Former insider says yes to divestment

By Dasha Vinogradsky

The only living member of the committee that wrote the U of C guidelines on political action urged the University to divest from Sudan, emboldening student activists in their ongoing efforts to respond to the genocide in Darfur.

Former U of C history professor John Hope Franklin, who served on the committee that created the University guidelines on political action, issued a statement November 20 explaining his view that the University may respond to the “exceptional instance” of genocide.

Administrators have told members of the U of C chapter of Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) that their caution about divesting stems from uncertainty as to whether the 1967 Kalven Report guarding academic freedom and neutrality prevents the University from taking action.

“I am of the opinion that the desperate situation in Darfur is so tragic that it qualifies as the exceptional instance where I have no difficulty in concluding that divestment is consistent with the core values of our report and the mission of the University,” Franklin said in the statement.

The Kalven Report states that the University can act in response to social and political events “in the exceptional instance, [when the] corporate activities of the university may appear so incompatible with paramount social values as require careful assessment of the consequences.”

The report does not explicitly state what type of occurrence can compel the University to act, and this omission has made it difficult for administrators to reach a decision.

But Franklin, the last living member of the Kalven committee, said he thinks that the situation in Darfur exceeds the limitations of the report.

“Because it would be very difficult to define an exceptional issue that satisfies all members of the committee and University, [the committee] made the point that there might be exceptions,” Franklin said in a phone interview. “When people are dying, when we get genocide, I see nothing wrong with divestment. This is an evil, awful human tragedy. What can be done to stop it ought to be done to stop it.”

Franklin said he speaks only for himself because he does not know whether the other committee members would agree with his interpretation.

Jamie Kalven, the son of committee chairman and law professor Harry Kalven, Jr., is speaking out for divestment.

“Instead of stating specific exceptions, the committee left the specifications for the future,” said Jamie Kalven in a phone interview. “That’s why these debates are so important, because they continue the process of articulating and deepening principles that were set in motion.”

In an editorial for the Maroon, Jamie Kalven outlines the role that Harry Kalven, Jr., played in shaping the report.

Hoping to capitalize on Franklin’s statement, STAND circulated a letter to the faculty on Monday, urging them to show their support for divestment by signing a petition on the group’s website.

“It’s an unprecedented situation in our time that our own government has declared a genocide. I think not to take action is wrong,” said John Schumann, an assistant professor of medicine who is among the faculty members who support divestment.

Students can also sign the petition beginning today.

STAND members will meet with University President Robert Zimmer on Friday, when he is expected to respond to the most recent statements.

“President Zimmer continues to have discussions with different groups on campus about the issues raised by the divestment proposal,” said David A. Greene, vice president of Strategic Initiatives, in an e-mail interview. “These conversations are being held with students interested in this issue, as well as with faculty and administrative leadership groups. Members of the Board of Trustees have also been engaged in this discussion.”