According to a letter sent by Rector John P. Ackerly III to the prime minister of the Burmese government in exile, the Board of Visitors will not address a Unocal shareholder resolution when it convenes this weekend.
The University now invests $2.1 million in Unocal, a Los Angeles-based oil company that built a pipeline in Burma in 1996. Unocal is one of the last American companies still doing business in Burma and is alleged to have given money to the Burmese regime in order to do business there.
Ackerly's letter, dated March 29, 2001, was sent two days after Student Council passed a resolution that calls on the University to vote in favor of the shareholder resolution that asks Unocal to disclose all payments that have been given to the military regime.
According to Ackerly, he received the 31-page resolution from Student Council on March 31 after being out of town during the weekend.
However, Council President Joe Bilby said, "We've been in frequent contact with the BOV and rector for the last two weeks."
As rector, Ackerly determines the Board's agenda and speaks for its members on issues that come before the University's governing body.
His letter was in response to one sent earlier by Sein Win, Prime Minister in exile of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma. Win's letter asked the Board to support the Unocal shareholder resolution to be voted on in May.
The Burma resolution, if passed, would require the Unocal board of directors to acknowledge the atrocities of the Burmese government and develop a committee to examine ways to compensate executives based on the company's "ethical and social performance."
In his response to Win's letter, Ackerly acknowledged the "sad conditions" in Burma, but said that he is not placing the "Burma Resolution" on the Board's agenda this week.
He justified his decision by writing, "I do not see that a significant portion of the University's efforts should be devoted to controversies involving international affairs and stockholder resolutions that only indirectly affect us.
"The University is a public educational institution supported by the taxpayers of Virginia where educating its students should be the primary mission.
"Instances of man's inhumanity to man exist all over the world," Ackerly states. And, "If the University takes a position on Burma, why should it not take a position with respect to atrocious conditions in other parts of the world?"
Ackerly concluded his letter by stating, "I believe that the University can do more long-term good by educating our students on the world today and the principles they can choose to support as citizens."
According to Board Secretary Alexander G. "Sandy" Gilliam Jr., the Board has never adopted a specific policies to deal with the ethics and human rights issues of its investments.
"The last time we addressed something like this was in the '80s" during the South African apartheid, Ackerly said.
Instead, the Board relies on money managers hired by the University Investment Management Company.
UVIMCO is a subcommittee of the Board's Finance Committee and handles the University's monetary endowment.
Despite the Board's lack of official oversight over companies the University is invested in, students involved with the Burma resolution thought action should be taken.
"The difference between Burma and other spots is that the University's investments directly contribute to the actions of a national corporation," said Andrew Price, a third-year College student and the co-founder of the Free Burma Coalition.
"We're going to keep pressing this thing until something is resolved," Bilby said.
The Burma resolution may be considered in May when the Board sets the agenda for its June meeting, Ackerly said.
At this point, "I haven't decided what to do with Student Council's request," he said.