Admin delays final word on divestment

By Dasha Vinogradsky

[img id=”80105″ align=”alignleft”] The University delayed making a final decision on divesting from companies that do business in Sudan at a meeting with members of Students Take Action Now: Darfur (STAND) on November 7.

The meeting with President Robert Zimmer, Board of Trustees Chairman James Crown, and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives David A. Greene reviewed concerns with divestment.

The Board, which will make the ultimate decision, will follow Crown and Zimmer’s lead on the issue, according to STAND member and third-year Rebecca Shi. The administration is scheduled to announce the next step in the process next week.

One of the main concerns the administration has is whether divestment adheres to the University’s mission as an educational institution and corporate body.

“[We] explore[d] a number of different perspectives on the appropriateness and efficacy of divestment in this particular instance and in the broader context of the University’s mission,” Greene said in an e-mail interview. “There were no decisions taken at the meeting. It was intended to be part of an ongoing discussion of the issues.”

Greene said he spoke on behalf of Zimmer.

STAND members, armed with Zimmer’s inauguration speech and a letter that he sent to faculty members in October, based their argument on the goals and values that Zimmer envisions for the University.

“All consideration of what initiatives we undertake as a university must be put in the context of our fundamental values and [the] particular role that we play within the academy. The University is driven first and foremost by a culture of rigorous open inquiry and unrelenting analysis and questioning,” Zimmer wrote in the faculty letter, which fourth-year STAND member Mike Pareles provided to the Maroon.

“Zimmer both wrote in the letter to the faculty and stated in his inauguration address that the enduring values of this University—diversity of perspective, rigorous inquiry, and open discourse—are a guide, but they are not enduring answers and that we should be encouraged to take new steps,” said third-year economics grad student and STAND member Sally Sadoff. “We feel that genocide threatens our core values, and divestment is an appropriate response to that.”

Zimmer was not available for comment.

“There has not been any discourse about divestment on other college campuses,” Pareles said. “The U of C could really be a leader by not just divesting but by divesting because it wishes to reinvigorate the enduring values of the University and underscore its commitment to openness and free expression.”

Crown was most concerned with the practical issues involved. As a representative of the corporate side of the University, Crown requested more information on the financial feasibility of divestment. He asked for concrete details about divestment, how it works, which companies are directly or indirectly supporting the genocide, the history of divestment, and how it impacts the Sudanese government, Sadoff said.

Crown was not available for comment.

STAND members argue that divestment will not threaten the U of C’s financial position. In a November 8 e-mail to Crown, STAND cited investment firms like Northern Trust that work with clients to create Sudan-free portfolios.

Previous meetings between administrators and STAND in late October focused more on the U of C’s mission as an educational institution and corporate body as outlined in the 1967 Kalven Report. The report, written after student protests during the Vietnam War, states that the University will respond to political and social events only if its “paramount social values” are at risk. The report does not specify what kind of event would prompt such action.