Peter Magrath agreed to investigate how the University of Missouri could divest from American companies doing business in South Africa. In April of 1985, he formed a committee with the board of curators of the University of Missouri that would research the possibility of divestment, how that could be carried out and what else the university could do to stop supporting apartheid. Magrath assigned Ron Turner, then special assistant to the president, to work with the committee in researching a strategy for divestment and other options. The committee spoke to experts and also toured Missouri, holding town hall discussions. This process took 8 months, and on December 5, 1985, the board of curators approved the Magrath recommendation, based on the task force recommendation to divest from US corporations doing business in South Africa. They created a plan and set a date two years in the future when all assets detailed must be sold. In addition, “the task force recommended and Magrath agreed that if we truly care about the future of South Africa, we should do what we do best. We should work on an educational linkage with an appropriate South African partner,” said Turner. Under the curators’ policy, there was an immediate need to find “an appropriate partner.” This was unprecedented for an American university. There were no models for a partnership of this kind. So Magrath appointed former university president C. Brice Ratchford to chair a committee directed by Turner to identify an “appropriate partner.
The committee reached out to a broad range of people with knowledge of South Africa. Because of the boycott of South African business and academics, little was known in America about the South African higher education system. The committee spoke with people from American companies the university just divested from, such as Monsanto Corporation. They also spoke with Daniel Purnell, who was associated with Reverend Leon Sullivan. Sullivan is know most prominently for writing the Sullivan Principles, a guide for what companies should demand for equal treatment of employees, specifically in regard to race. These principles were inspired by his experience as an American civil rights activist and applied to companies doing business in South Africa. “Everyone we spoke with said that if there were one university with the potential to operate in a post-apartheid manner, it would be UWC,” said Turner.
After months of research, Ratchford called UWC Rector Richard Van der Ross and asked if he could send a team from Missouri to explore a possible linkage. Even though Van der Ross was not completely sure as to what the University of Missouri’s real intentions were, he agreed.