City Council panel chides Darfur stance

By Supriya Sinhababu

Citing the Sudanese government’s involvement with militias that have carried out genocide, the Chicago City Council Committee on Human Relations voted to recommend a resolution denouncing the University for its refusal to divest from companies doing business in the Darfur region at a hearing on March 20.

“At this point, things have gotten worse in that country, and more and more people are starting to talk about what needs to be done,” said 26th-ward alderman and Committee chairman Billy Ocasio. “That means we have to pressure folks to open up their eyes and stop doing work with that government.”

The resolution was authored by third-ward alderman Pat Dowell and was received by Ocasio with 40 of the 50 City Council members’ signatures, Ocasio said. The whole City Council will vote on the resolution on April 9.

Vice President for Communications Julie Peterson attended the hearing on behalf of the University to reiterate the Board of Trustees’ decision not to divest, which was announced by President Robert Zimmer last February.

“Ocasio asked me what I thought of their resolution in the Q&A, and I said that I respected and appreciated their desire to do something positive in Sudan,” Peterson said. “But I did not believe that divestment by the University was an effective way to get there.”

In a statement she presented at the hearing, Peterson cited the 1967 Kalven Report’s call for the University to maintain an environment of “intellectual freedom.” The report advises that “extraordinary instances apart, there emerges…a heavy presumption against the University taking collective action or expressing opinions on the political and social issues of the day, or modifying its corporate activities to foster social or political values, however compelling and appealing they may be.”

Peterson emphasized that the University administration and trustees have engaged in numerous dialogues with students and faculty to determine whether the situation in Darfur was an “extraordinary instance” which would merit University intervention.

“These deliberations revealed a diversity of opinion—from those who believed divestment was an important moral and symbolic stance, to those who questioned the effectiveness of divestment efforts,” Peterson said in her statement. “There was a strong argument made that divestment would have no meaningful impact on the human suffering taking place in Darfur but would rather be a largely symbolic gesture.”

A delegation of University faculty and students supporting divestment attended the hearing as well. The delegation included professors Harold Pollack and Bruce Lincoln, Divinity School Ph.D. candidate Paul Ford, and third-year Kevin Koll. Jamie Kalven, an independent journalist and son of the Kalven Report’s author Harry Kalven, Jr., also spoke in support of divestment.

“I think puts more pressure on the University, and I think it highlights the fact that the U of C is not in line with current conceptions of corporate social responsibility,” said Koll, who serves as co-chair of the campus chapter of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.

John Hope Franklin, the last surviving drafter of the Kalven Report, also supports divestment, Koll said. Koll also said he disagrees that a full discussion on the issue of divestment has taken place among members of the University community.

“The full Board of Trustees met with a joint student–faculty delegation over divestment from apartheid in South Africa, but refused to do so over genocide in Darfur,” Koll said in an e-mail interview. “Until that happens, the issue of divestment is unresolved as far as I’m concerned.”