on Apartheid is that it is an evil, unsupportable, unjustifiable, vicious system; the sooner it ends the better," he said.
"MIT has investments in American corporations which have some operations in South Africa," he said. "We are not likely to divest." He denied MIT investments strengthen the South African government.
One of the demonstrators, who was identified as a Vietnam veteran, replied, "We learned from the Vietnam War ... how the US corporations invested, and without that the Vietnam government wouldn't last a day.... Look how long they did stand without the backing of the US corporations -- not a day. Without US investment in South Africa ... the ... regime would have a very doomed and brief existence."
Another student said US investment represented an "enormous" amount of the South African economy.
Gray disagreed: he said American investment corresponds to "somewhere between one percent and three percent" of the economy, he added.
The crowd then jeered at Gray, shouting, "Liar, liar," until Gray told them, "You better be goddamn careful when you call me a liar, because I think in this case I know more about the facts than you do."
A protester then replied: even if US investment was one to three percent, a move toward divestment would still be more effective then "these ridiculous Sullivan principles."
"There are three things that need to be said about US economic activity in South Africa and about the impact of divestment," Gray answered. "The fraction of the economic activity in that nation which is represented by United States owned corporations is very small... and that's not a lie; look it up."
"Second point," he said. "You suggest that divestment will cause that economic activity to cease, and thereby destabilize the government. The first question that has to be answered is: will divestment by MIT, or any other educational institution,have some effect on a corporation whose securities we are divesting."
"I recognize that my answer may be different from yours, but I want you to know what my views on it are. My view is that divestment will have no effect on those corporations," he said.
One of the protesters then called out,"It'll affect MIT's profits."
"You ought to be concerned about MIT's profits," Gray answered, "because they pay half of your educational costs." However, several people in the crowd shouted back,"not at the expense of other people's lives."
Gray eventually continued, "The third point is that ... even if those American corporations decide to get out of South Africa, they cannot get out except on a firesale basis, by abandoning those assets, because the laws of South Africa do not permit it."
"So its not a matter of that activity ceasing, its a matter of those corporations turning that activity over to South African corporations, or German corporations, or Italian corporations, or someone else. The activity is not going to cease; its control is going to change. That will be the only consequence of a decision by an American corporation to stop its activities in South Africa," Gray explained.
"The Sullivan principles have been a set of guidelines that have been put forward as applying to American corporations operating in South Africa," he said. "And a large number of corporations have subscribed to them. We have used them as a basis for deciding which companies we are going to be investors in and which ones we are not."
The Sullivan principles are in force in both American and South African corporations and include about 1,000,000 total workers, Gray said. "The argument has been made that the Sullivan principles have little impact because only 90,000 people in South Africa work for companies which are subsidiaries of US operations.... What you may not know is that Reverend Sullivan has succeeded in persuading a number of South African
Corporations which together employ about 1,000,000 people to hold to those same principles. So the impact on [the South African] economy is approaching ... ten percent of the workforce. It is much more than if you measure it by US corporations alone. Much more."
The protestors then asked Gray if it was not more moral to make a gesture, even if it were economically ineffective. Gray replied by asking whether MIT should try to make "an empty gesture" or whether it should attempt use its influence in a constructive way. "Is that presence a positive or negative force with respect to change in South Africa and the eventual elimination of Apartheid ... My belief is that it is a positive force."