Admin pledges Darfur divestment discussion

By Dasha Vinogradsky

With pressure mounting to divest from Sudan, top administrators have agreed to meet with members of Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) October 19 to divulge the University’s decision on its investments and to discuss its course of action.

President Robert Zimmer, Vice President of Strategic Initiatives David A. Greene, and Vice President for Community and Government Affairs Hank Webber will all attend the meeting.

Students from The Giving Tree, Students for Human Rights, Amnesty International, and Students for Global Public Health sent a letter last spring to the administration requesting that the University examine its investments and divest from companies that indirectly support the Sudanese genocide.

Students met with administrators June 19 to discuss their arguments for divestment. The meeting triggered an internal discussion within the administration.

Since September 1, more than 20 universities nationwide, including Brown University, Columbia University, and Harvard University, have divested from Sudan. Six state legislatures, including that of Illinois, and three cities have divested as well.

Third-year Rebecca Shi, head of the Sudan divestment campaign on campus, delivered a letter to President Zimmer on September 28 on behalf of STAND and other organizations. The letter referred to Zimmer’s vote for divestment as provost at Brown and urged him to “guide the University in doing the same here.”

Historically, the Sudanese government has responded to economic pressures resulting from divestments. Political and diplomatic efforts have been largely ineffective, STAND wrote in the letter.

“What we hope to accomplish through this meeting is to get the University to divest from Sudan as soon as possible,” Shi said. “We think this will be a great opportunity to talk to Zimmer as president and as someone who voted for divestment as a provost at Brown. He could be our champion to get this decision made.”

University policy on social and political issues is articulated in the 1967 Kalven Report, which was written in response to student protests of the Vietnam War. The report states that the University has an educational mission, so all actions that the University takes as a corporate body must directly relate to that mission.

Students supporting divestment argue that the genocide in Darfur is such an exceptional instance that it requires the University to act as a corporate body.

“Agreeing on the best way to address the tragedy has required and will continue to require some careful consideration on the part of the University,” said Bill Michel, assistant vice president for student life in the University and associate dean of the College.

“One of the things we are considering is whether or not targeted divestment is the best,” Michel added. “I hope we will be able to continue to work together to develop an appropriate way for the University and the University community to help effect meaningful change in the region while respecting the crucial institutional tenets expressed in the Kalven Report.”

“Both personally and on behalf of the University I want to express that I share our students’ strong concern about the situation in Darfur,” Michel said. “The students who have been raising the issue have been incredibly thoughtful in presenting their request to the administration. They have done a fine job at highlighting the concerns they’re asking us to consider.”

The conflict in Darfur has been raging for 17 years. In 1989, the National Islamic Front (NIF) deposed the government in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, and engaged southern Sudan in civil war.

In response to an African tribal group insurgency in Darfur, the western region of Sudan, the NIF has been instigating an ethnic cleansing campaign since February 2003. The campaign has been largely funded by oil and carried out by the “Janjaweed” (warriors on horseback).

The United States Department of State estimated a death toll from 60,000 to 120,000 in April 2005. The African Union (AU) peacekeeping force, which has little, if any, power to make and keep the peace in Darfur, is quickly running out of funds. The Sudanese government has blocked efforts to replace the AU forces with United Nations peacekeepers.