Petition to Replace Wells Fargo on Campus Needs Critical Reevaluation

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Although I’m always eager to crack a joke at Wells Fargo’s expense since they were caught opening fake accounts for customers last year, UCI students’ recent petition to “Replace the Wells Fargo at UCI with a Credit Union” calls for draconian actions that will have a negative impact on the lives of many UCI students.

The petition’s accusations are broad, and some of them are only of historical significance. While Wells Fargo was alleged to be engaging in the predatory practice of charging higher rates to African-American and Hispanic customers, the company has reformed its practices since their $175 million settlement in 2012, to the satisfaction of interest groups like the National Fair Housing Alliance. The petition also fails to illuminate Wells Fargo’s history of philanthropy. For example, in 2015, Wells Fargo donated more than $281 million to causes such as community development, affordable housing and clean technology. While Wells Fargo is not above reproach, to focus only on one aspect of their behavior as justification for such extreme measures is shortsighted.

When I saw the petition appear on Facebook a few weeks ago, it had garnered almost entirely negative feedback in the comments. The sentiment was clear: there are more students who use Wells Fargo and want it to stay (regardless of their political views) than there are people resolved to kick it out. This is probably also why the petition received only 201 signatures as of Thursday, despite being in circulation for nearly a month.

As a member of a credit union back home, I understand the benefits which one could offer to the UCI community. Yet at the same time, removing the on-campus Wells Fargo on the whim of a vocal minority of the student body would disrupt the lives of many students who are satisfied customers of the institution. Such unilateral action unduly pressures students to switch banks, a process which is inconvenient and sometimes painful, by depriving them of easy access to their existing accounts. While it is everyone’s right to choose how their own money is invested, it is nobody’s right to tell others how they ought to invest their money. Many students value having easy access to the bank accounts that they have had for many years. Some might even appreciate Wells Fargo and the services it offers. Their opinions and needs ought to be respected.

But this is a symptom of a larger problem. It is easy to become so fixated on the omelette — in this case, divestment from the Dakota Access Pipeline — that we disregard the eggs that are broken along the way. This mentality, especially when it infects those who wield authority, causes reactionary top-down policies which often do more harm than good. I urge Chancellor Gillman to carefully consider the negative impact that this proposed policy would have on the student body before he takes action. Wells Fargo is on campus because the students give it their business. If a large portion of students truly support its removal, it is their prerogative to organize for change. But I request that they vote with their own wallets, not mine.

Jacob VanDrunen is a first-year computer science major. He can be reached at jvandrun@uci.edu.

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